Secret #7 for the Perfect Christmas

Remember that on the 25th of each month we will be revealing one of our secrets for the perfect Christmas in 2012.  Today we reveal Secret #7- Memories are more magical than we think they are at the time!

Not sure why I can’t seem to remember what day it is!  So we’ll close out May with our #7 secret.  Memorial weekend took much of my energy and thoughts and I overlooked the 25th. Getting these secrets out is the important part, right?  Not so much what day we post them.

This secret to a perfect Christmas is one that you can’t very much control, and that’s the point.  Special memories come in all shapes and sizes.  We all have been a part of that special gathering or happening that was supposed to create the most amazing memories for all involved.  Large group, family, or just a couple could be prone to this type of expectation.  Way too often these staged memory events do end up being remembered, but more for the annoyance of all the planning, organizing, etc.  The true special intention gets lost in the attempts to make it so magical.  Think of all the sit-coms and movies that have that over-planned magic as a key plot point.   What we all need to remember is to enjoy the moment.  Live in the now, even at Christmas.  Plan special times together definitely but go for the regular, not the over done.  Here’s a great example.  You could set-up a huge evening for your family to go see Christmas Lights.  You order the limo, plan the special dinner, and chart a specific course of just the right houses to drive by.  Nice, but could go so wrong.  The memorable light trip might be the random night you decided to go look at lights instead of just driving home from the grocery store.  The simple and endearing times we share are the memories that will endure and be cherished.

Memorial Day Sales? Christmas shopping strategy

Thanksgiving morning I’m industriously circling sales fliers while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  My sister-in-law invariably says, “My shopping is already done.”  Those are words that cause inward angst and irritation.  She’s raising four children! How does she do it?

I received a sales magazine for Uncommon Goods today.  I admit that at least half of my Christmas purchases came from their products last year–not on sale. This flier was a reminder about Father’s Day in two weeks.  All of the man-friendly gifts are concentrated in this month, so why don’t I buy them now for Christmas?

In fact, I bet there is a “best time” to buy just about everything.  I am always sharing my  “get rich slow” schemes (Here’s my best latest idea:  Chicken Portraits–, and I’m delighted to report that there’s an entire website called Get Rich Slowly: Personal Finance that Makes Cents.  In staff writer April Dykman’s post, she chronicles every type of item and the best time for the best prices.  Right now, according to her blog post, Father’s Day inspires great hardware store deals.  Also, new vacuum models come out in June, so there are clearance sales of older models. (I know there is a taboo about buying vacuums and appliances for the spouse for Christmas, but I don’t agree.)  Because this is wedding season, there are deep discounts on pots, pans and dishes.

My goal is to have it all done early!

Podcast #22- 208 Days to Go!

Podcast #22- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Time for the Yard Sales!

Over the weekend Natalie and I hit up a whole mess of yard sales.  Listen as we discuss the various types of yard sales, our quest for Christmas finds, and how we did finding some treasures to give as gifts.  We have garages, historic homes, estates, churches, and career yard salers.  Four hours of fun and less than $50 spent.  Check out our plans for next week too- we need your help to make it happen.

In Memory of the Ultimate Gift- Service

This weekend we pause across the United States to remember those who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation.  The tradition of Memorial Day in the US dates back to the days following the Civil War.  In the years after the war Decoration Day, as it was then known, was started as a recognition for the fallen Union soldiers in the conflict.  Over time the ceremonies and focus or remembrance extended to all those who served.  It would not be until 1967 that Congress would establish the date as a national holiday.  It is a weekend of tradition for many.  Family picnics, the opening of the community pool, the trip to the shore, community parades, retail sales and the Indianapolis 500 all add to the activities on Memorial Day weekend.  Hopefully you have found time this weekend to recognize the veterans in your family present and past.  Maybe you attended a parade or ceremony to honor those who serve and those lost in battle.  Not everyone takes time to remember the importance of our time as a nation to remember.  For me, even in a family and with a father who served in the military, I didn’t really get it.  I looked forward to the pool and the grilling.  Oddly it was a speech about veterans, not even on Memorial Day, that clicked for me to understand the sacrifices that those who serve make.

Remembering our men and women in service is important today and should be important at Christmas as well.  That time of family connections is another time to remember those missing from the celebration.  We should all take time to make those days easier for the families with a new empty seat. If someone in your family or a close friend is a veteran or on activity duty, consider a special gift to appreciate their time and sacrifice.  Thank you to all who have served, do serve, and will serve our freedom. You have given all of us the ultimate gift of your dedication, service, and lives.  Thank you very much.


