Monday, December 5, 2011

Hanging Ornaments on the Christmas Tree:

I never once read an article or a blog posting on the particulars of hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree.  Knowing the whys and wherefores is what I call folk knowledge.  The way things are done in any particular family that are passed down to the next generation.  Until today, I didn't realize that there is a ratio of filler ornaments per 2 feet of tree in combination with special themed ornaments.  I slowly began to realize that to outsiders, my Christmas trees must have seemed butt ugly.

I never had themes.  I never had color schemes.  I always thought that tinsel could cover a magnitude of sins.  And to help clarify my thought process, I did a little Internet research to see what I could do to improve or, if nothing else, streamline how I do it.

Some Common Sense Tips:
  1. Buy a quality ornament hook.  One year I picked up a cheap box and even as I slipped them onto the ornaments they didn't feel right.  I came home from work the next day to find several of my heavier ornaments on the floor, the hook having straightened itself out under the weight of the ornament.  Most of my beloved treasures, did not survive the fall.
  2. When hanging your ornaments, try to no hang all the ornaments on the tips of the branches.  Try to get some ornaments back by the trunk, plus midway down the branches.
  3. It's never a good idea to hang ornaments on the Christmas tree light wires.
  4. If you have pets, hang your ornaments from ribbon, yard, raffia or floral wire.  I never met a dog that could resist taking a bite.
  5. When hanging those special one-of-a-kind ornaments, match the weight of the ornament with the strength of the branch.  If they really cause the tips of the branches to sag, hang them deeper into the tree.
  6. Don't be afraid to reposition a couple of inches of Christmas tree lights in order to showcase some of your more spectacular ornaments.
Do you know those boxes of 12 ornaments that are all the same shape or the same color?  You can usually get them for a couple of bucks?  These are called "filler" ornaments.  They're job is to evenly distribute color and sparkle. Christmas tree designers recommend that you have 20 filler ornaments per two foot of Christmas tree.  Put these ornaments on first and distribute them evenly across the surface of the tree as well as back towards the trunk and midway down the branches.

Then place on your one-of-a-kind special ornaments or family heirlooms.  Some designers recommend 10 special/themed ornaments per 2 feet of tree.  Remember to save the gaps in the branches for those longer ornaments that need to dangle.

If you're reading this blog, I know you love Christmas.  I know you probably have a fantastic collection of ornaments that you love as much as your children.  So I want to take a moment and make a suggestion to you.  Not forever, but just for now ...
If you have any tots at your house, or even a bad dog or incorrigible cat, I would recommend that you find a special place for your special breakable ornaments, rather than on the Christmas tree.  Let me explain...

25 years ago, I decked my Christmas tree to the nines.  With no indoor cat, I didn't hesitate to break out my family inheritance.  My youngest child was 2 1/2 and surely was scared enough of me NOT to mess with the Christmas tree. At the very tips, I hung the ornaments that came from my great grandma Minnie -- fairy light, thin as skin, blown glass teapots and samovars, sugar bowls and creamers.  They had traveled with her from Toledo, Ohio on the train.  Minnie had been a milliner.  Her husband, Dennis, a railroad man.  When the moved to Houston Heights, Texas -- around 1898, for Dennis' health, Minnie opened her own hat shop.  And these ornaments came from her shop.
I came home from my second night shift job to find all three kids lined up on the couch, and the tree looking somewhat askew.  Apparently for no reason, my almost three year old son thought he could climb the Christmas tree.  Of course it fell over and of course the only ornaments that shattered into a million shards were Minnie's.

Now, I'm not an idiot.  I know that JJ didn't just decide to climb the tree. I'm know that one of his sister's double dog dared him.  Hey, Christmas was over and there was no threat of ending up on Santa's naughty list.

My point is, those ornaments were irreplaceable.  I have searched the Internet, eBay, Elsy, antique stores -- and i have never found anything like them.  Those ornaments are gone, gone, gone.

