Monday, December 20, 2010

8 Free Traditions for Christmas

On a tight budget this year, we are looking for ways to carry on the Christmas spirit without digging into the wallet. These are some ideas for our family and yours to celebrate the season without breaking the bank.
  1. Caroling: This age old tradition is not as prominent as it once was...which makes it more fun in my eyes. No one expects carolers these days, so they are a bit nostalgic and heart warming. If you don't live in a place with traditional neighborhoods, you can always visit a senior home or nursing facility and sing for the residents. They will enjoy the music and the visitors.
  2. Christmas Parade: I remember as a child being in awe of our hometown parade and waiting for the day that I could be in it. And when my Girl Scout/Brownie troop got to ride in the back of a pick up truck while tossing candy to onlookers, I was on cloud nine.
  3. Looking at Christmas lights: This is something we reserve for the night of the 23rd. Riding around neighborhoods looking for grand displays. Amazing what a show some people can put on!
  4. Christmas movies: There is nothing that rings in the season like the first airing of Charlie Brown Christmas or the old claymation classics like Rudolph. You can throw in your favorite, whether it be It's a Wonderful Life or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the family time spent huddled around the holiday movies is one I still treasure to this day.
  5. Making homemade ornaments: Whether it is looping strips of paper to make garland, creating clothespin reindeer, or stringing popcorn together, this simple ornaments scream togetherness and home.
  6. Live Nativities/Musical Programs: So many churches now put on living or drive through nativities that you are sure to have one around you. Or just visit several area churches for their Christmas musicals and programs. We must remember what this whole shebang is really all about, you know.
  7. Baking and decorating Christmas Cookies: What child doesn't love to cut out cookies and add icing, sprinkles or candies to decorate--and then gobble them up?
  8. Volunteer: Throughout the holiday season, people's giving spirit is elevated, making non-profits a very joyously busy place. Find a soup kitchen or homeless shelter who might love the extra help. Call your local Salvation Army to volunteer to be a bell ringer. You can assist in wrapping presents at one of the stations in the mall that raises money for a nonprofit by wrapping presents for shoppers. You might want to volunteer at an animal shelter so the employees can take some time off while daily care activities are still performed. You might check with a local hospice who might need help during the holiday season. The possibilities are endless, but you can match them with your talents and gifts and volunteer as a family!

Photo credit: danyba

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Learning to Accept My Limitations

I have a serious confession to make. I'm afraid that it might disappoint you. I'm afraid that you might shake your head and "tsk" in my general direction. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I must make this confession to you, my readers.

I am not Superwoman.

I know. Shocking.

Wait, what? You aren't surprised?

Well I was when I first figured it out. It's a tough lesson to learn. Especially when you think you've got everything under control. When you think you are supposed to be able to do everything that everyone else does.

Let me tell you what I learned though.

Those people that you are trying to emulate? They are not Superwomen either. There is something in their lives they are sacrificing in order to do what they do. And if you are trying to be just like several Superwomen...who all have different surely must realize that you can't be like ALL of them. They can't even do that!

Here are the things I have felt the need to be:

Wife. Yep. My husband needs me. I don't mean he is helplessly useless. But he married me because he wanted me to be in his life and spend time with him. I am called to be his friend, his lover, his support, his cheerleader, his helpmate, his biggest fan, his encouragement, his sounding board, his support. I cannot ever forget that.

Mom. I love my children. I am their mother. They need me to be everything that a mother entails. This in itself is very multi-dimensional and overlaps into many of the categories below. It includes teacher, disciplinarian, cheerleader, friend, doctor, and even just a set of arms to snuggle into.

Engineer. Yes. I am an engineer. An engineering manager these days. This is something that I love to do. I love to use my talents and strengths to help a company succeed. I like using practical and critical thinking skills to tackle a task and create new and innovative ways to approach matters.

Homemaker. Even though I love my career, I feel the responsibility of making our house a home falls to me. I was brought up very traditionally and feel that the cooking/cleaning/ and all matters of the home fall to me. Not that Chip doesn't help--he's actually a HUGE contributor. Not that I don't want him to help, as I am VERY grateful for how wonderful he is. But the responsibility for making sure that it happens is mine.

