Saturday, November 7, 2015

Debt-Proof Your Christmas: Celebrating the Holidays Without Breaking the Bank

Create your family’s “Top Five Holiday Values”, write them down and post them. In what specific ways can our values be expressed in our homes and lives during the Christmas season? How can we share our blessing with other people? Fill in dates on the calendar for special activities that reflect those values.

12 pairs of mittens & gloves
  • Pin to ribbon and hang
  • Choose free or inexpensive activities in the community (church concerts, community Christmas tree lighting, hometown Christmas parade, etc); write down each person’s favourite breakfast; choose four activities that serve the needy (serving at a homeless shelter, taking candy canes to a nursing home); inexpensive activities to do at home (game & movie nights, pizza making, cookie baking).
  • Type each of the special 24 moments, roll up & tie with festive ribbon, put one in each mitten.
  • Start activities Dec 1st.
  • After Christmas take mittens to homeless shelter.

Holiday spending plan. Include a specific and detailed spending plan, designating the overall amount you plan to spend and the ways you plan to spend it.

Make a chart where you can see spending categories including gifts for kids, spouse, parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends; gift wrapping, Christmas cards, postage, photo session; baking ingredients; tree and home decorations; admission for holiday events; baby-sitting; travel costs; new clothes, etc.

Four categories for gift giving: gift of Love (something homemade), gift of Warmth (like socks, blanket), gift of Knowledge (like a science kit, books, educational DVD), and a gift of Joy (something they really want).

Christmas memories letter. When you put the holiday ornaments etc away, include a letter remembering what happened that Christmas: the weather, people who stopped in for a visit, a few words about hopes, dreams, and wishes for the New Year. (could also make a scrapbook!)

Gift exchange idea: shop and “buy” for the person what you would if you had all the money in the world. Find a picture, photo, or other visual representation of the object. Wrap your gift properly and be prepared to give all the reasons you chose it.

  • Give something you made – a tree ornament, plate of cookies, note cards
  • Give the gift of compassion – become a bone marrow donor, donate to a cause in honour of the person – write a description of your experience and give it to the recipient.
  • Give what you do best – cook, clean, babysit, drive, shop, scrapbook, research
  • Give it in writing – include a short note with each of your gifts telling the recipient what they mean to you and the value they bring to your life.
  • Layered soup jar and include note saying donation has been made to local soup kitchen in their honour.
  • Create your own “Cookie-of-the-Month” (or Quarter): bake a dozen cookies to include in the holiday gift, along with a card announcing your recipient will receive another dozen each month/quarter all year long.
  • A simple cookie cutter in a holiday shape of a star, tree, or gingerbread man can make a great little gift. Lay the cookie cutter in the middle of a piece of clear cello, fill the center of the cutter with tiny candies such as jelly beans, gather the cello and wrap with a bow.
  • Birthdays package: include cards & envelopes, return address labels, stamps, and list of all the birthdays for the year.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

What no one tells you about aging parents

My mom thinks she's the sandwich generation. She says she's a "club sandwich" because she has her parents, children, and grandchildren. She might be right, but I'm also living with a sandwich. Young children, down to age 4, and older parents in their late 60s. What no one tells you about aging parents is that they probably feel guilty about not having enough time for their parents, children, and grandchildren, because they still have to work.

My grandfather, my mom's father, was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2006 and passed away this Spring. My great-grandmother, my mom's grandmother, had Alzheimer's. Reading "Still Alice" makes one hypersensitive to the possibility of the existence of some form of dementia in one's family. What no one tells you about aging parents is how to have an honest conversation with them about their mental health.

My dad has donated his whole body to science so that there won't be anything for the family to take care of. On the other hand, he also bought a cemetery plot - maybe in case science doesn't want him? My mom was a P.O.A. for my grandfather, but has set nothing up for herself. What no one tells you about aging parents is that some of them seem to be in denial about their own mortality.