If I had it to do over again, I would have opted for safety, for the preservation of precious family memories. I would have waited another 10 years before bringing them out.  I would have place them in a big glass bowl on the dining table, if I couldn't stand NOT to see them every year.  I should have bought Plexiglas display boxes for them and then locked them in the china cabinet.  But that was the price I paid -- don't let the same thing happen to you.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

The National Tree:  * * (2 stars out of 5)
Meh.  Yawn.  Zzzzzzzzz.

It had possibilities: a cute teenage son, an emotionally frozen, environmentally conscious widowed dad, the pretty young toy store marketer, but then -- yeah.  It stalled, got boring.  It almost felt like the plot was written by one of those computerized screenwriting programs.

One of my pet peeves is when Hollywood takes a relatively attractive teenager and then attaches too much importance to the good looks, the nice body, the great hair.  And then try to turn said teen into a star.  Of course, it's not just teenagers that they do that to -- however --

I imagine that a young teenage girl, might find this boy cute, but as a mom, his disrespect to his dad left me cold.  I found nothing endearing, nothing salvageable about this child.  And what left me even colder? The dad let it go on.  And on. And on.  It is implied that the boy is 17 years or younger and still living at home.  Whatever happened to the old "My House, My Rules" rule?  So the dad really takes the situation in hand hand and caves, letting that child have his way.  In real life, that child should have been doing chores -  so many chores that he'd be too tired to do anything else but eat, sleep and school.

The movie culminates at the lighting of the National Tree on Thanksgiving day in Washington, D.C. -- so I consider this a holiday movie, but definitely NOT a Christmas movie.  It it came on TV, I wouldn't turn the channel, but unless you're a Brat Pack fan and always wondered what happened to Andrew McCarthy, you don't need to be buying this.

From the Box:
"A Father and Son's journey.  A Nation's hope.

When their Sitka Spruce is chosen as the White House Christmas tree, a father (Andrew McCarthy) and his son (Evan Williams, Degrassi: The Next Generation) set off on an exciting cross-country journey to deliver the tree to the nation's capital.  Facing hardship and adventure as they travel America's heartland, father and soon discover a bond they never knew existed and the true meaning of Christmas.  Full of holiday spirit, The National Tree is a heartwarming and inspiring film for the entire family."  

A Remedy for the Christmas Blues

Heifer International
While we're on the subject of charitable giving, let me mention one of my favorites -- Heifer International. 

I've been donating to Heifer for several years now.  At first it was because I really liked the idea of providing families with a sustainable source of protein.  And it seems like now that I'm involved, a lot of celebs are jumping on the Heifer bandwagon.  But I digress ...

It was also fun to learn about the animals in the program and why they are so important.  I'm telling you, this is one of those charities that are a great teaching tool for your kids.  Instead of just watching you write a check, they can get on line and see other families and THEIR children working with the animals and how it helps them. 

As I've grown wiser and more picky about where I send my charitable dollars, Heifer has managed to sustain the test of time.  Recently I learned that the CEO of Heifer makes a salary of a little over $200,000 a year plus expenses.  WHAT?  I thought my dollars went to help people, not pay some CEO.  But in the grand scheme of things -- he/she needs to make a living too, and compared with some of the other CEOs out there or actors or professional sports people, $200,000 is a drop in the bucket:
    • The CEO of GM made $1.7 million plus $5.3 mill in stock over 3 years plus $2 mill under a long term incentive program.
    • In 2009, Ford's Alan Mulally earned $17.9 million in cash and bonuses.
    • Also in 2009, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan pulled down a cool mill.  Oh.  And $17 million in stocks and options.
    • I found a reference from 2001 that stated patent attorney Gerald Hosie made $40 million.
    • The head of Johns Hopkin makes over $1.5 million a year.
    • Congressmen and women make $174,000 annually.  Talk about throwing good money after bad ...
    • Leonardo DiCaprio made $77 million on his last two movies.
    • It is estimated that Bruce Springsteen makes around $53 million a year.
    • And Aaron Rogers could pocket $24.5 million if all incentives and escalators are met.
So what is this Heifer all about you might ask?  Here's a little something from the website :
"To End Hunger & Poverty
Heifer's mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth.
By giving families a hand-up, not just a hand-out, we empower them to turn lives of hunger and poverty into self-reliance and hope.
With gifts of livestock and training, we help families improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. We refer to the animals as "living loans" because in exchange for their livestock and training, families agree to give one of its animal's offspring to another family in need. It's called Passing on the Gift – a cornerstone of our mission that creates an ever-expanding network of hope and peace.

