Monday, December 29, 2008

Back from Hibernation

I’m back and ready to blog.

Sorry for the mini-blackout.

Stay tuned for updates on the home front, some new life perspectives, and general discussions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Holiday Letter – Informative or Impersonal

My project for this weekend is to work on our holiday cards.

I have been sending out holiday cards to family and friends since Justin and I got married just about ten years ago. At the beginning, I didn’t have many cards to address and send out. Each one had its own personal touch with a small individualized note for the recipient to savor, knowing just how much we cared.

Things are a little different now. We now send out approximately 75 holiday cards to family and friends near and far. The military lifestyle ensures that we get a new address and some additional friends every few years. Because of that, I have gone from sending ten personalized cards, to sending 75 cards with a single spaced, 9 pt. font, form letter stuffed inside a card with a winter landscape on the front.

I have mixed feelings about the evolution of my holiday card giving. Everyone loves a personalized message from the sender. It’s always nice to read “Dear Justin and Jaynelle, Our family missed your annual Memorial Day at the Miller’s party…” I am a realist, though, and know that not everyone has time to write out 75 personalized messages, me included.

To be honest, it’s the thought that counts, right?. A simple card with just a signature lets me know that the sender was thinking of me this holiday season. A few simple lines written inside might even step it up a notch. I do have to say, though, I am equally delighted to get “informational” form letters from friends and family during the holiday season. They give me a small glimpse into the sender’s year, all on a single sheet of paper (I have had to shorten my letter a bit over the years. No one appreciates a two page, front and back, 1.5 spaced holiday letter with .5” margins, even if it is action packed…so I’ve been told). A simple form letter gets me caught up quickly and in the “know” on what is going on in the lives of family and friends whom we might not see or hear from on a regular basis.

As usual, this year's holiday letter will be filled to the brim. I’m sure I will have to weed out the “not so exciting” parts so as not to run over my one-page limit. I’ll ask each family member what information they want included about themselves, giving everyone their own paragraph. I have always included a family photo in our cards. I guess it's because I'm a visual person and like receiving photos myself. In more recent years, I have started to include the kids’ “school” photos in the holiday letters (they each have their portrait taken near their birthday in place of actual school photos). I’ve found it makes it easier for me to remember who I’ve sent photos to if I send them all at the same time.

So what do you think?

If you have a minute, please fill out the polls in the upper right of your screen. I'm interested to see what people think.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Saving on Gift Giving during the Holidays

According to today’s standards, I come from a big family. I have three younger sisters scattered throughout the country, each of them has a significant other, one sister has two children, and who can forget Mom and Dad. When you add it all up there are 15 of us in all. After celebrating Christmas at my parents’ house one year after Jolie was born, we decided that once everyone had children (probably 2-3 per couple), we were going to be forking out a ton of money on gifts throughout the year.

My sisters and I came up with a solution. We have decided to set financial limits and to divide up the gift giving. (Okay, so actually I’m the one who needed to create some parameters and everyone just agreed with my plan.)

For the holidays, we choose names to divide up the gift giving. Each sister chooses another sister and has a $50 gift limit; each guy chooses another guy and has a $25 gift limit, and we each choose a child (I get my sister’s kids because I have the most children…and I’m the oldest, I guess) and have a $25 gift limit. For Mom and Dad, some years we sisters all go together to purchase a larger gift and some years we each purchase an individual gift, it just depends.

Now, I understand that gift giving isn’t all about the cost, it’s about the thought. With each of us sisters in a different profession, making different salaries, it is just easier to set a limit and divide up the gifts so that no one sibling is overwhelmed with the cost that can be associated with the holidays. The kids will each have two gifts (one from an aunt and one from Grandma and Grandpa), which is more than enough in my opinion. We know that each holiday season we will average about $150 on the 3-5 gifts we’ll give to our extended family.

For the past few years we have been celebrating the Holidays during Thanksgiving, when we all gather at a cabin in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. We have been heading to the mountains for Thanksgiving since I was eight years old. There was a chunk of time in which my immediate family missed our annual trip to the mountains because we lived across the country. Now that we are back on the east coast, we are able to participate again. Because we are all in the same place at the same time, we have been decorating a small tree and opening gifts on Thanksgiving. It works out especially well for the kids and Grandma and Grandpa. Mom and Dad get the chance to see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they open their gifts…a win-win for everyone.

So how do you handle gift giving for your extended family during the holidays? I’d love to hear how other families make it through the holidays financially intact.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Simple Way to Green your Holiday Gift Giving

All of those packages under the tree, the menorah, or the kinara, wrapped up in colorful paper, are just that…wrapped in paper. According to, during the time between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans throw away about 25% more trash than they do during the rest of the year. This extra waste is estimated to create about five million tons of trash, with about four tons of that waste coming from wrapping paper and shopping bags.

Traditional paper gift wrapping is, as you know, a paper product. Soft wood trees are cut, milled, bleached, and dyed, forming what you see down the “wrapping” aisle at your favorite big box store. This process can adversely affect our environment unnecessarily, especially since there are alternatives that can be used instead of new paper gift wrapping.

So how can you help to decrease some of the waste associated with the holidays and help to green up the gift giving process? Reduce, Reuse and Recycle…your gift wrapping, that is.

Reduce – Rather than wrapping all of those little bundles with new paper wrappings, why not use reusable cloth bags. Wrapsacks are wonderful alternatives to traditional wrapping paper and they can be tracked online adding to the gift giving fun.

Reuse – If you do choose to use traditional wrapping paper, try saving and reusing that paper for another holiday or event. You might also try wrapping gifts with newspaper (the funnies might be fun) or letting the kids decorate brown paper bags from the grocery store and wrap your gifts with a little extra love.

Recycle – Be sure to have a recycling bag or bin handy to catch all of those paper wrappings and packaging to recycle. Check with your local recycling center to find out whether or not they accept traditional wrapping paper.

The EPA has a great list of ways to reduce holiday waste; everything from recycling trees to purchasing rechargeable batteries.

Please join me in reducing or eliminating the amount of new, traditional paper gift wrap that finds its way into our nation’s landfills by reducing, reusing, and recycling.