Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

The Christmas Spirit All Year

Christmas JoyAs a writer it is easy to spend a great deal of time “in my head” and by myself.  There’s nothing like a flu-like bug to snap you back to reality.  Once I hit the tail end of the misfortune, my mind began to wander to the upcoming Christmas holiday.  I thought about three people I know that demonstrate the Christmas Spirit all year long.

The first is my friend and colleague, Bill Foussard.  Bill is one of the hardest working guys in the hotel industry.  But it is his unbelievable generosity and heart that amaze me.  He spends a good deal of time during the year organizing a Meals on Wheels event for Thanksgiving that feeds around 20,000 people.  Somehow he manages to get donations to cover it all.  Then the next month he hosts a party with Santa for seniors at his Best Western White Bear Country Inn in White Bear Lake, MN.  Please, Bill, keep up the good work.

The next person is also someone that I am lucky enough to consider a friend.  Chuck Horton, from a well-known boxing family in Duluth, MN, started a program of outreach through his gym and boxing instruction.  He never turned away a youth who came to him wanting to learn the sport.  Sometimes the local judges sent young men to Chuck instead of to a juvenile center for “rehabilitation.”  He took them into the gym and under the collective wing of the other boxers to help guide the youth to better choices.  Although he has handed his gym over to former professional boxer Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters, Chuck’s undying spirit still thrives at the gym and in Duluth boxing.

The last person is someone I got to meet and interview recently.  As a Vietnam Veteran, Brad Bennett spent decades fighting the memories and guilt of a soldier.  He was involved in the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group in the Duluth area, and met a Vietnamese man who escaped the horrors of the Vietnam conflict by fishing boat.  The man was sponsored and raised by a family in Duluth.  Upon meeting Bennett, the two formed a bond and planned a trip back to Vietnam where Bennett would donate thousands of dollars he raised through his local radio show.  His kindness, donations, and return trips have helped to rebuild a village that he once helped decimate.  God bless your gentle soul, Brad.

I am proud to know these three men.  I am also proud to say I know others who do similar acts of kindness all year long.  That is the true embodiment of the Christmas Spirit, and may we all learn from these wonderful folks.  Merry Christmas!


Smells Like Christmas

Tapiola, Michigan Late 1960's/early 1970's

Tapiola, Michigan Late 1960’s/early 1970’s

Have you ever caught a whiff of something and suddenly a memory overwhelms you?  That happened to me yesterday while having lunch with friends.  There I was, hanging out at the Pizza Pub in North Branch, Minnesota, when a couple walked in and sat behind us. As they began to remove their snowmobile gear, my nose tingled at the aroma; ah, exhaust.

Next thing you know I’m transported back over the decades to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to a small town called Tapiola.  We’re there to visit family for Christmas.  I’m bundled head to toe in my one-piece snowsuit with a “chook” and scarf covering everything except my eyes.  Much like Randy in A Christmas Story, I am barely able to put my arms down from the swaddling.

Off we would go, my cousins and I, to the field between my grandma’s and my aunt’s and uncle’s house.  Armed with toboggans and sleds, we trudged through the super snowy hills to the top.  If you’re unfamiliar with a “Yooper” winter, let me just say they get a couple hundred inches of snow every winter, there’s no wondering if the white stuff is coming.

Laughing and trying to steer as we flew down the hills between the trees, I imagine we looked something like Chevy Chase on a greased saucer in the movie Christmas Vacation.  Oh there were plenty of saucer-tree collisions, and many a time someone landed in the creek (pronounced “crick”), but we laughed until our sides ached.  And if we were lucky, cousins Donny and Gary would be out on their snowmobiles to chauffer us to the top to do it all over again.  Soaked and/or frozen, we’d head back to grandma’s house for cocoa and cookies, wet snowsuits and accessories spread out to dry.

And that’s when it happened; the aroma of pizza wafted under my nose and transported me back to Minnesota.  Gone were the days of carefree giggling and wet “swampers” drying by the vent.  Gone, too, is my chauffer, Gary.  Although it makes me a bit melancholy, it is not a time for sadness.  I know that every time I smell a whiff of exhaust happy memories will wash over me.  And whether it’s pine, balsam, cedar, or Polaris it smells like Christmas to me.  Happy Holidays to all!