Cleaner. This is part of homemaking, but it is a huge part for me. I'm a bit picky. When our house is not clean enough to eat off of the floor, my soul is not at rest. These days, my soul is more restless than I like.

Musician. I grew up soaking in music at all times. I love playing. I love singing. I was once much better at both than I am now. This is something I truly love doing, but has been neglected over the last few years when other parts of life have taken over.

Cheerleader. No. Not the kind in ponytails and skirts ( one wants to see that), but the mom on the sideline or in the audience cheering on my children in their activities. The attentive wife who attends and is enraptured by all of my husband's musical demonstrations.

Classroom Mom. I can't be there to cut out felt for craft time. But I want to send homemade cookies. I want to help with Christmas parties. I want to chaperone a field trip.

Volunteer. I want to help out at our church. I want to help out our neighborhood. I want to give time to causes that I believe in.

Friend. I want to have a girl's night. I want to have friends to chat with and have private jokes with. I want to go our for dessert or laugh over a pedicure with girlfriends.

Gardener. I don't have a green thumb or anything, but I'd love for the outside of our home to look really nice and cared about with brightly colored seasonal flowers and manicured landscaping.

Craft Aficionado. I want to be crafty. I want to make things that impress other people and make our home unique. I want to teach these skills to our children while getting to spend quality time with them. I want to offer one of a kind gifts to friends and family that were made with love and personalization.

And the point of this ridiculous list is that I cannot possibly be all of these things. At least not at the same time. And that is okay. I mean, I know that, but I must truly believe that.
  • I must believe that it is okay to have a pile of laundry that needs to be done while I go on a date with my husband.
  • I must believe that it is okay to have store bought cookies because I had to work later than allowed me to bake them from scratch.
  • I must believe that it is okay that the we seriously need some new pine straw for our landscaping because I'm choosing to sit on bleachers and cheer for my son and his teammates on the t-ball team.
  • I must believe that it is okay to say "no" to a volunteer opportunity just so I can spend time on a craft for our home.
  • I must believe that it is okay to take a day off of work to shop and have lunch with a friend.
  • I must believe that it is okay to leave my children in the church nursery so that I can volunteer somewhere else during the worship service.
  • I must believe that it is okay to leave the husband to entertain himself while I plant some lovely annuals in the front yard.
  • I must believe that it is even okay to drop all of these things (even the kids--there I said it and you can lash out in the comments if you want) just so I can take a long hot soak in a bubble bath and relax.

It's also okay for your children to see that dad sometimes wins quality time with you over them. It's okay for your children to see that the house can wait to be cleaned until you have helped a neighbor out. It's okay for your children to see that you can take a day off of work just to spend time with them alone. All of these things are good. In fact, all of these things are HEALTHY for them to see. They need to see that mom is a person. That mom is more than a worker bee.

Dropping one for another is nothing to feel guilty about as long as it is not always the same thing getting dropped. Nourish your relationships. Grow yourself. Be everything you want to be. Just realize that you cannot be all of these things at the same time.

And be okay with that.

I know that is what I will be trying to do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Donating on Behalf of Others and Truly Change the World

What’s the best part of the holiday season? Is it sharing gifts with friends and families? Is it helping out others in need?

If those two are at (or close to) the top of your list, why not consider giving a gift to help others in need on behalf of your loved ones. There are so many ways to give to charitable organizations, the possibilities are almost limitless. However, here are a few of the ways you can tangibly help others on behalf of others and enjoy both of joys of the season.

Almost every organization that accepts donation will accept them on behalf of others and usually send cards to the person whose name it was donated on behalf. This one is common, so not a big surprise for any of us, but an easy way to help a charity of choice and allow them to use the money as they need to.

Related to this concept is the TisBest Philanthropy gift card. You basically go to their website and set an amount to be donated. A card is then sent that can be given to a friend or family member. That person can then visit the TisBest website and choose from over 250 national non-profit groups, and many other local groups, that the cardholder can choose to donate that gift to. It’s a great way to allow your loved ones to donate to a cause that really means something to them.

Packages of Needed Items/Emergency Supplies:
Many organizations offer donation packages to meet an immediate need, like for lifesaving medicines and supplies which are not specific in its contents, but needed so greatly.

You can also give soap, blankets, mosquito nets, water, clothes, or safety for an exploited child.