I can't imagine a more wonderful idea. 

And a side benefit of your charitable donation is a little magazine that comes to the mailbox periodically entitled World Ark.  It is a great educational tool. It's colorful, easy to read and I bet this would be extremely valuable for ideas for science projects or those who home school. 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

Bad Santa  * * * (3 out of 5 stars)
Bad Santa is hilarious.  Filthy and disgusting but hilarious.  I am not a woman that is easily offended, but I don’t think the “f” word has been said so many times in a single movie EVER.  On the other hand, sometimes it’s refreshing when a film sticks to its guns and doesn’t try to play to the hokey, smarmy platitudes that tend to make up the Christmas movie genre. 
I originally saw this in the theatre.  The audience was made up of wives who had lured their husbands into Christmas shopping with them with the promise of Bad Santa as a reward.  And it worked.  So as it gets closer to Christmas and you just want to hang out with your honey, this might be the movie to get him on the couch.  No need to promise hot chocolate and cookies.  Icy cold beer and some pizza is more in order.  If you are looking for a movie to fill you with the Christmas spirit – this is probably not one.
Raunchy or not, Christmas or not, my only real objection to the experience was the blurb on the back of the box…

From the box:
The baddest Santa ever comes to town in this never-before-seen exclusive director’s cut starring the hilarious Billy Bob Thornton (The Alamo), Bernie Mac (Ocean’s 12) and John Ritter (TV’s 8 Simple Rules).  Ill mannered store Santa Willie Stokes (Thornton) is really a safe cracker with a holiday tradition of making one big score every Christmas Eve with his clever Elf partner-in-crime Marcus.  But this year’s heist-fest could be completely foiled by a snoopy store manager (Ritter), savvy mall detective (Mac), sexy Santa fan and an innocent 8 year-old misfit who thinks the intoxicated and felonious Willie is the real Santa he seeks.  Forget the cookies and milk; this is the grittier gut-busting comedy that Rolling Stone pegs as “a Christmas perennial for Scrooges of all ages.

Your child does not need to see this. As a matter of fact, your college child doesn’t need to see this. 

On the plus side, Billy Bob Thornton don’t make no junk.  I miss Bernie Mac and I miss John Ritter and this gives me an opportunity to remember them again.  But the best part of this movie were the previews, one of them being Kinky Boots with Joel Edgerton and Chiwetel Ejiofor and it reminded me to put that movie on my “Want It” List.  Check it out:

Miss Bee's 2 Cents Worth


Several years ago, while fighting yet another bout of holiday depression, I took a little time to review the ghosts of Christmas pasts in an effort to try and understand where I got derailed.  What was it about those early years that were so fun and so joyous and so hopeful that I've been trying to get that feeling back for 45 years.  

Back in the early 60's, charity was taught in the public schools.  At least in Kalamazoo, Michigan it was.  We learned that no matter how little you had, there was always someone who had less than you.  And so I use Kalamazoo, Michigan as mainstream America.  If it was going on in Kalamazoo, it was probably going on in Omaha, Memphis, Newark -- you get the idea. 

We were introduced to UNICEF through "Trick or Treat for UNICEF."  There was great pride in bringing back to school the little cardboard container with the slot in it filled to overflowing with coins that you collected as you trick or treated.  We would knock on a door and say, "Trick or treat" and hold out our candy bags.  Once the important business was out of the way, we'd hold out the little UNICEF box and say, "Trick or treat for UNICEF."  The town expected it and many folks kept a bowl of pennies by the door for that very purpose.  I learned at a very early age that NO ONE likes it if you shook the little box of clinking coins at them.  

