christmas

The Reason for the Season

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It’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give.

We say that to kids all the time, don’t we? I know I heard it many times over the years, when circling ideal spoils from Toys R Us catalogs and American Girl magazines.

I assumed, of course, that it meant not to focus on what I wanted, but on the gifts I would buy for my brothers and sisters. So I would go out to the Christmas fair at school or the dollar store and buy erasers and mini screwdriver kits and chocolate bars, to distract myself from the fact that I would get way better stuff on December 25.

As I grew a little older, I learned that not everyone has so much joy at this time of year. There are many who have explained how depressed they get in December, thanks often to both cold weather and a family that they wish was very different. Sometimes they are missing someone they lost, or sometimes they take note that they never even got the family they had always longed for. It is, surely, a season of shadows for many.

But this year, I am learning even more about not just giving, but gratitude.

In my job, I often see people in very low points in their lives. Occasionally my clients are in a great and exciting point in life, other times they made a big mistake they have to try to clean up; but other times, they are simply doing the best they can and still can’t catch a break.

Just yesterday, I attended a foreclosure mediation with a couple who worked hard and lived within their means their entire lives. But a family crisis left them jobless, and – perhaps soon – now homeless. Later in the evening I visited the home of a woman who was wheelchair-bound and was being sued for the loan balance owed on a car that had long been repossessed. As she told us her story in her freezing cold, dank, cheerless home, I became overwhelmed.

Her story cannot be shared here, but when I went back to my warm, seasonally-decorated home, where my husband was cooking us dinner to enjoy together, I was filled with the sense that I was a very small person in the face of the needs of this world.

I could  not shake the idea that I had to do something – I took this job to help people, after all. Both my boss and I will do something to help these neighbors, but even that will not repair all their on-going physical and emotional needs.

To compare, my issues at this moment are being frustrated by the clutter of my closet, my lack of a washing machine, and my procrastination in signing up for health insurance. My needs are so small, that when my husband was blessed with a gracious bonus this week, we actually have no idea what to do with it!

[See what I mean? Big issues, right?]

So this year, take the idiom we repeat so often to children to heart. And don’t use it as a distraction for thinking about what you want, truly practice a heart of gratitude. Give what you can. Give all day and whenever you see a need – give to charities and the food bank and the fuel bank and the homeless shelter and anyone who has a need you can see. (I can’t tell you how much less stressful it is grocery shopping to someone in need – it’s a pleasure, not a chore, I promise!)

My grandmother always used to love saying that Jesus is the reason for the season. And He is – Christmas, despite its many secular garments, is at its heart a celebration of the birth of our God on this planet. It was and is a gift, and calls for our giving to others in the small – but meaningful – ways that we can, without any expectation of something in return.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

 

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Christmas “Do Good” Shopping Guide

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and you know what that means: Christmas shopping is fast-approaching. I have already seen an ad for Christmas decorations, and the Hershey’s Kisses “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” commercial has aired! It is coming….

For the last couple of years, I have made an attempt to buy Christmas gifts that are not only well-suited for the giftee, within my budget, and will arrive on time, but that also will have a big impact on small businesses and hard-working employees. While there is nothing wrong with shopping the amazing sales at Kohl’s or the great selection at Marshalls, I figure that since I’m spending money anyway, and the Christmas season is the time to be generous, why not make a seriously positive impact with my money?

Below is your guide to shopping like a do-gooder this Christmas season – that is, sources for gifts that are handmade, fair trade, made locally or in the United States, built with a creative business model, or charitably-centered. Happy Shopping!

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1. Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is November 26 this year. The event was created by American Express in 2011, and aims to encourage people to patron local businesses for holiday shopping through resources provided directly to business owners, and specials and credit card deals when you shop small. The website even has a tool to help you find qualifying businesses in your area.

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2. Etsy and Amazon Handmade

If you have not used these sites before, you are seriously missing out! Nothing I have ever gotten from Etsy was a disappointment. All my purchases have arrived on time, usually with a personal touch that you just don’t get from typical online shopping. My favorite vendors I often follow on social media, and get to see how much each and every order is appreciated, cared for, and improved the lives of their families. Like all online shopping, do a little research when shopping on these sites: check out the reviews, locations, and maybe even look at their social media presence. There are sadly a few impostors or those who don’t have a professional approach to their work. These sites make it very easy to verify who the vendors are, and if you are in doubt, you can usually shoot them an email with a question and the real small entrepreneurs will happily respond.