As far as her children know, my mom has no P.O.A., no Will, no Executor, no last wishes. She once mentioned something about having red velvet fabric in her casket, but that's all. What no one tells you about aging parents is how difficult it is to get them to discuss their final wishes.

What about you? What did no one tell you about aging parents?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

5 Ways I Use Aloe Gel

If you've seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," you'll remember that the dad recommended using "Windex" for just about everything. I've recently come to feel the same way about Aloe.

Here are 5 ways that I use Aloe gel*:

1. On my finger tips
It keeps my cuticles and skin soft and, as a bonus, the unpleasant taste is a reminder not to bite my nails.

2. On my face
I smooth it on any pimples or irritated spots and it promotes faster healing.

3. On mosquito bites
Soothes and reduces itching,

4. On sunburns
Soothes and reduces pain

5. On my feet
Rubbing Aloe all over my feet before putting my socks on softens them and heals cracks.

*Medical Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Consult with a doctor if any irritation occurs. Aloes should not come into contact with eyes.

What about you? What other ways do you use Aloe?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Letter to our kids' schools re: Halloween

I searched for a sample letter online and didn't find one, so here's what I wrote in case anyone else can use it.



Recognizing that thematic planning starts well in advance, we thought it would be important to make sure you are aware that our family does not celebrate Halloween. As you may be aware, this is a religious holiday, celebrated by adherents of the Wiccan religion as one of their four holiest days of the year.

We would appreciate it if you could keep us informed as to any school-wide Halloween activities taking place so that we can plan accordingly. We would like to "opt-out" our kids from any Halloween-related assignments, costume parades, or crafts that depict witches, zombies, and the like.

If you have any questions, please let us know. Thank you in advance for respecting our wishes.

[my name & DH's name]

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Union Activist?

A colleague of mine, who is very much a Union activist, says that I am an activist too. I went from someone who only showed up for major votes (like whether to strike, and to ratify the new Collective Agreement), to being a Union Steward and member of the Bargaining Team. How did this happen?

Quite simply, I was unhappy with the raw deal we got with the new Collective Agreement - my major concerns being the 10 additional Sundays at regular rate, and minute pay increases that didn't keep up with the cost of living. Bargaining, as part of a team, with the Employer on behalf of my almost 300 colleagues take a huge amount of preparation and significant professionalism. I was honoured to be voted onto this team and have committed myself to seeing the process through to the end. I took on the role of Steward because I understand the value of standing side by side with someone when they need to have a stressful meeting with the Employer.

My grandfather was a VP at a major bank and I had gotten the impression that he was anti-union. Because I deeply respected him, I felt conflicted about my involvement in the Union. When he passed away this April and we celebrated his life, I was reminded once again of many values that he taught me. He invested heavily in helping those less fortunate, donating his time to be on the Board of charities he believed in, and giving financially. He cared about fairness and improving people's lives. I think that would also extend to their working conditions.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of an "activist" is: 
A person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.

So maybe I am an activist.

What about you? What are you an activist about?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Medicine Walk

Medicine Walk Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars. Really enjoyed this book about the journey of an estranged son and father sharing the father's final walk. There is no sugar coating about the challenge, and sometimes impossibility, of trying to make things right at the end of one's life. Wagamese is a rich storyteller, and I appreciated what I felt was a realistic look at the death process.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to go on vacation with 4 kids!

Getting ready to leave the house on vacation can be a daunting task for families with young children. You want to get on the road as early as possible, but somehow it's almost noon by the time you get on the road. Here's how we get our family of six on our way as early as possible.

A week before:
Try not to buy groceries the week before you leave. Use up all perishables and "pantry shop" to round things out. Save money by not having much to toss before leaving.

Three days before:
Start packing a few days in advance. For us this not only means bringing travel bags up from the basement, but also putting clothes aside as they are laundered. That way we have the right number of clean shirts, shorts, socks, and underwear without having to do a last minute load of laundry.

