Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The first snow!

I just had to take this picture: the three boys, watching the first snowflakes of the season fall. The snow didn't stick, but it didn't stop us from grinning at each other, "Winter is here!" 

And since it's cold now, we're going through a lot more coffee. Here's a tip: instead of pouring yourself a cup and leaving the rest to sit in the coffee pot, pour the extra coffee into a thermos, and unplug the pot. The coffee stays warm without the use of electricity! 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Christmas Shopping Sanity

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. The crowds are massing, the retailers are salivating, children everywhere are making lists and looking winsome. 

And parents are breaking into a cold sweat. 

I feel that in our household, we've managed to bring some sanity to the marketing juggernaut that tries to pass for Christmas. Understand that I don't claim to have Christmas shopping completely mastered, but I do have a few tricks that help us gain a bit of breathing room. 

The key? I try to get all the shopping done by December 1. There are a few parts to this strategy: 

I keep my eye out at garage sales (especially for stocking stuffers) during the year
This is much, much easier for younger children than older children. Gracie has some costume jewelry, a tiara, and baby doll accessories ready to be wrapped, sitting in my closet right now. Total cost = about $3. For Joey, I have a Curious George puzzle, a dinosaur pop-up book, and some flashcards. I don't have anything put away for Adam and Luke, as it's much harder to sneak toys past them during the year. Gracie's gifts are pretty much complete, and Joey will get a small Lego set and action figure to round out his Christmas. 

I shop mostly online
Have I mentioned how much I hate crowds, and how I loathe plastic, made-in-China garbage? I like open-ended, aesthetically pleasing toys. I strongly dislike toys which encourage children to push a button for a specific result, or that make electronic noises, or that are connected to movie or television characters. Yes, my children do have some superhero action figures. Emphasis on some. Okay, going off on a tangent here. 

I shop online because I want to stay away from the Christmas crowds - I don't like pushing through people, I don't like standing in line, and I cannot get the shopping done for my children while they're with me. (And that's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Which leaves, uh, no time for shopping sans kids.) Hubby & I do quite a bit of shopping on Amazon (especially for Legos, and I love super saver shipping), and we also like the toys at Magic Cabin. If you're used to paying WalMart prices for toys, you'll be in for a bit of sticker shock at Magic Cabin. But that's a good thing, for three reasons - the toys at Magic Cabin and the like are much more durable, much more open-ended, and being more expensive, you will purchase fewer (which means less cleanup, a simpler lifestyle, and less clutter, right?) These are toys that don't fall apart after a few rounds of play, and being more open-ended, will be played with for a longer duration. Adam still plays with the wooden sword we purchased for him three years ago. Money well spent. Stepping off my soapbox.

We put away a bit every month into a dedicated savings account, all year long
That one's pretty self-explanatory. We know Christmas is coming, so we plan for it. It's not a surprise, it's not an emergency. Happens on December 25 every year. 

I keep a running list of gift ideas for the kids
I have two lists - a Word document in a folder on my desktop, and a folder full of bookmarks in my browser. When it comes time to shop, I don't have to start from scratch. 

I send my husband out to shop the big sales at 5am on The Day After/Black Friday
He actually likes it. It's sick, I know. Must be some kind of sadism from having worked retail. Anyway, we scope out the good deals (online - just google "Black Friday deals") and plan a strategy. He gets up early on the day after Thanksgiving and goes out hunting with his list. He's home by 8am, and goes back to bed. 

So by following those tips, we can breathe a bit (just a bit) during the holiday season (and I say holiday because the way retailers treat it, it lasts from All Saints to Christmas - so it's not just the Christmas season.) We can focus on a prayerful Advent, enjoy the company of family and friends, make room for family traditions, and reduce the manic machine that is a consumer Christmas. Whew. 

Monday, November 10, 2008


Here is a picture of the boys in their Halloween costumes, at Grandma's house. Can anyone guess which two costumes were garage sale finds? 
And here are the boys doing lessons during the day on Halloween. No, they're not being mummies; we're playing out the story of Lazarus. We've discovered a show on EWTN (I think it's called Animated Stories of the New Testament) that the boys like. They recently caught the story of Mary & Martha, and Lazarus' story. So that inspired our toilet paper homage. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I need to sit on my hands...

Okay, this is really my last post about the election. But I had to share these little bits from here and there with you. 

In a recent article from Faith & Family Live, an author shares her wonder and worry about the outcome of the presidential election. She marvels at the barrier we've just crossed as a nation, and how wonderful and moving it is that we've elected the first African-American man as president. She goes on to say: 

It's bittersweet in the extreme, however, that the man who embodies the triumph of our founding principle "all men are created equal" with respect to black persons should be so unwilling to extend to the unborn the same right to be included in the family of men. It shows he doesn't know the meaning of his own triumph, and it's a blot on his achievement much as the institution of slavery was a blot on the American founding. 

The author goes on to share (and here's the second bit, that really shocked me) about a constitutional amendment passed in Michigan that makes it permissible to create embryos specifically for the purpose of experimenting on them. Does that make anyone else just want to be physically ill? (You can read the article in its entirety here.) Creating people, just so we can experiment on them?! It's like a bad nightmare, something from a science fiction movie. It's so evil, so frightening. "Oh, but those are just groups of cells. They're not people." Well, you and I are just a few dollars' worth of chemicals. 

The blogger of Conversion Diary (one of my very favorite blogs) talks about this very thing: how the victims of every kind of genocide were first categorized as less than human. Jews in the Holocaust, infant girls in ancient Rome, slaves in early America. How society uses euphemisms to talk about people that are being stripped of their humanity, calling them anything but man, woman, child. How that act makes the horror easier for society to swallow, like the frog boiling in the cooking pot. 

There are so many things I could say on this topic. But I am so fatigued by the evil of it. So heartsick that people have eyes but don't SEE. I am grieved that misguided sympathy makes this a "woman's rights issue," as if killing people should be the right of anyone. 

Don't even get me started about FOCA. Catholic hospitals will have to start performing abortions, even though that is anathema to their very existence. Parental notification (for parents of minors seeking abortion) will be ended. The ban on partial birth abortion will be lifted. This law can't even be described as Pro Choice - it can only be described as Pro Abortion. This is the first thing Obama wants to sign when he takes office! I'm heartsick about the thought of it. 

I need to sign off now, and go hug my children, and pray that they can make a better world of this mess they'll inherit. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My heart is heavy

My heart is heavy because of the election results. I am grieved that so many people just blithely don't think. Here, read this - she says it best. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

You might be a tightwad if...

You rinse and reuse your plastic baggies. 
You rinse and reuse the plastic bag your brown sugar comes in. 
You use both sides of your printer paper. 
You reuse junk mail for printer paper. 
You use junk mail envelopes for grocery lists (because they hold coupons so well!) 
Your idea of a good Friday night date involves a trip to the library, because their DVDs are free. 
You have a bucket in your bathtub to catch the "not quite hot enough" water before your shower, and reuse it to flush your toilet or water your plants. (or pour into your washing machine, or water the dog...) 
The thought of paying full price for an outfit at the mall makes you slightly ill. 
Your refrigerator displays half-finished glasses of juice, labeled with each child's name. 
You cloth diaper your children. 
Somewhere in your home there is a precariously-stacked bottle of something upside-down on another bottle of something, draining the last bit of something before the top bottle is recycled. (Recycled, of course, because trash bags cost money.) 
You know what the last digit is in the final-markdown price of clearance items at Target. (No, I'm not telling you.) 
Your children ask (with excitement) when the next yard sale-ing morning is.