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.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

    The Best Christmas Pageant Ever  * (1 star out of 5)
    I feel like Scrooge for what I'm going to say, but, DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY.  Not only don't waste your money, but don't waste the gas to go to the library or the video store to rent it.  Don't waste one of your Netflix Pix on it.  And don't even waste your time watching it.

    We are talking about the TV movie made back in 1986.  The one that bills itself as a "delightful Christmas classic."  The acting was sooooo terrible, I just couldn't get past it.  Shame on Loretta Swit.  All those years with M*A*S*H, I would have thought she might have learned a thing or two.  What would really be great would be if someone out in Hollywood would remake this.

    From the Box:
    "A delightful Christmas story becomes a home video classic your family will treasure forever!  Loretta Swit stars in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."
    "Touching and funny, it's certain to become a classic." -- Tampa Tribune Times

    "Children will love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." -- Chicago Tribune

    BEWARE THE HERDMANS!  They're the nastiest, dirtiest kids you could ever meet ... and they've just decided they belong in this year's pageant.  But the town thinks they belong in the care of the local police.  When the curtain finally goes up, a miracle begins -- and it all turns into -- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!"
    Now, with all that being said, I will say this -- and please listen to me -- BUY THE BOOK!  Go to WalMart or, Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble and buy the book.  The name of the book (which came before the movie) is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  They book is so much better, funny and lighthearted and you can read it to yourself in a couple of hours.  Or, better yet, read it to your kidlets over a couple of nights as we head towards Christmas.  You really get to know the Herdmans and while it is, after all Christmas with peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, the Herdmans are STILL the Herdmans, rotten as the come.  They don't want your charity -- because if you something they want, they'll just take it from you any ways. 

    In the past, I have bought this book by the case and gave it as office gifts, teacher gifts, kid gifts, family gifts, Secret Santa gifts, pen friend gifts -- it really is a wonderful story. 

    Christmas Tree Garland Idea:

    Paper Chain - Chain - Chain!
    Most of us haven't thought about making a paper chain Christmas tree garland since kindergarten -- when a whole lot of effort ended with very unsatisfactory results. 

    First, there were the terrible colors available in the large sheets of construction paper.  Usually all the "good" colors had been used up (making autumn leaves), leaving faded black, faded brown and faded purple.  YUCK!

    Next was the tedious chore of cutting strips by hand.  It was hard to follow a pencil line on dark colors, let alone get a nice smooth edge from those blunt-nosed silver safety sisscors that tore more often than they cut.

    If that wasn't hard enough, then there was the mind-numbing task if holding paper circles together until the paste/glue dried.  Under the best of circumstances you could only get four or five links completed in an hour.

    And, finally, the limp construction paper didn't make nice stiff links but loopy ovals that in a few days time would unglue themselves.  No wonder making a paper chain Christmas tree garland left a sour taste in your mouth.

    But guess what?  You're not in kindergarten anymore!  Times have changed.  Paper has changed.  Glue has changed.  Little kid scissors have changed.  You're old enough to be trusted with a stapler and a whole roll of scotch tape. And many homes house crafters, scrapbookers and home offices where people have their very own paper cutters or slicers.
    All of this not only means making a paper chain Christmas tree garland easy-peasy, but a fun activity to do with the kids.

    Round up Your Materials: card stock, scissors, a paper cutter or paper slicer if you've got one, ruler, pencil, clear tape or one of those little red staplers in the school supply aisle.  You could also use an office stapler, but that makes bigger links and you'll have to adust your size.

    1)  Cut the long way on your piece of card stock.  Each strip will get you two links with no waste.  I used strips that were 1/2" wide. 

    2)  Then cut the long strips in half.

    Finally, build your chain.  If you have opted to use tape, I found it easier to go around the strip, instead of taping an end.  That way you can use any width of tape.  I also found it easier to link one paper chain into another, rather than making a bunch of links then linking on to another by making a new link.  It's also helpful if you let them puddle up in a bowl or a bucket.  Paper chain Christmas tree garlands will squash if you step on them.   

     And paper chain garlands can be used as an inexpensive decoration for Halloween, Easter and 4th of July, as well as birthdays.  I'm 56 and I still think they're fun to make. So give it a try ... it'll make you feel like a kid again. 