And what is more needed than water? Providing water can provide health, nutrition, livelihood, and prevent death. You can help by visiting UNICEF,, or Project Concern.

Educational Needs:
You can easily provide school supplies, uniforms, and art supplies for children as well as a desk or computer training. For slightly more, you can train a midwife, help establish a savings group, or even build an entire primary school (that one’s just $1500) through Oxfam American Unwrapped.

I know, $1500 is a lot of money for many of us, but considering what you are providing, this would be a great gift to really make a huge impact. Think of either one big gift or perhaps getting 15 people to give $100 each…or 100 people to give $15 each. The impact it would have would be permanent.

Through UNICEF, you can provide books, pencils and notebooks, or a School in a Box kit for temporarily displaced schools.

Benefitting an Entire Village:
You can build a school, start a savings group, dig a well, or protect the fishing rights of an entire area, which will benefit entire groups of people at one time. All of these can be done through Oxfam American Unwrapped.

UNICEF provides the opportunity to buy packs of immunizations for diseases that we in the US take for granted that our children will not have to suffer. For just $20.60 you can provide 412 tetanus shots.

A number of different health and nutrition gifts can also be found at Project Concern.

Means of Providing Nourishment and Income:
Worldvision (look in the gift catalog) offers packages where you can purchase a goat for $75, two chickens for $25 or five ducks for $30. All of these provide a source of nourishment for the family who receives it but also gives them products to sell and earn money to provide for other needs for themselves. You can also choose alpacas, cows, donkeys, bulls, rabbits, oxen, fishing supplies or just collection of farm animals.

Other animal gifts can be found through Oxfam American Unwrapped

Help Getting a Livelihood Established:
You can provide seeds, livestock, irrigation, a boat, tools, or many other implements of daily life to give people the supplies and training they need to provide for themselves for a lifetime. A gift like this could change the entire direction of the life of a family.

Through Worldvision you can also Microfinance a loan for a entrepreneur trying to get a business off of the ground to change the path of their family’s existence. You can read through bios and donate some or all of their loan request. When they repay their loan, that money is used to fund other endeavors approved by Worldvision. This gives the business owner a since of pride and accomplishment to do it for themselves and teaches them the skills necessary for their business to be a success.

Children in desperate circumstances often don’t get to be kids, and that is truly sad. You can provide two soccer balls for $16 via Worldvision that will provide days of entertainment and much needed physical exercise, as well as an escape for children who need to have fun in their lives. You can also provide music lessons, basketballs, plush animals or Christmas present in general.

You can also find kites, toys, and books through Oxfam American Unwrapped.

There are loads of other organizations. Don’t let my post here limit you to only those I have listed. There are many who can all help people. Many needs that are near and dear to your heart may not be listed here, but you can help with those as well.

Just check out Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and/or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to find a legitimate charitable organization that will help causes that you believe in.

Just give. Bless the one you donate on behalf of as well as hundreds of others.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Still Loathe Our Timeshare

This post was included in the Carnival of Money Stories #84: ‘Twas Two Weeks Before Christmas Edition hosted by Yes, I Am Cheap. Stop over there and see a lot of other really great posts. If you are visiting from that carnival, settle in and stay a while. If you end of following me, you might win some candy (see just under my header!). =)

You've heard me gripe about owning our timeshare before (actually, pretty recently). I continue to loathe the fact that we own it.

We had discussed taking out a Lending Club loan on it and paying it off to obtain the note and then trying to sell it back to the sales department at the resort just to get out from under it. It wasn't guaranteed to work and we were going to have to take a loss on it. But frankly, I didn't care anymore. Anything to just have it gone.

But we haven't done that yet. I was very close to clearing the whole process with Chip and making sure he was okay with doing that when he lost his job. And the loan I wanted to take out was going to increase our payment on it because it was a 3 year loan rather than the 10ish years we will currently pay on it. But then the job loss happened and we cannot currently afford a new higher bill. In fact, we're just making minimum payments until full employment is back. So that plan is on hold.

Well, two days ago I was reminded of what a pain this thing is.

We got our maintenance fee bill.

If you don't know anything about timeshares, let me enlighten you. For each year you are allowed to use it (ours is every other year) you get a bill to "cover maintenance" of the property. That makes sense actually. For upkeep and all. However, what you may not know is that we have no guarantee that it won't go up.