We had canned food drives.  A big box was set up next to the teacher's desk.  After the Pledge of Allegiance, the teacher would ask if anyone had brought in a can.  If you did, you would leap into line, walk up and place the can in the box.  You didn't want to be the only one to be left sitting at your desk.  When a box was full, the teacher would push it back by the blackboard and start a new box.  We had contests with the other classes as to who could be the most generous.  My mom hated it.  She had four kids who all wanted to bring a can every day of the food drive.  Now that I'm old I can see what a strain that must have put on the family budget.  But as a child, I had great pride in putting my can of corn in the box. It was directly because of me, that a family that would not go cornless at Christmas time!

In 6th grade, each classroom was given a Christmas stocking made out of red net and were asked to fill it.  I don't remember who was the beneficiary.  We were given a list of acceptable items and they were to be NEW, not something that you scavenged out of your own life.  Wrapped candy, little toys.  Janet Ward's dad was a dentist and she brought in tooth brushes and tooth paste, not just for our class, but for every classroom in the school.  Robin Lemmer's dad was a doctor and she brought in boxes of Animal Crackers.  Marbles, jacks, jump ropes.  We weren't supposed to bring Army men, but some did.  Mike Taylor brought a pack of baseball cards, but thought twice about it and switched it out for a Super Ball.  And Miss McClay, bless her Irish heart, made just as big a fuss over candy cane as she did over a little book.

But here's the thing, left alone and unadulterated, all of us wanted to help.  We knew that there were people starving in Ethiopia.  We knew that there were kids that didn't have any toys or anything warm to wear.  And, instinctively, we wanted to help.  It made us feel good if we could.  It made us proud that living here in the United States, not only did we have enough but we had a little extra with which to help someone else out.

So I began a mission of watching and listening for charities that I could donated to.  I'm not talking masses of money but dibs and dabs -- $10 here, $5 there.  I made some bad choices.  It's easy to give to the charities that are household names.  As I got older,  I tried to put my money where I could give the biggest bang for my buck.  And then -- while I understand and appreciate the whole global initiative -- I thought I would also like to give locally.  And while giving is good, there is also a fun factor -- call me selfish, but I'd rather use my money to buy ducks and bees, then to give prostate exams.  I would rather make a micro loan to a woman in Malawi for her farm co-op than fund a gifted artist to go to a private school  But that's just me. 

So, my point is this, if you are suffering from the holiday blues, try giving some of what you got away.  Here are some tips for getting your money in the right place.
  1. No matter how much you intend to give, check out that charity first at  Every charity is obligated to provide donors with detailed information about themselves such as annual reports, board of directors, mission statements etc.. 
  2. What is important to you?  While some people think it's absolutely imperative that they spend their charitable dollars to  send special needs kids to the circus, I like to donate my pennies to organizations that feed people.  I think that anything is possible when one doesn't have to worry about starving.
  3. Think local.  Google a list for "charities in" your area or check out your local news websites
  4. How is your donation spent?  The gang over at Charity Watch, most of the "highly efficient charities are able to spend 75% or more on programs."
  5. Do not allow ANYBODY to browbeat or bully you into making any kind of donation. 
  6. In this house if we've got the money we usually don't have the time.  If we've got the time we usually don't have the money -- if you don't have any money and still want to feel good?  Donate your time.  Be aware, however, that many organizations have an over abundance of volunteers at Christmas -- seems like you're not the only one who wants to feel better.  So instead of now, make a commitment to help out in January.
  7. Keep records of you donations.  Don't send cash, don't give out your credit card number EVER to any solicitor that calls you.  Don't use your credit/debit card on any website that is not a secure site. 
  8. Make sure that the charity you are making a donation to is the real deal.  There are a lot of made up, flim-flamming, scamming charities that SOUND like real charity that you've probably heard of.  If it sounds a little off, just postpone your donation and check it out at or your state charity registration office.
  9. Do not fall for the "sob story."  Nor the "down on my luck."  I'm going to sound like a total bitch, but there is a rash of causes that float to the surface during the holidays.  The instigators count on the fact that they are only asking for a couple of bucks.  They are also counting on you being to busy to check them out.  I'm not saying not to give, I'm saying be a little cautious. 
  10. If you've still got kids at home, get them involved.  Let them be the one to drop some change in the bucket in front of the grocery store.  Have them help you pick out a toy to donate to "Toys for Tots."  Better yet, at a toy drive, let them be the one to carry the toy up and actually hand it over.  It is never to early for a child to learn to give.  Got a go-getter of a teenager?  Have THEM organize a toy drive or a food drive with their friends.  It will look great on a college resume.
  11. Don't respond to those unsolicted emails -- also called spam.  Don't click on any link as they might contain a virus.  Instead, Google the name of the organization and study it that way.  Don't open any attached files as well. 
  12. Do not make donations to anyone that asks for a check payable to an individual.
  13. And the FBI wants you to know that "legitimate charities do not normally solicit donation via money transfer services."  And most legit charities websites end in .org NOT .com.
  14. And lastly the best piece of advise that I gleaned from  Once you've determined that the charity is worthy and legit, give generously. 