**Update: I just learned that you can shop on Etsy by location. On the main page, just click the “search” button. On the browsing page, you can click “Custom Location,” then put in your state, town, or whatever you want! I found tons of awesome stuff made just around the corner!**

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3. Brim Papery

This brand has an incredible selection of calendars, prints, stationary, and even mugs! Her design choices are on point for a wide age range. She letters all the designs by hand in Columbus, Ohio and has a loyal following. If you see something you love, order now because she does sell out of her hot items. But, for a last minute gift, consider purchasing her printables and a nice frame!

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4. Made By Mary 

I am obsessed with her jewelry. There are a lot of this style (minimalist bars/initials jewelry) out there, but she does it all by hand, with high-quality materials, and right here in the U. S. of A. And she is happy to advise on style choices or customization. I received a necklace from my husband last year adorned with my wedding date in Roman numerals. I get complimented on it all the time and your giftee will, too!

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5. Everlane

Everlane is more of a luxury brand, but if you happen to be in the market for a cashmere pull-over or silk blouse, you should buy it from this company. The site features “modern basics”: minimalist and neutral pants, skirts, shirts, sweaters, and accessories made to the highest quality out of the best materials. They have women’s, men’s and even kid’s (“Everlane Mini”) items that may not be at your typical price point, but here’s the amazing part: for every item, they break down how much the item cost (from materials to labor to duties) and show you around the factory. Like I mentioned, their items are investment pieces, but I believe in what they stand for and hope more companies offer their radical transparency. Oh yeah – and instead of sale items, when have an excess supply of an item, they let you choose how much you want to pay for it (they do have  a minimum). I think that’s a radical concept and it shows the integrity of the brand and their products.

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6. Joyn

I have written about Joyn before, and they are still one of my favorite brands. They teach woman in India traditional artisan techniques to craft high-quality purses and wallets. They are on the higher-end, but your money will go far with the good work this company is doing: supplying woman in need with a means to provide for themselves and their families. Their products are incredible, too: I have had my purse for almost two and a half years and it is still flawless! It goes with everything and the leather and cotton hold up to all my adventures. With bags like that, I don’t mind spending a little more.

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7. Lush

Again, this is known as a high-end brand, but at the holidays, who doesn’t want to give the best, right? This cosmetics company sells many products online, but also have stores all over the country, where you can purchase their whole line. Their lotions, cleansers, shampoos, and famous bath bombs are on the pricey side, but are cruelty-free, handmade, and made from sustainably-sourced ingredients. People familiar with the brand with thank you endlessly for the gift, and those not will be introduced to an ethical brand they will fall in love with.

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8. The Little Market

This project was launched by lifestyle and fashion guru Lauren Conrad just a couple of years ago and already their selection has boomed! The entire site features fair trade items of every sort made around the world. You can literally find something for everyone on your list here, from house wares to jewelry to tech accessories to kids’ toys. You can even shop for items based on country of origin. While you are at the site, read the biographies on the artisans supplying the store!

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9. State Gifts USA

This site features a constantly-updated list of items made in your state. Simply select the state of interest from the right-hand side, and you will find clothes, decorative items, kitchen tools, foods, and books made in that very state. From this list, you can compile a beautiful gift basket or find a little something for every one on your list!

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10. Gift cards, of course!

Like the company but not sure what your giftee would appreciate? Support the business anyway by purchasing a gift card specifically for their shop or site. Most companies do offer them, and you might just introduce someone to a new local brand that they fall in love with! You could also offer your giftee a night out with a gift card to a local restaurant.

 

Are you in love with any small businesses or hand-crafted products? Please let me know!

-D. E. Barbi Bee

More DIY Christmas Decorations

It’s Massimo and my third Christmas together! I can hardly believe it. We are in a new apartment this year, but all the Christmas decorations we made during our past two Noels look just as good in our Higganum place.

This year’s DIY Christmas decor was brought to us by the woodburner that Massimo got for Christmas last year. I hope you enjoy, and have a very Merry Christmas!

 

1. Wooden HOPE Banner

This was a really easy design, but did take some time to execute. Massimo cut some pieces of wood for me, then I sketched the letters and stars, and took my time burning in the lines. Massimo sanded and oiled the wood to protect it, and drilled holes in each corner. A few knots in some twine and – voila! A rustic, simple reminder of the real meaning of Christmas.