Dandelion Wine: Preserving summer to give at the holidays

“Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”

If you have not read Ray Bradbury’s novel, Dandelion Wine, you are missing one of the most poetic works about the glories of summer and the magic of childhood. Bradbury is known for science fiction stories like Fahrenheit 451, but this novel is about a small town and a boy attempting to capture its mysteries. What does it have to do with Christmas? Quite a lot!

Memorial Day, in addition to being a solemn occasion for remembering the sacrifice that many of our military friends and relatives have made for our country, is the official beginning of summer. Today, my friends were posting on Twitter and Facebook that they were visiting various farmers’ markets. The strawberry season is in full swing. (In addition to spinach, peas, and lettuce.)

Like our fascination with farmers markets, Douglas, the main character in the series of stories that all take place in Greenville, Illinois, picks dandelions several times each summer for his family to make dandelion wine. This wine is then meted out in tiny glasses for celebration and as an elixir when family members are sick.

This is the time to think about the Christmas gifts that are bottled, frozen, and canned “summer.” In fact, you could give a loved one a basket of summer—all the treats that you grew (or bought locally) and made into preserves, frozen treats, or pickled.

I don’t know how to make dandelion wine, but I am willing to learn (and have the raw material at hand). I have strawberries and other fruits of the garden. This year, I’m going to branch out and try some new canning recipes–salsas, jellies and sauces–to share at Christmas.

Books! The perfect gift for almost anyone.

I love books!  I have hundreds and love to give them as gifts, especially at Christmas.  My nieces and nephew are all under 4 years old but they know that Uncle J brings books!  Christmas is such a nice book giving time.  You can give Christmas books or other books.  Activity books, story books, sticker books, primers, or just a classic picture book.  Sports books, biographies, novels, how-to, and travel might fit the bill for older readers.  The challenge with books is finding them.  Of course you can find just about any book on-line, but you have to know what you’re looking for.  Roaming through a book store provides that chance of discovering the hidden and unexpected find.  The book you didn’t know was written that is perfect for someone.   With fewer and fewer traditional book stores, the shopper must find new ways to discover books.  Try finding that local book sale.  I stumbled upon one last weekend at the Washington County Library in Smithsburg, MD.  Most libraries, in addition to providing so many other amazing programs, regularly host used book sales.  Churches and schools do the same.  These are great opportunities to discover a new book.  Roaming the tables with books spread all over is just a great was to spend an early afternoon.  Books smell good too!

Giving books is a great tradition but the cost could be prohibitive.  New books are so expensive and I like to give more than one book as a gift.  A pair of books seems so much better!  To make your gifting dollar go further look for those used books.  In addition to the book sales you can get many great finds at your local garage or yard sales.  The most you might pay for a book there is maybe a dollar.   Remember at most yard sales the goal of the seller is to just get rid of stuff.  Find 5 or 6 books you want and make an offer- I bet they’ll take it.  The other great benefit of giving used books is you can read them all before giving them, so shop early and read up.  Tomorrow Natalie and I are off on a yard sale quest to find Christmas treasures and bargains. I have books on my list and hope to find a few classic holiday titles for my nieces and nephew.  We’ll be sharing our results on Monday’s podcast so be sure to check it out!


A Prayer for Owen Meany and Joseph

Speaking of Josephs, John Irving hit the jackpot in his best selling novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, published in 1989.  I don’t like all of his novels, but I could re-read this one every year, and Christmas is the best time.

One of the main events in this novel about faith, friendship and sacrifice, is the nativity pageant at the local church with the narrator Johnny Wheelwright as Joseph.  He bemoans his fate as a sidekick to the featured Mary and child.

Another key “Joseph” in the novel is Johnny’s stepfather, Dan Needham, who begins their awkward relationship with the gift of a stuffed armadillo but develops into Johnny’s confidante.  Dan has married Tabby Wheelwright without demanding an explanation as to who Johnny’s father is.

Johnny’s search for his earthly and, paralleling that, for his country’s father and his heavenly father, is central to the plot of the novel, with Johnny’s faith-filled best friend, the brilliant Owen Meany as the leader in this quest.

As the two boys grow up, the reader comes to know a host of additional quirky characters in Gravesend, New Hampshire, true to one of Irving’s literary inspirations, Charles Dickens.   The Christmas play, A Christmas Carol, is cast and performed, with Owen Meany featured, most appropriately, as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Owen’s own parents are a curious and silent pair, believing that Owen is more than their earthly son. Mrs. Meany asserts that she was a virgin at Owen’s birth.  That makes Mr. Meany another Joseph in this magnificent tale.  Their individuality is destroyed by the burden of this experience, and, Irving asserts that anyone who witnessed a true miracle would be changed forever.