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

    The Homecoming  * * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
    Let me tell you a little about my thought process for selecting Christmas movies with an eye towards adding them to my permanent DVD collection.  First there are the big guns, the movies  that start appearing in theatres across the United States sometime in November.  Then we have the made-for-TV movies that show up on regular network TV either as “specials,” or as expanded regularly programmed shows.  Then there are the films that show up on cable etc.  Back in my day, it used to cost a network major bucks to put together a Christmas show only to be seen just one time.  It was always risky.

    In 1971, I was 16 years old.  My sweetheart had graduated in the spring and was now in the US Navy, up to his butt in BUDS/SEAL training and not able to get home for Christmas.  I hadn’t been on a date in months.  And it was Sunday.  Dull, boring Sunday.  I was blue and bored and everything nasty that a teenage girl in the early 70’s could be. It was a Sunday and it had been snowing.
    Most of the neighbors' yards were covered with white fluffy blankets of snow.  My own front yard was a mass of brown muddy slush as my three brothers and a dozen of their friends had spent the day playing football in it. 

    On December 19, 1971 CBS aired a Christmas special called, The Homecoming – A Christmas Story. My mom had been watching the ads for the show for the past couple of weeks and was excited because, ”Patricia Neal is going to be in it and this is a pretty big deal because Patricia Neal is a movie star – not a TV actress, and Patricia Neal has won an Oscar, and she’s old time Hollywood.  She used to be so gorgeous but lately she’s had some health issues and we never get to see her anymore.  Do you want to watch with me?” “What’s it about?” I asked as if I had something better to do.  The Depression, I guess.  Christmas in the Depression.”  Now wasn’t that depressing.

    A note here about The Depression: While I did not grow up during The Depression, that era lived with us and all of our friends' families.  Our parents did grow up in The Depression when times were really hard. From them we learned not to waste ANYTHING from scraping the peanut butter jar clean to not dumping an inch of milk down the sink.  Snacks were usually popcorn.  We never had soda.  And every single item of clothing usually came from somebody else.  We used vinegar in our hair to soften it and we might have had an automatic washer as opposed to my boyfriend’s family who had a ringer washing machine, but very few people had a dryer.  Clothes were hung on lines in the basement during the winter and on an outside line in the summer. We ironed sheets and pillow cases because the heat from the irom killed germs and that way you wouldn't get sick and have to go to the doctor. 