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3. Popcorn Garlands

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Honestly, this grew out of necessity. We got a bigger tree this year than ever before, and our two strings of lights just didn’t make it sparkle the way we wanted. Instead of going out and buying more lights, like a sensible person, I stayed home and made one of the cheapest Christmas decorations in the world – popcorn garlands! I made popcorn in the microwave with a paper bag (skipped the oil), and spent a few evenings threading the kernels with a needle and thread.

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3. Wooden Nativity Scene

We have wanted a nativity scene for a while, but never found one we liked or felt like spending precious money on. For this set, I started with a few pieces of wood Massimo cut out (actually, extra pieces from the HOPE garland). Then I sketched the shapes on paper, and Massimo attached them to the wood and cut them out. Then I used a wood burner to add subtle details. A quick sanding, and Massimo oiled them and attached small stands to help them stay upright.

I love how this came out – it’s so simple, and doesn’t have all the Wisemen and crowds that some other scenes have. I also made sure Mary was laying down. The woman just had a baby; let her take a break!

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DIY Christmas Decor

Christmas is the most beautiful time of year, for me: full of love, joy, and expectation. And even though it’s cold, grey, and quite gloomy outside, I still love the opportunity to make at least the inside of our home warm and festive.

This will be our second Christmas together, and it was only last year that we came upon the Christmas season only to realize that we had no Christmas decorations of our own, not to mention little money to buy some, or space to store them. So what is a young couple to do? DIY, of course!

In this post, I get the chance to share some of the Christmas decorations we’ve made over the last two years, and hopefully inspire you to make some of your own! Apparently Americans spend boo-coo bucks on holiday decorations every year, but if you ask me they tend to be cookie-cutter, cheaply made, and not to mention over-priced. Each of these projects was fairly easy to do, totally unique, and not to mention practically free! I hope that you, too, can save money on Christmas and take the time to make some inexpensive do-it-yourself Christmas decorations that will last for years to come. Merry Christmas, everyone!

1.  Christmas Tree Topper

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We looked for a Christmas tree topper in the stores last year, but couldn’t find anything we liked, so made our own out of necessity, and I just love how it came out! The structure we made out of cardboard, cut into triangles and taped together in a three-dimensional design. the stem is made from a toilet paper tube, which we cut a slit into and rolled tightly to make it more narrow. When everything was taped together, we made a simple paper mache mixture and paper mached a few layers of paper to make it sturdy and hard. Finally, after everything dried, I painted it white, and painted a red design on it (I found some Nordic-inspired patterns online).

2.  Painted Christmas Bottles

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These can be used as bud vases, or just set on a shelf or mantle as decoration. We had some small San Pelligrino bottles lying around, and I got inspired to paint them. Bottles are great for decorations because they are sturdy, pretty smooth to paint on, and interesting because they are three-dimensional and round.

3.  Merry Christmas Banner

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I wanted some kind of banner or garland to brighten up our white walls, so this is what I came up with! It was made from cardboard (we have a lot of cardboard lying around before Christmas from all the online shopping we do!), twine from hay bails (we got that from my parents), and paint. It took a while to paint all the squares, but at least I had something to do when I took breaks from studying, and I think it came out pretty nice.

4.  Christmas Mantle

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I got the idea for this mantle from some Pinterest searching, and decided on a green and gold color scheme. The white candles and gold bells we had anyway, and we just added a few small projects to up the Christmas cheer! The garland is actually a long piece of brown paper that came in a package, which I twisted up. It kind of looks like a thick rope, which is what I was going for.

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I really wanted to add some kind of wreath to our decorations this year, but I couldn’t believe how much they cost! So I searched the motherland (aka Pinterest) and got the idea to make a giant snowflake out of Popsicle sticks. Of course, I had wide Popsicle sticks lying around, which I glued in this design I found online. I was going to paint it white, but realized that would just blend into the wall. So I had Massimo paint it with gold spray paint (which I also had lying around, of course), and voila!

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Finally, three wine bottles + one gold sharpie + three minutes = this adorable decoration for the mantle. I needed something else green, so we used some bottles and got creative. This was the easiest project ever, and seriously anyone can do it. Anyone.

Have you made any DIY Christmas Decorations? What do you think of our projects?

-debarbibee

How Much Money Do You Need?