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Miss Bee's Christmas Movie Review:

    The Mousehole Cat  * * * * * ( 5 out of 5 stars)
    The Mousehole Cat  was first a book by Sian Phillips.  And, for once, a child's book has been adapted to a movie without losing any of the beauty of the wonderful drawings.  And I say "drawings" because each page is a work of art.

    This movie made me wish I still had little ones at home.  I spent many years, trying to find the perfect movie to let them watch on Christmas Eve.  A movie that was sweet.  A movie that had a happy ending so there were no tears before bedtime.  A movie that is ONLY 30 minutes long.  A movie that would appeal to my two year old, my mother-in-law and myself.  I would put this movie on between bath time and bedtime on Christmas Eve.  But I definitely will have to watch it several times during the holiday season. 

    As a bonus feature, there is a "The Making of The Moushole Cat."  Mousehole is a real place, off the tip of Cornwall, the land of my people. 

    From the Box:
    "Based on an old Cornish legend, The Mousehole Cat tells the story of Tom Bawcock through the eyes of his cat, Mowzer.  One winter, the Great Storm-Cat comes snarling and leaping at the harbor walls so that no boat can go out to fish.  When all the food in the village is gone, Tom decides he must brave the terrible weather.  As they sail into the mountainous seas, Mowzer sings a lullaby to calm the Great Storm-Cat of the sea.  Tom catches enough fish to feed the entire village.  And to this day, the people of Mousehole hold a procession and feast every Christmas in memory of brave Tom Bawcock."
    Just Don't Take My Word for it:
    • "For me it has become a Christmas favorite."
    • "The narration is wonderful.  The voice is soft and calming."
    • "It's one of the more quality stories I've ever seen for children (and adults).
    • "It's a classic and should be in every one's library of time-tested DVDs."
    • "This is so pretty to watch and the story is about friendship and responsibility."

    Christmas Tree Garland Idea

    Snowflake Paper Punch + Card Stock + Ribbon =a fun and cheap Christmas tree garland

    Over the last couple of months I've gotten a little obsessed with Pinterest.  What is Pinterest you ask?  Oh mama!  No matter what I say I couldn't do it justice, so just go here: and take a look around.  Crafting, sewing, quilting, cooking, knitting, fashion, home, style gardening, travel.  It's got it all.

    One of the little craft projects I found was how to make a garland for a Christmas tree out of circles punched from paper.  The first one was a whole garland made from the little traditional size punched paper dots.  Then someone posted a picture of a Christmas tree garland made out of a 1 1/4" circle punch, usually used in scrap booking.  Well, that started me thinking --

    Several months ago, I bought a big snowflake punch at JoAnn Fabrics.  It was usually about $16, but I got it for $8 using a 50% off coupon.  I was trying to justify the splurge (even on sale) and I gathered up some supplies:

    First I tried sewing the snowflakes on my sewing machine.  I just used machine quilting thread that I had laying around my sewing room. Fast and easy!

    But then I thought some people might say, "Miss Bee, are your crazy?  I don't have a sewing machine, and I'm not going to go out and buy one.  But I really, really want to make this Snowflake Christmas Tree Garland, what can I do?"

    Hole punch.  If you've got any kind of hole punch that's small enough to punch two holes side by side, you can make this garland. Actually I think I like it better because it's easier to manipulate ribbon.

    Free Yo-Yo Garland Tutorial

    I learned to sew in 1967, at the knee of Mrs. Sophie Lahner, my Hungarian neighbor lady. In the 70's, I branched off into making quilts. Yo-yo quilts were the rage, many made in the hideous rusts and avocado greens that we were also using on our kitchen appliances and shag carpeting.
    It seemed simple enough, but as hard as I tried, I had terrible, ugly results. Not pleasant. Not easy. Not quick. So I threw in the towel and banished them forever.

    But then -- 40 years later -- I learned THE TRICK. That's right. There's a little trick. And here is my tutorial to teach you exactly how to make a fabric yo-yo.