    The Depression was also used to constantly remind every single child born from 1945 on how rough it used to be in the olden days.  The LAST thing I wanted to see was something about the depressing Depression.  But, there was my mom.  So excited.  And she did kinda ask me to watch it with her, and usually tries to avoid me so … damn.
    The Homecoming was written by Earl Hamner, Jr. and it was basically autobiographical.  It’s a story about a family of six red-headed children ages 15 down to 3, three boys and three girls.  They lived on a mountain in Virginia.  Mama is a bible thumper and daddy is a rascal.  Daddy’s aged folks live with them.  Everyone is poor.  They live on a small farm where most of what they eat they raised themselves.  And the kids all have chores and responsibilities. 

    Daddy has gone to a town 50 miles away to work and only comes home periodically.  Now, I know, there are many of you out there that drive more than that every day, but in 1933 with no money for gas and even if you had the money, you didn’t have a car – 50 miles was a loooong way.  And this movie is about this family and how they occupy about 12 hours while they wait for their Daddy to come home.

    Daddy.  That word always choked me in the craw.  Up in Michigan most of us stop calling our fathers, our dads “Daddy” but the time we start school.  And here were these children – even the 15 year old – calling his daddy "Daddy."  Since those years, I’ve lived here in the south longer than I ever lived in Michigan and Daddy rolls off my tongue just as easy as you please and I know longer cringe. 

    This is a small movie by today’s standards.  But the characters are wonderful.  It’s a reminder that we can be happy without a pot or a window if we have love and family.  It reminds us that there have been times in the history of this country where an orange was a holiday treat and a hand knit scarf was a cherished gift.  It reminds us that we are all just small pieces in a great big puzzle and SOMETIMES it isn’t about us at all.  As an adult, it reminds us that what our children learn about family and relationships they learn from us. 
    The movie is rated PG because I believe the oldest bog says “bosoms.”  But every single person in the family can enjoy this movie.  And it’s a movie to watch, not just have on in the back ground.
    This movie was so popular that it was turned into a regular hour long drama for CBS called The Waltons.  Even if you remember The Waltons and hate it, don’t judge this Christmas movie by those standards.  The very best the writers and actors had are in this movie.  A must have for your Christmas DVD collection.

    From the Box:
    "The Walton's Love and Courage Face a Difficult Test.
    Patricia Neal, Richard Thomas, Edgar Bergen and Cleavon Little star in this award-winning drama that inspired the long-running, vastly popular TV series, “The Waltons.”

    Set on a Depression Christmas Eve in 1933, this heart-tugging story centers around the Waltons.  They’re a rural American family preparing to celebrate Christmas together.  Though times are tough, love and sharing are abundant in this family. 
    An inspiring tale of love, hope and spirit, this deeply moving story goes far beyond the boundaries of time and place to reach out and touch everyone, every where."

    Christmas Tree Garland Idea:

    While we are on the subject of festive, fun and frugal DIY Christmas tree garlands, we have to think about cranberries.  Years ago, I purchased several garlands made from cranberry colored wooden beads because I loved them for their subtlety.  But a couple years ago I realized that a bag of fresh cranberries is not flat dark red.  Some are, yes, but most of the berries are several shades, from the deep, dark red to the almost pink.  So I decided to give fresh a whirl. 

    Gather Your Materials:
    • A couple of bags of FRESH cranberries
    • Scissors
    • Needles.  I used a doll needle.
    • DMC crochet cotton.  Or you can use dental floss, but be careful, the floss can cut the cranberries in half.
    • Pony beads or buttons
    • Decorative beads (optional)
    1)  It's easier to dump the cranberries in a bowl.  Discard any berry that is soft or starting to rot.
    2)  Cut off a length of thread, crochet cotton or dental floss.  I like 8-10 feet.
    3)  Tie a bead or a button on one end of the thread.  This will act as a stop and keep your cranberries from sliding off the other end. 
    4)  Start sliding cranberries on the needle until you get the desired amount.
    5)  Tie another button or bead on the needle end.

    As you can see, adding some beads really changes the look of the cranberry Christmas tree garland. 

    If you plan to use the little seed beads, you'll need a beading needle or even a quilting needle.