The author quotes Frederick Buechner:

“Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”

Ok, that’s heavy thinking, but the novel contains so many hilarious moments that the reader will laugh out loud.  I have never met a reader who did not feel compelled to talk to someone else about it!

If some of these details sound familiar, you may have seen the movie based on this novel, Simon Birch.  Because the entire second half of the movie (and the compelling surprise ending) was altered, Irving insisted that the movie credits read, “Inspired by the novel. . .” I left the theater disappointed and sorry to have my imagination compromised by the visual images from the film.

An incredible study of faith and doubt in the modern world, the novel forces each reader to confront his beliefs as they are colored by our understanding of history and religious upbringing.  I find something new to consider each time I visit the novel.

The depth of the development of characters and their experiences is missing in more recent Irving works.  Cider House Rules (1985) and A Prayer for Owen Meany are my favorites.  Put this novel on your Christmas read or re-read list.

Christmas at the Del!

Thanks to my good friend Sandra for tagging me in this photo on Facebook!  It got me going to find out more about the claim on the historical marker.  Where was the first electrically lighted outdoor Christmas tree?  The claim reads that it was there in San Diego at the Hotel Coronado in 1904.  As we’ve learned with all claims for the “first” or “birthplace of” for any Christmas related items, there is ALWAYS a debate about the facts and someone or someplace else asserting the same claim.  The tree at the Coronado was first lit in 1904, but historical evidence has uncovered that the Edison Electric Light Company lit an outdoor tree with electric lights in 1882.  But that was a cut tree!  The Coronado was a living tree, and thus is the first electrically lighted outdoor LIVING Christmas tree.  The Norfolk Island Pine was planted in 1888 when the hotel was constructed.  In 1904 the 50 foot tree was lit with 250 white lights (that was a lot back then- even though I have over 500 on my 7 foot tree now).  To put the draw of a tree like this in perspective remember that only about 1 in 5 American families even had a Christmas tree in 1900, so a brightly lit outdoor tree would be quite amazing!

The tree changed to colored lights in 1914. A bright white star was also added to the top that year.  The Coronado tree was lit every year until World War II when black out regulations prevented the lighting of the tree for safety.  Today the tree is 140 feet tall.  The tree was lit regularly after the war until the energy crisis in the 1970s.  After that an indoor tree in the lobby became the new tradition at the Coronado.  Beyond this Christmas point of distinction, the Hotel del Coronado is pretty remarkable.  It was built in 1888 in San Diego.  It is a wooden Victorian Beach Resort and was the largest resort hotel in the world at its completion.    Today it is one of the oldest and largest all wooden buildings in California.  The “Del” is world-renowned as a retreat for the wealthy and famous including royals, presidents, and the Hollywood elite.  Guests of note include Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Price, Babe Ruth, and Edward Prince of Wales.  Sixteen presidents have stayed at the resort, including every head of state since Eisenhower.  The imagineers at Walt Disney World patterned the Grand Floridian on the Del.  Looking at the website for the hotel I see the allure.  Who wouldn’t want to stay there, especially at Christmas?

Do you need St. Joseph to be your real estate agent?

Roger and I have a beautiful home on the market in Uniontown, Maryland, but the future satisfied owners of this house have not yet appeared.  Roger’s mother gave us a St. Joseph statue to bury, upside down, in the back yard.  Upside down?

In our latest podcast, Jeremy and I disagreed about the upside down practice.  He acknowledged that there is a huge following of the St. Joseph real estate tradition, with actual home sale kits, but upside down?

I did a little research into this issue.  First, there’s the 2003 best-selling resource by Stephen J. Binz,  St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent.  This is no crackpot publication.  While it has a humorous tone, Binz is a theologian and counselor in Louisiana, with over 20 scholarly publications to his name.

And the home sales kit itself is available on respectable websites, like Catholic Supply, Inc. of St. Louis.   While I couldn’t determine the religious origin of, the website has testimonials from hundreds of successful home sellers.

To be clear, the prayer aspect of the ritual is the most powerful part of the sales technique.  The has the complete 9-day novena.

The origin of the St. Joseph home-selling tradition is said to have begin with St. Theresa of Avila in (1515-1582), who prayed to St. Joseph (the patron saint of the family and household needs) for more land for Christian converts and encouraged her Discalced Carmelite nuns to bury St. Joseph medals in the ground as a symbol of their devotion.

According to The Straight Dope, he is buried upside down and facing away from the house if you are burying in the front yard and right side up toward the house in the back yard.  Other websites encourage upside down exclusively.

Our house has a beautiful new coat of paint, and if that doesn’t bring a buyer, I’m ready for a little St. Joseph help.