And it has gone up this year.

A lot.

Two months ago, we got a letter saying we needed to pay a "special assessment fee" related to a lot of stuff I won't go into here. But basically, everyone who owns a resort through our timeshare company had to pay it. One time fee.

And our maintenance fees were going up.

So...back to the original story.

Our bill arrived two days ago. For $1322.50. Let me let that sink in for you.


We are just getting by to make minimum payments on our regular bills right now. We certainly don't have an extra $1300 to pay these people. And if I don't pay it, it will just get interest and fees attached to it.

So today I "paid" it. Let me translate that for you.

I put it on a credit card.

I know. It sucks.

I don't want to EVER put anything on these cards again without the intent of paying it right off that very month. But I won't be paying this off this month. I can't.

We have this in our emergency fund. But I don't truly consider this an emergency. Because if we deplete our emergency fund and then run into a real emergency that we can't use our credit card on? We're up a creek without a paddle. So the cash will stay in the emergency fund. And our credit card balance will increase. For the first time in over a year, our credit card balance will be higher next month that it is this month.

And I feel like such a failure. Not because I did anything wrong right now. But because we can't afford it. And because we can't get rid of it. And because it makes me feel stupid for buying it in the first place.

I guess I know what our tax refund will be used for this upcoming year. Not paying off debt to take a chunk out of the snowball, but to pay for this stupid maintenance fee to a property that we don't use in the first place. In the meantime, it will acquire interest while sitting on this card.


Photo credit: BLW Photography

*Disclosure...the Lending Club link in this post is an affiliate link.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Safety

With the holidays quickly approaching for many of us and already here for others (Happy Hanukkah, my Jewish friends!), we really need to remember to keep this holiday a safe one.

Here are some tips:

  • The CDC analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injury Program (NEISS-AIP) for three winter holiday seasons. For this analysis, the holiday season was defined as November 1--January 31. This report summarizes the results of that analysis, which indicated that, during 2000--2003, an estimated 17,465 persons were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments (EDs) for holiday-decorating--related falls. Approximately 62% of those injured were aged 20--49 years; approximately 43% of injuries were caused by falls from ladders; and males were 40% more likely than females to be injured. Prevention strategies should focus on raising awareness about falls and promoting safety practices during the holiday season.


  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
  • Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.
  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.


  • Many artificial trees are fire resistant. If you buy one, look for a statement specifying this protection.
  • A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree. To check for freshness, remember:
    --A fresh tree is green.
    --Fresh needles are hard to pull from branches.
    --When bent between your fingers, fresh needles do not break.
    --The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin.
    --When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is too dry.
  • Cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for better water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide spread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors.
    Place your tree at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces and radiators. (4)

"SNOW" (3)

  • Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. To avoid injury, read container labels; follow directions carefully.


  • Whether indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the label from an independent testing laboratory.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house, walls or other firm support to protect from wind damage.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Lights could short and start a fire.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  • The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and any person touching a branch could be electrocuted!
  • Avoid using candles when possible. Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles.
  • Never leave an open flame unattended. Keep burning candles within sight.
  • Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room or leave the house.
  • Place lighted candles away from combustible material and areas where they might be knocked over.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Keep candle away from other decorations and wrapping paper.
  • Make sure all products are marked for outdoor use.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water.
  • Make sure spotlights used to highlight decorations are well-ventilated, protected from weather, and a safe distance from flammable items.


  • Holiday decorations are meant for temporary use. Take down all decorations during the first week of January.
  • Do not yank or tug on cords when unplugging them.
  • Carefully inspect all decorations prior to storing them. Discard broken or faulty lights.
  • Make sure that electrical cords are in good condition, and wire insulation is not frayed or cracked.
  • Store decorations in a dry location that is safely out of reach of children and pets.
Photo credit: Anthony!!
Sources: (1) (2)
(3) (4)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WFMW - Cozy Toesies

This is probably nothing new to most of you, but for those of you who haven't done it or are first-time parents who haven't thought of it yet, I'm going to offer you a simple, yet effective hack to keeping tiny people warm on those cold winter nights.

First let me tell you that I am neither an expert on parenting (this 2nd one is nothing like the 1st!) or the cold (I live in Savannah, GA, for crying out loud), but this works for us and it might work for you.