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We live in a very materialistic world. As I’ve been watching House Hunters and similar shows, I find myself amazed at what kind of money people spend on their homes, and what qualities in a home are absolutely ESSENTIAL!! They just can’t live with carpet, and can you even cook on counter tops that are not granite? Every child needs their own bedroom, plus a guestroom. And if there is only one sink in the master bath, their marriage is doomed.

These may seem like perfectly reasonable requests, and are very nice things to have. But take it from someone who grew up with carpet in the living room, vinyl counter tops, and five bedrooms for ten people: they are not essential to survive, or even have an amazing, abundant life. My parents, too, have somehow made it through 30 years of marriage with one little sink. It’s a miracle, I tell ya!

But home-buying and sorting children into bedrooms seems like a distant folktale to my husband and I. We have our little apartment, not too big, and just small enough to make us excited to have more space. When we think about what we look forward to, it’s things like a washer and dryer, a full-sized couch, and a dish washer. These are the things we know we don’t need, but really look forward to having one day, to save time (something you can’t buy), and make ourselves a little more comfortable.

It’s all a matter of perspective, they say. And I say “they” are right. For example, we often get into a discussion of money in my classes, and there is a clear disconnect between the financial world of our professors and that of the debt-laden law students. In Family Law, for example, my professor will told an anecdote about a client who made “basically nothing, you know, like $50,000.” Everyone in the class looked confused, all thinking simultaneously, “Wait, is that nothing? That is a lot more than I have. That’s a lot more than I’ve ever had. That seems like a lot. But she said it wasn’t. Should I nod in agreement?”

When you live on loans, and might make minimum wage for the 15 or 20 hours a week you work, $50,000 sounds like it could go really, really far. But from my professor’s view, you might as well have nothing. And I understand that $50,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it would buy the nice groceries, an occasional outfit, and maybe even a full-sized couch.

So how much money do you really need? In this world, and in this country, there are a lot of versions of “need.” You “need” a roof over your head and food in your stomach, but you also “need” the latest fall shoes and coats. Are these both really needs? When you have very little, you think about needs a lot. You think about whether you need another vegetable in your cart, or if you need yogurt instead. You think about whether you can get those shoes through another winter, and whether you need to replace the jeans you just ripped. You also think about the things money can’t buy, but that you also need: love, fellowship, truth, and safety. In many ways, you value these things even more than the things you bought, because you can’t buy more of them if you get a raise or a new job.

I read this list recently reciting the things you should be able to buy with what you make in your 20s. Among the list are some things I certainly can’t buy, like travelling the world, and some things I wouldn’t buy, like $12 wine. But this inspired me to make my own list. This list is for myself, to always keep “needs” in persective, even if I do have money someday. And it’s also for my readers, perhaps those that have money: consider it a challenge, especially with the gimme gimme gluttony of the holidays fast-approaching, to consider what you need, what you can give, and to appreciate what you have in the first place. There are so many people in this world just making it, just squeezing by and not even sure how they did it. And there are people who make $50,000 a year, and think that is “barely anything,” perfectly justified from their perspective. They both have their challenges, their stresses: just take a moment and remember that more isn’t always better, and consider that needs aren’t always what they seem.

What do you really need?

Enough for food?

Enough for organic food?

Enough for organic, paleo-friendly, local food?

Enough to feed the neighbor downstairs?

Enough for clothes?

Enough for work-appropriate clothes?

Enough for fashionable clothes?

Enough to buy clothes for your friend?

Enough so that one spouse can stay home?

Enough so that the kids can all go to college?

Enough so that all the kids can go to private school?

Enough to homeschool?

Enough for toothpaste?

Enough for their children’s regular dentist visits?

Enough for their doctor’s fee?

Enough for their insurance payment?

Enough for their prescription copays?

Enough for a home?

Enough for separate beds for all the children?

Enough for hard-wood floors?

Enough for a formal dining room?

Enough for a backpack?

Enough for cupcakes on their child’s birthday?

Enough for an apple laptop?

Enough for a private tutor?

Enough for a game board?

Enough for a trip to the movies?

Enough for a trip to Disney world?

Enough for a trip to Europe?

Enough for gas to drive to the library?

Enough for a book?

Enough for an ipad?

Enough for an XBOX?

Enough for a bus ticket?

Enough for a used car?

Enough to lease a car?

Enough to buy a new car?

Enough to buy two new cars?

How much money do you really, really need?

-debarbibee