    1. Gather Your Materials.
    • Fabric: Now is a good time to use up all those scraps you've been hoarding. Medium and lightweight fabrics are ideal, as they are easier to pull down into tight yo-yos.
    • Quilting thread or embroidery floss: DMC floss is made up of six strands of thread. Snip off a piece of floss about 16"-18" long. Separate the threads, and then put 3 of them back together. This should be strong enough to stitch most fabrics.
    • Something to trace around to make your circle. Keep in mind that your finished yoyos will end up being a little less than half the diameter of the cut circles. Coffee and tea cups work great as well as drinking glasses and saucers. Anything that is round. As you can see -- I just used a roll of painter's tape that was lying on the coffee table.
    • Something to mark your fabric with a pencil or fabric marking pen. Since this Christmas tree garland isn't going to be washed, you could use a regular ball point pen or a felt tipped marker. Whatever is handy.
    • OPTIONAL: Round up some miscellaneous buttons, bells, silk flowers or other little trinkets to use as embellishments in the center of you yoyos. This is a perfect place to use up those random buttons left over from other projects or those really ugly buttons you hacked off your sweetie's favorite shirt just before you threw it away. Jars of buttons are always lurking in corners at thrift stores. Also, regular bags of craft buttons can be bought for cheap at the fabric stores. Shrinky Dinks make cute centers as well.
         2.  Trace Circles all Over Your Fabric: Squeeze in as many circles as you can. I find it's  easiest to alternate between tracing and cutting, so I don't get bored. It is the perfect, mindless task to do while you're watching a DVD or your favorite TV show.

    The Yo-yo Trick: The Trick is this -- the bigger the stitch -- the tighter you will be able to pull the center of the yo-yo. The smaller the stitch, the more little gathers you'll have to pull into the center, and there will be a gap about the size of a dime in the center of the yo-yo (no matter how hard you try to pull it). It's okay to have a gap in the center of your yo-yo, if that's what you want. I like it because it's the perfect place to nestle an antique button. If you want the gap in yo-yo, make your stitches about 1/8" long and about 1/8" apart. If you want no gap and your yo-yo closed up in the center, make your stitches at least 3/8" long and 3/8" apart (more if you're using heavy fabric).

    4. Sewing Around the Fabric Disks: Making your first few yoyos may feel awkward, but here are three tips to make it easier. 1) Don't bother marking a fold line. The fabric is going to roll to the wrong side differently with each inch of the outside edge, because it is the nature of the circle. 2) Don't bother to pin the folded/rolled edge in place to sew it. You'll just get a handful of pin pricks. 3) If you get a few little tucks when you're stitching you gathering stitches -- who cares? Nobody will see those little tucks once it's gathered into a yo-yo.
    5. Start the Stitching: Take three strands of floss and tie a knot on the long end. With the wrong side of the fabric facing up, turn under the smallest amount of raw edge that you can handle. In the beginning, it might be as much as a quarter of an inch, but as your fingers get more adept, you'll work your way down to about 1/8th inch. Push the needle from the right side (underneath) to the wrong side (the side that's facing you) through the turned down edge. The knot will be on the right side of the fabric. Pinching the rolled edge between your thumb and forefinger, take a few stitches. As you work your way around the edge, fold down just enough edge to do a few stitches at a time. If you are right handed, you'll probably find it easier to stitch counter clockwise. If your left handed -- clockwise. Once you get back around to your knot, push your needle to the right side of the fabric.
    6. Time to Make the Yoyo! Grab the knot and start pulling the tread, gathering up the  yo-yo. Pull the knot until you have about 2" of excess floss, then start to gather from the needle end. Keep pulling on both ends of the floss until your yo-yo is gathered as tightly as you want to be. If your yoyos are becoming a Christmas tree garland and not a quilt, just tie the ends of floss together in a tight knot, then trim off the excess floss.

    7. Embellishing -- an Option: If you want to embellish your yoyos with buttons, bells or trinkets, now is the time. I take three strands of embroidery floss that I cut 36" long, and double it over. Starting on the flat side of the yo-yo, I push the needle through the back and through the center of the gap on the gathered side of the yo-yo. String on the embellishment, and go back the way you came to the flat side of the yo-yo. Tie in a secure knot. Trim off the excess thread.

    8. Turning Your Yo-yos into a Christmas Tree Garland: Sew the yoyos together on the outside edge, using three or four stitches by hand and strong thread. You can also use the bar tack stitch on your sewing machine.