New Home for the Holidays

Ornaments on Tree

My 100th post, on Friday the 13th, and it’s coming from our new place in central Minnesota. It has been a wild and crazy week, but also full of adventure.  I now know the real meaning of the phrase ten pounds of stuff in a five pound bag!  We hired a team of movers to transport us from Duluth to the new place.  This is without a doubt one of the best decisions we have ever made.

The guys we hired were awesome.  They gave me a good deal of guff about keeping my piano, an upright Grand made back in 1895.  Okay, I get it, it weighs a ton, but it’s beautiful and I love it.  So the ribbing was worth it.  To be fair, I got in my share of jabs, too.  One of the guys was telling me about his shoe obsession; all boxed and stored under his bed.  Who knew, the Carrie Bradshaw of moving men!

They made light work of our furniture and the load in Box Island (our old front porch).  Now we have a room lovingly referred to as Box Lake.  Soon there will be some semblance of order, but not today. Today I am too tired.  After two days of schlepping boxes, even my fingernails hurt.  Last night we barely managed to nuke some chicken fingers from the freezer and stuff ‘em in tortillas for wraps before bed.  Yes, that is gourmet fare when you’re moving.

But we got to deflate the air mattress and sleep in our own bed last night.  That was like a little piece of Heaven.  Fritz, the Mini Schnauzer, is enjoying his new surroundings as he goes from room to room sniffing.  The caboose will be down tonight to see her new room.  I don’t think she’s prepared for the work ahead of her this weekend, but surely she’ll squeeze in a little snowboarding at the new hill to compensate.

It’s all pretty exciting, I guess.  We’re on a quiet street with a cul-de-sac and I have my first attached garage (it’s the little things).  We have all of our stuff from up north, and so far nothing was broken.  I have even located our Christmas tree! Now, if I could just find the lights…

Planning To Give

Hats, Mittens, and Scarves

If you’re like me you cringe when you walk into a store in October and see the Christmas decorations out already.  I’m all about the holidays, but I don’t want to skip the ones between now and the end of December!  However, there are some things that need to be brought up in advance because some planning is required.

I wrote in an earlier post about a friend of mine, Bill Foussard, who is the soul of Meals on Wheels in the St. Paul area of Minnesota.  He is one of those guys with a heart of gold and his actions speak volumes.  Bill fed nearly twenty thousand people last year for Thanksgiving.  Why bring this up now?  Because it’s getting to be that time of the year.  You don’t just wake up one day and cook tens of thousands of dinners for some folks in need.  It requires planning and a lot of volunteers.  These people are needed in advance, not just on Thanksgiving Day.  Who could you help this year?

Another thing to think about is holiday parties.  Are you planning one?  Have you already purchased your centerpieces?  If not, this story and pictures could help.  Last year we decided to forgo the usual greenery at our Minnesota Lodging Association holiday banquet.  Instead we purchased baskets to decorate and filled them with nonperishable food.

I made a detailed spreadsheet, checked and rechecked food prices at the wholesale club, and then made one big purchase.  We bought baskets from a craft store when they went on sale and used tissue for decoration.  By doing this, we were able to donate over 400 pounds of food to local food shelves.  And no one argued over who got to keep the centerpiece.  Another bonus, now we have baskets to reuse this year.

What else could you do?  How about adding some mittens, scarves, and hats to the baskets?  They could be donated to local churches or community organizations that reach out to the homeless.  I rarely leave home without a skein of yarn and a crochet hook.  (I needed something to keep my hands busy after I quit smoking in 2007.  This is a much better habit!)  This year there will be 75 handmade pieces in the baskets with the food.  There are a lot of people out there like me.  Be creative.  Plan ahead.  Most of all; get involved.

Free Ornaments! well…almost!

Ornament WorkstationHere’s a great idea for homemade Christmas ornaments.  I saw a picture on Pinterest and thought I’d give it a shot.  I went to my local Menards home improvement store and got ten stir sticks–the long ones for five gallon buckets.  They were free–YAY!  I had my husband cut them into five pieces each and drill a small hole in each of the two upper corners; yes, that is 50 ornaments that you can make in a matter of a couple hours start to finish.

We live in a house that’s over a hundred years old and there are always projects going on.  So that meant we had rolls of wire already.  But if you don’t, it doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.  You could maybe even use some old hangers if you still have wire ones laying around, or ribbon or floral wire.