Have you ever noticed that when your feet are warm, the rest of you is? arms can be cold and I can warm them up by putting socks on my feet. Strange, but true.

So to give me peace of mind when our babies were either too young for heavy blankets or slightly older but not able to keep a blanket on them (our children flip and flop all night), I simply put socks on them underneath those fleece zip up footie pjs.

It gives me peace of mind and their little bodies always felt warmer in the morning when it was time to get up.

That is something that works for me. If you want to see what works for everyone else, visit We Are THAT Family.

Photo credit: psansao

Monday, December 6, 2010

8 Gifts on a Tight Budget

This year our Christmas budget is tighter than normal. But seriously...keeping our spending to a minimum should be a goal every year.

So to help out others who may be in a similar situation as us this year, or for those who just want to curb their spending on gifts this year, I am offering this list of gifts that are meaningful and heartfelt, but not damaging to the wallet.

  1. If you are good at cooking, give the gift of something homemade...candy, bread, a lasagna, a fat batch of muffins...whatever your specialty is. People love to have fresh goods that they can't/don't make for themselves. And the love put into it is far more appreciated than some "mandatory" gift you found to buy.
  2. If people are always raving about your cooking or baking, put together a recipe booklet full of your (or their!) favorites. It can be as simple as index cards and a recipe box, a three-ring binder with clear sleeves with recipes (decorated if you want), a lovely journal, or something even more home-made via Martha Stewart.
  3. For unique treats of deliciousness, try the pies in jars or cobblers in jars found at not martha. Even though these are tiny, that's part of their charm and no one will complain about how tiny the gift's that cool!
  4. If you want to look at other "in a jar" gifts, check out this list at Organized Christmas to find not only recipes for goodies and soups, but bath items and journals!
  5. Also on not martha you can find a great gift idea that would could be fun and extremely personal... marble magnets. Go check it out!
  6. I found on Get Rich Slowly a suggestion for a hollow book for storing valuables. Using a hardback book from a thrift store, this would be a great gift that would cost you more time than money!
  7. There is an entire blog devoted to making homemade bath and body products called Homemade Bath Products. Go check it out to find something to give for a pampering gift.
  8. The gift of can make up coupons or the like to keep up with it (for the recipient and you!). It could be something you specialize music lessons...or something ordinary like a house cleaning or yard work. If could be dinner one night or coupons for babysitting. It could be organizing or taking down their Christmas decorations. These possibilities are endless and are best defined either by what you are good at or by what the recipient would most appreciate (dog sitting?).

So there is my list of suggestions.

What would you add to it? I need some ideas!

Photo credit: nicephoto

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WFMW - A Twist on Holiday Giving

I will admit it--I can take no credit for this. I read it in the current issue of Family Fun magazine, but thought it was such a fantastic idea, that I wanted to pass it along to those of you who either haven't gotten your issue yet, haven't gotten a chance to read it, or don't subscribe to it.

Somewhere near the front of the magazine (sorry--don't have my copy with me at the moment), I found this suggestion of how one family makes the holidays about giving:

They have a large family (26 in their extended family) and found it impossible to buy gifts for each member of the family every year. Plus they wanted to make the holidays about giving rather than receiving.

So each family member chooses a charity they would like to see get money. Kids participate too. People can certainly decide to pick the same charity as someone else if they want. They write their charity of choice onto a slip of paper (one preschooler simply wrote "help tigers" one year).

Each family writes a check for the sum of their family's ages (two 40-year old parents, one 8-year old, and one 6-year old equals a $94 check from that family).

Each family member puts their slip of paper in "the hat" when they gather together for their holiday festivities. Grandpa draws a winner at some point in the day. That charity receives all of the money from the checks from each family.

They hand their checks over to the family who had chosen that charity, who then write one big check for the total amount and send it to the charity that won. As a bonus, that family can write the contribution off on their taxes the following new year. That family then sends out the reminder email the following year to tell everyone to start preparing for the event again.

I thought this was a FANTASTIC idea to emphasize giving while making it fun; for teaching children that giving was a blast and more important that getting gifts for themselves. Although we've never tried it ourselves, this is certainly something I think we can incorporate into our festivities in the future.

Go over to We Are THAT Family and see what other holiday and/or gift ideas you can find!