A day before:
  • Have the kids pack their backpacks a day or two before leaving. These will travel in the van with them. My kids will usually pack reading books, activity books, notepaper, and writing implements. Some will include stuffies or small cars. I leave this up to them. Inevitably they'll wish they'd brought something a sibling brought, and they'll remember to pack it next time.
  • Tidy up the house, clean the bathroom, and change the bedsheets. This way you come back to a nice clean home.
  • Water the plants.
  • Put roof top carrier on van, if applicable. Gas up van.
  • Assemble all the packed bags, we put everything in our living room since it's close to the front door.

Morning of:
  • Wash up all dishes and wipe kitchen table.
  • Sweep floors.
  • Empty fridge of perishables, either take them with you or toss in organics bin.
  • Take recycling, garbage, and organics out.
  • Load up roof top carrier and van. Kids' backpacks and pillows travel with them in the van.

With this plan we're able to get up and out the door in one to one-and-a-half hours.

Let the vacation begin!

What about you? What are your tips for getting on the road quickly with kids?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

30 Ways to Help Around the House

I've been cleaning up my electronic files and found a post I saved in 2011. I can't find the original online, but it included a photo by Suat Eman - if anyone can post the link to it I would be grateful.

I've modified it a bit to suit our home and share it with you in case it can be helpful in your home. The goal is for family members to look for ways to help around the house...not to always be told or asked.

The list provides a starting place to help children especially notice the many small, but ongoing, tasks that need to happen on a regular basis.

Looking for opportunities to serve around the house?

Check out the following suggestions:
  1. Are there dishes in the drainboard that need to be put away?
  2. Does the kitchen table need to be wiped clean?
  3. Does the kitchen floor need to be swept? Dustpanned?
  4. Do the hallways need to be swept? Dustpanned?
  5. Do the bedrooms need to be swept? Dustpanned?
  6. Does the carpet need to be vacuumed?
  7. Are there globs of toothpaste on the bathroom counter or floor?
  8. Any beds that need to be made?
  9. Does the garbage need to be taken out?
  10. Does the recycling need to be taken out?
  11. Does clean laundry need to be brought up from the basement? 
  12. Does clean laundry need to be sorted?
  13. Does clean laundry need to be folded?
  14. Does clean laundry need to be put away?
  15. Does dirty laundry need to be taken down to the basement? And sorted?
  16. Do books need to be gathered up and taken downstairs?
  17. How are the bookshelves? Books sticking out? A mess?
  18. Are there piles of shoes in the back hallway that need to be tidied?
  19. Are there jackets in the back hallway that need to be hung up?
  20. Does the van need to be cleaned out? Does it need a new garbage bag?
  21. Do I see any areas that really need dusting?
  22. Is the buffet drawer a mess? Could I organize it?
  23. Are there any toys out that need to be put away?
  24. Do the toy bins need organizing or sorting through?
  25. Do the cupboard faces or baseboards need to be wiped down?
  26. Do the bathroom mirrors need to be cleaned?
  27. Does the front hallway mirror need to be cleaned?
  28. Do the walkway and driveway need to be swept?
  29. How else can I help outside?
  30. If my brother or sister is asking for help, how can I be helpful?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Date Night: March

In March we had a book store themed date and it was great and very inexpensive. The idea came from Love Actually and they provide a list of challenge ideas. There were a lot of ideas so we only used a few of them.

Find a new date idea.

Find a new recipe you'd like to try...

A place you'd like to visit:

Florianópolis, Brazil

We ended the night with treats at Starbucks.

What about you? Read any good books lately?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Eulogy for Papa

My grandfather was a brilliant, powerful man with a great sense of humour.

There was one thing I could always be sure of when I worked hard or accomplished something – Papa would be proud of me. Whether it was the completion of a Masters degree, an award of achievement in highschool, or a well done grade-school project, Papa was proud of me. He taught me the importance of hard work and being proud of each others' accomplishments. 

Papa worked hard and accomplished much, and he used these accomplishments to bless others. 

