Monday, December 9, 2013

The Hope Chest

Yesterday we were going though my bedroom and reorganizing things.  I said to my son "Please hand me that sweater on my hope chest" and he looked at me confused so I pointed to it and he handed it to me saying "What's a hope chest?"

I explained the concept of a trousseau to him and that this particular chest had been passed down through generations to me.  I told him about all the things my mother first collected for my future home.  The very first item that went in, hand embroidered linens done by my great-grandmother before she passed when I was 5.  My first edition to the chest I chose was after his father and I were engaged when I purchased our first set of china and placed it into the chest.  The final pieces were given at my bridal shower, a handmade quilt made by my grandmother, her last as she was already suffering with dementia.  The other was a recipe book made by all those in attendance and those who could not come, all sharing precious family recipes - my very favorite of what they made.

He asked me if boys got to have one and I giggled and said, "No, they're for girls honey." I talked with him a bit about the things he had brought to our marriage, securing a home for us to live in as well as some furniture.  Then he asked if his future wife would have one and I explained that very few families filled hope chests by the time I got married and it was very likely her family would not have one for her either.

He thought for a moment and then said, "So that's why you give me useful things for gifts."  I told him yes.  I also told him that as he settled on a bride someday that I would find out if her family had prepared for her being married and if not that our family would help provide some of the things they would need together.  In the meantime, we would do our best to help him be ready with the things a man traditionally brings to a marriage so they are not scrambling for everything they need.  We would encourage him to live on his own before he seeks a bride so he can support her and know how to manage the finances of a household and know if he can support a family or not.  We would help him learn how to take care of his family and cherish them as God wanted him to.

He accepted that and went on with his day.  Then today I noticed he'd taken a bag and set it to the side in his room.  When I asked him what he was doing he said, "I'm starting a bag for when I get married."  In there he had some of the tools we have given him, his Rosary from his Confirmation, and a few other little odds and ends that would be useful in running a home.

So I came to sit here tonight and ponder - do you talk about these things with your children?  Do you plan to prepare them for married/consecrated life?  Were you prepared like this by your family or was I truly the last of my generation?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Food Budgeting Tips for the Holidays

The more I talk to friends the more I am hearing the same thing.  Money is tight from one end to the other and it seems everyone is pinching pennies trying to make this a great Christmas.  While we anxiously await the birth of Christ we also often have anxiety over the credit card bills to come or the age old "will there be enough".  A few days ago I blogged about what past Christmases had taught me.  Today I want to help everyone start developing a strategy to help survive the season with their budget still intact.

1. Cut the cookie baking.  Baking supplies are CRAZY expensive.  Overflowing cookie trays are lovely but they are nowhere near as cheap to make as they have been in years gone by.  Cut down to making the "must have" cookies.  Let each family member pick 1 recipe they REALLY want and then if it makes more than 2 dozen cookies, cut it in half.  If you're a "cookie gifter", stay tuned.  Tip 2 is for you.

2. Learn to bake bread instead.  Bread is cheap to make, stretches meals, and looks VERY impressive.  On Monday I'll be sharing my favorite basic bread recipe I use to make everything from apple stuffed rolls to garlic bread to cinnamon rolls.  You can do almost anything with it and it requires hands, a large bowl, and measuring utensils. :)  SUPER easy and far more frugal than the extravagant baking sprees of the past.  Kids love helping to knead the dough and put baked goods together and you'll love the savings!

3.  Start plotting your meals now so you can plan ahead.  For example, our family Christmas Eve tradition is to have lasagna with garlic bread and a salad.  By cooking extra homemade spaghetti sauce in advance and browning extra meat I can have all that ready and prepped ahead of time. The more you make yourself from scratch, the more you'll save!  Make pancakes the week before and double your recipe so you'll have them already done on Christmas morning!  Little things like this instead of purchasing pre-made goods save you dollars and give you more time with your family.  It's a real win/win!

4. Start remaking meals into other meals.  This is a favorite budget stretching tactic here.  Make a larger roast on Monday.  Then on Wednesday recycle half the leftover meat into a casserole.  Then on Friday take the bones and the remaining meat and make a soup.  3 meals, 1 roast.   To really stretch it out, either serve all the meat in soups/casseroles or serve homemade rolls with the roast to significantly cut the amount of meat that's eaten because tummies are full with all that homemade yumminess.  If you can "stretch" other meals into your breakfast (ham chopped into quiche, those pancakes from #3, etc) and into your lunch (homemade soup!) your budget gets significantly cut.  To make that soup even more special, serve it in homemade bread bowls with your new bread making skills from #2!

5. Pick 1-2 items to "splurge" on for your holiday meal.  Even better, if others are coming turn it into a potluck for the rest of the items.  Make the rest of the items more inexpensive things you can make at home.  For example, we "splurge" on the ham and the chocolate peanut butter pie for Christmas Day and I use good old fashioned frozen veggies I got on sale ahead of time and cheapie baked potatoes along with homemade bread to go with it.  By not overloading on dishes we save money and time as well as sanity. :)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Elf Continued...

Apparently I am not alone in my thoughts regarding The Elf.  This is a good feeling because it's never fun to be out on a limb alone.  Since our last meeting, I have been sent several pictures of various elf informants that have been captured.  I wanted to share them with you here. :)

 Ah the little green Army men.  They're rather active in their adventures. :)  (Photo forwarded from Clearly Candace)

This big Army Man looks like he means business!!!! (source unknown)

 Oops.  A rather inhospitable environment as well - particularly if turned on... (also Clearly Candace)

Well, considering how many photos I got of the elf partaking in the liquid version of holiday cheer, I suppose he would need to dry out... (also Clearly Candace)

The LEGO people attack back!  I think I see Luke Skywalker?