You’ll also need some paint.  Again, nothing extravagant.  We have a couple wannabe artists in house, so there’s tubes of paint.  But I also used some old samples we had of wall color.  Hey, use it up, right?!  Just give each one a coat of color and let it dry.  For the ends where the handles were, we painted those white to make snowmen.

A Quick Dry

After the coat of paint was dry, I used a paint pen and wrote different words on the ornaments.  Pretty standard stuff!  After that was dried, I put the wire through the ends and gave it a twist with the needle-nose pliers.  Yeah, high tech!


Here is how we painted the snowman.  The top was black with a small red line for his hat.  Then just dots and a triangle, yes, easy peasy is sometimes best!  An old piece of yarn with a dab of glitter glue for a scarf and just one hole in the top (center) for the hanger.  I used narrow ribbon and tied a knot at the end.

Faith Ornament

Ornaments on Tree

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go get your supplies and have a wonderful, homemade, and recycled holiday!

The Top 5 Ways to Green Your Holidays

Homemade Christmas

Here it is, hours away from December.  So in honor of this wonderful time of the year, here are five ways to have a more socially responsible holiday season.

1.  Swap your lights

If you’re replacing lights on your Christmas tree or for your outdoor decorations, switch over to LED lights.  They’re brighter, cheaper in the long run, and use less energy.

2.  Use a timer

We recently installed a timer on our outdoor lights.  It’s the best three dollars we’ve spent in a long time!  No more worrying about whether or not we remembered to shut them off, they do it themselves.  And you can always override it if you want them on for a special occasion.

3.  Smart disposal of your tree

If you have a real Christmas tree, make sure that you don’t just toss it out.  Once it’s done and served it’s purpose, bring it to a location where they have tree disposal that involves chopping or mulching it.  It will live on in service!

4.  Make a donation

This is a very difficult time of the year for many families.  Whether they don’t have enough to buy gifts or to have a special holiday dinner, a lot of people rely on a little help to get by.  If you are able, drop off a new toy, some unused coats, or non-perishable food items to a local donation site.  One small gesture could make someone’s holiday season a whole lot brighter.

5.  Upcycle some decorations

The picture posted here is a tree skirt, decoration, and Christmas stockings that were made out of scraps of material.  That was back in the 90’s; now we have Pinterest.  There is a never-ending supply of ideas for making your own ornaments, decorations, cards, etc.  Give it a shot, it’s very satisfying!

 Most of all, have an enjoyable holiday season filled with family and friends!

Volunteering to be Thankful

I read in the paper the other day that one of my favorite teachers from high school passed away.  Mr. Thompson, affectionately known as “Mr. T”, was my biology teacher.  Not a favorite class of mine, for sure, but he made it fun.  I learned a lot about things I had previously never even thought about.  But more importantly, he educated me on the subject of helping others.

Our classroom was set up with tables, two students each, alphabetically.  The boy I had to sit with was certainly not someone I would have chosen.  We had nothing in common and he never seemed to be at the same pace as the rest of the class.  Mr. T would rely on me helping him out so as to keep the class moving forward.  Looking back to those years, and helping that struggling student, I guess that was my introduction to volunteerism; and in many ways helping him helped me to understand the topics better.

Maybe that’s why so many get involved with volunteering, not just because of the way it makes them feel, but because it enables them to see things differently.    If you are looking for some ideas to give back this holiday season, how about spearheading a toy or coat drive in your community.  If that’s not your cup of tea, how about the Salvation Army?  This organization provides Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys.  They also help with basic necessities and seasonal aid for all families and especially families of prisoners.  They keep their shelter open for Christmas dinner and bring gifts to shut-ins and nursing homes.  Even if you only have a few hours to spare, those red kettles are everywhere and the bells aren’t going to ring themselves!

Where we live there is a seven acre, three-million-light holiday display you can walk through by Lake Superior.  It is a strictly volunteer-run lighting display that comes complete with bonfires, cookies, cocoa, and of course Santa!  Bentleyville now even features a 128 foot metal Christmas tree that boasts 50,000 LED lights just on that structure.  Voted best lighting display in the state of Minnesota, it will open Friday the 16th of November and host nearly 200,000 visitors before it closes the day after Christmas.  Now that sounds like a volunteer opportunity to get involved in; and who doesn’t love fire and cocoa?  I think that is definitely something Mr. T could get behind.