Matthew 25:34-40 (NKJV) says:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

“Then PAPA will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did I see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did I see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did I see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to PAPA, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

I was so very privileged to be able to be with Papa at the end of his journey. As I spent time with him overnight from Saturday into Sunday I spoke to him and thanked him for giving me a lifetime of being a wonderful grandfather, for demonstrating that a continent apart was not too far away to visit your grandchildren. Most importantly, for blessing me and my children with a rich inheritance of faith.

At 2:02 on Sunday morning I was holding Papa’s warm hand when he tightened it around mine. He opened his eyes and looked up and he was finally free of all suffering. The song playing on the CD was "Give Thanks,” which includes the words “and now, let the weak say I am strong!" I am so thankful that Papa can finally say this again.

Most will be familiar with the “love passage” in 1st Corinthians 13, which describes many attributes of love. It ends with “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (NKJV) Through these past five years especially, I have witnessed the steadfastness of love between Nanny and Papa. Nanny continued to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.” Thank you Nanny for showing us how to live this verse.

Before I would leave Papa after a visit I would leave him with the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 and that is what I want to bless you with today:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

Monday, April 27, 2015

Papa's Last Day

*** WARNING: Some readers may find this entry difficult as it deals with death. ***

April 25, 2015

9:30 pm

Dear Papa,

We're having a sleepover tonight. I'm all set up on the chair bed beside you, with my sleeping bag and pillow.

I sang along with the CD for a bit and read to you a little. I watched as the PSW washed your face, wet your mouth, applied cream to your limbs, and vaseline to your lips. I listened as the nurse suctioned phlegm from your mouth, trying to give you a bit more time between choking fits.

I said bedtime prayers with you...

"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should for before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take."

11:11 p.m.

I was asking God to take you home Papa, wondering why He just didn't. It took something the PSW said to remind me of our gift of free will. "He [Papa] decides when to go."

April 26, 2015

12:27 a.m.

Your breathing seems to be slowing and becoming more shallow.

I'm here Papa. But I don't want you to stay for me. You've given me a lifetime of being a wonderful grandfather. You taught me the importance of hard work and being proud of each others' accomplishments. The value of giving to enrich the lives of others, and the importance of investing for the future. That music is part of a well rounded education. That a continent apart is not too far away to visit your grandchildren.

12:34 a.m. 

Your breathing is like sips of air through a straw with holes in it.

In the research I did about palliative care and end of life, I don't remember reading about smell. Someone should've written about smell. Your body is breaking down and giving off a distinct odour. It's hard to describe. I was thinking about how God formed the first man from dust and how we recite "dust to dust" at funerals. Is it an earthy smell then? The smell of decay?

1:18 a.m. 

I'm torn Papa. I wonder if I should be talking to you, offering you comfort somehow. But what can I say? And will my voice keep you anchored to this world? Better to err on the side of comfort. I'll read to you from Steve Fry's "I Am: The Unveiling of God."

I held your hand, soft and so very hot. I reminded you that generations of your family follow God because of you. That when you get to heaven you'll see your parents, your sister, your son-in-law Silas, the grandson you never met because he was born in Brazil and died after a day. Your body will be free of pain, your mind whole again. But it's your choice Papa, you have to tell Jesus you're ready to go.

2:02 a.m. 

I was holding your hand and you tightened it. You let out a huge gurgle and stopped breathing. You opened your eyes and looked up to the left corner of the room. I know that's when your spirit left you. The song playing on the CD was "Give Thanks." And now, let the weak say "I am strong!" 

My Papa is free from pain. Thank You Jesus.


After Papa's spirit left, his strong heart took another 10 minutes or so to finish its work. The lungs pushed out air about six more times and it was more than a little unnerving, especially when accompanied by sound. At some point Papa's whole body twitched, which I knew was to be expected.

I touched his hand again, since I had stepped away from the bed when his body was having its final moments. It was still soft and warm. I placed my hand on his chest, over his heart and lungs. Everything still. Peaceful. Thank You God.

I sat with my grandfather's shell for about an hour. Watched his colour go from rosy to waxen. Touched his cooling hands one last time, and left.