 Yummmm!!!!  A snack for the dinos!

You think this is torture?  Go ahead and try it little man in the funny red suit.  Yet again.  Read the sign.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

10 Things My Prior Christmases Taught Me

I was reflecting today on Christmas Past and what it has taught me.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share my musings with you.

1. Lean Christmases are okay.  I never died from not getting 100% of what I wanted.  While my brother nearly perished from a box of socks when he was 5 he was quickly revived and survived.  It's okay to not be frivolous and crazy - especially when you cannot afford it.  Your children would rather have a place to live in January than bills Mom and Dad can't afford for pretty things under the tree.

2. Biased gifting is not.  Whatever your traditions, keep it fair.  A child watching one sibling get all the "cool" gifts while they open a sweatshirt and water bottle is not the lesson you may think it is.   Please don't put your children in a position that is teaching them bad things in their hearts. 

3. Gifting useful things is not a crime.  I received lots of practical gifts as a child.  Some were extravagant like the set of ski gear the year I learned how to ski.  Others were more frugal but still needed items.  For the past 3 years we've done useful gifts for 50% of our Christmas presents to our oldest who is 10 this year.  He's never once felt deprived.  This year he's getting 100% practical things because that's what he's asking for.  *pat on the back* Well done Mom. ;)

4. Homemade gifts are still the best in the long run.  The quilt my grandmother made me right before I got married is still one of my most prized possessions - even after the dog tried to eat it.  Handmade ornaments still go up on my tree every year that were made by my other grandmother.  We use the blankets I made for my family 5 years ago when it was a "lean" year almost daily in the winter here.  I still smile when I see the kids cuddled up in one because it reminds me of all the beauty something made by hand can hold.

5. Your time is a gift.  Especially to the elderly or those who may not have much.  Taking time to bake a batch of special cookies and bring them to a neighbor is never misplaced.  Going to visit your grandmother in the nursing home is always a good idea.  Donating your time to help wrap gifts for the angel tree is never something you will regret.  Delivering presents to a veteran's home is a priceless memory you will have for a lifetime.  Be as generous with your time as you are with your $$ and perhaps, even more so.

6. Your love is a gift.  Don't waste it on someone who isn't worthy.  This includes friends and how you distribute your generosity.  My goddaughters mean the world to me and I do my best to make certain they know that when I am able to be with them.  My friends are few but VERY dear and they give as heartily to me as I have been blessed to give to them.  Share your love, but not with someone who is not going to return the gift.

7. Laughter is the most precious thing you can hear.  There is nothing in this world that makes me happier than the sound of my children laughing, especially if it's joined by their father's hearty laughter.  I've been a mother of 2 for only 19 months and it never ceases to make my heart race with joy to hear them together and playing.  This year I engineered Christmas just to maximize the amount of giggles and smiles that would float to my ears.

8. Traditions are important.  There is something to be said for "that cookie" and "those ornaments".  "But Mom, we ALWAYS have ham on Christmas!!" Traditions, however small or however weird they began are there.  Please don't disappoint yourself and your children trying to reinvent the wheel.  A little new is good.  A lot of new can be too much.

9. Family is important.  I have had many "hard" Christmases over the years but one of the absolute worst was when I spent my first away from my family.  My husband (fiance at the time) found me curled up on the Dec. 23rd bawling next to the tree because I missed them so much.  Being the wise man that he is we wrapped up Christmas with his family and drove 700 miles on Christmas Eve through a blizzard to get back to mine just before midnight.  I will never forget that gift of kindness from him and what it still means to me, even today.

10. Let kids be kids.  Let adults be kids too.  There is a special magic to Christmas that is just not available in the rest of the year.  Let the kids be kids.  Let them play and get messy and "help".  Let you get messy and "help".  My kids each get a new apron on the Feast of St. Nicholas so they're all good to go for the baking and holiday joy. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Elf

Alright - if you've been ANYWHERE near social media the last few Christmas seasons you know of whom I speak.  That elf.  You know the one.  The one that's part of Santa's own division of the CIA.

Allow me to be blunt.  We are a Santa loving household.  Yes, we're fairly traditional Catholics who do Santa.  Our children are still taught about St. Nicholas and when we had to deal with "the transition" for our oldest this year it went EXTREMELY well.  I am grateful to God for His guidance and the fact that we ALWAYS made it a far bigger deal to give than receive by "helping" Santa every year by adopting a family and helping them get through the season, participating in the angel tree, and making Advent a HUGE daily deal instead of just a "once a week thing at Church".  Santa was never alone in his mission and we have made it very clear that Christ is the center of our Advent season.

Enter the Elf.  A small, beady eyed quiet creature who exists as an informant to the "Big Man" himself.  By the time the Elf initially came around my son was far too old to absorb a new tradition and my youngest was still "cooking".  Something about it bothered me but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until this morning.

My good friend Birgit of Designs By Birgit and her post regarding Santa and this Elf combined with a sheer lack of sleep and exhaustion from fighting with my kitchen sink made it all finally come clear to me.

Why are we inviting Santa's CIA into our living rooms???  Why are we desensitizing our children to surveillance by having this creature constantly reporting to and from the North Pole our child's various activities?  Short of ninja skills this dude could be KGB!

Get where I'm going here???  I'm a fan of the freedom that I have in this country.  My husband fought hard to help bring some of that freedom to other parts of the world while serving our armed forces.  There is no way on EARTH I am going to bring an informant into my home to babysit my children and give him center stage!

I know some people like the elf but he's given me the creeps for years and now I know why.  I don't want him in my living room.  I don't want my children learning that it's perfectly okay to be spied on by some mysterious entity that's going to report their every moment to someone else.

The elf can live on someone else's shelf because he is definitely NOT welcome here.