    And that's all there is to it. After you make a few, it will be a quick and easy project

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Christmas Tree Garland -- Tips and Tricks

    I'm Still on the Fence:

    I thought I wasn't a fan of Christmas tree garlands until I started researching this article.  Technically, don't long strings of strung popcorn or cranberries qualify as garlands? And paper chains?

    So I have to rethink my feelings about Christmas tree garlands.

    Okay, let me be more specific -- I'm not a fan of the fuzzy metallic garlands.  They always look a little worse for wear after a year in the attic.  And they just seem a little jolting when used with tinsel.  And, I am the Tinsel Queen.  

    Over the years, I've brought some stings of cranberry colored wooden beads and one year, at an after Christmas sale at Sears, I bought all the mirrored disco ball garlands that they had -- which was exactly two and not enough to even make a statement. But I had to have them.

    My biggest issue with Christmas tree garlands is the expense.  Most of the non-metallic, non-fuzzy ones are about 6-9 feet long and can cost anywhere  from $4-$20 depending on the fanciness of the garland.  Yikes! And how much Christmas tree garland do you actually need?  I found several websites that recommend 10 feet of garland per one foot of Christmas tree.  And if you have an eight foot tree, that can really add up.

    I'm a pretty traditional gal and have always thought that the Christmas tree garland had to follow the path of the Christmas tree lights, spiralling round and 'round.  But thanks to YouTube, I saw some pretty awesome trees where the Christmas tree garland starts at the top and cascades to the floor.  This looks extremely lovely if using wired ribbon or swathes of organza off the roll or cut into 7 or 8 inch strips.  It might not be my particular cup of tea this year, but it is very beautiful and sophisticated if that's the look you're going for.

    So, as far as Christmas tree garlands go -- anything goes!  Besides the traditional garlands such as: popcorn, metallic fuzzies, cranberries, paper chains and beads, I've also seen artificial holly used as garlands, paper doll cut outs, candy, plastic beads, artificial poinsettias, shells and on and on. I even saw white and red yarn chained together that looks really cool -- especially if you're a fiber person.

    Just remember:
    1. Put your Christmas tree garland on the Christmas tree AFTER you've put on the Christmas tree lights but BEFORE you start with the ornaments.
    2. Don't put them on too straight and too tight, you want them to "swag" a little. 
    3. Either lay them on the top of the branches or secure their position with bits or ribbon or wire.
    4. Garlands can go up and down or round and 'round but not both.
    5. When your Christmas tree garland finally breaks in to pieces, just throw it away. 
    6. Don't try and store the popcorn and/or cranberry Christmas tree garlands.  Put them outside for the birds to enjoy.
    And if you're like me and still on the fence about whether there is a place in your plan for a Christmas tree garland, OR if you're looking for something new, check out this video:

    How to Cook a Turkey: Part One

    A Practice Run for Christmas:

    We cook a lot of turkey in my house.  We don't consider it just for the holidays.  So when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no stress. I can cook a turkey.  In my sleep.  Over the years, I've tried several different techniques to see if I can improve on what I usually do.  A couple of weeks ago, when the turkeys started showing up on sale in the grocery stores, I picked up a 13 pound frozen bird.

    In my 56 years, I've had smoked turkey, deep fried turkey, turkey cooked at a very high temperature -- flipping every 20 minutes or so, turkeys roasted low and slow.  Daughter Jessi cooks her turkey upside down -- which I've never had much luck with.  I've had beer can turkey on a grill and in the oven.  I've had wild turkey.  But this time, I wanted a turkey that would be moist and edible after the initial hogging out.  I wanted turkey that was moist when cold.  Ah ---

    Whenever I'm in the mood for something new, I think back to "the best I ever had."  And this year, I racked my memory for the best turkey recipe and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you...

    Back around 1988 we met my husband's old SEAL buddy "Fats" and his family in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  The deal was that Fats and Jack would re-roof the Uncle's house.  In exchange for the roof, Fat's wife and myself along with our 4 kids would stay in a house on the beach.  Sounds like a good deal to me and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  The roof was to be installed over Thanksgiving week.  The Aunt invited us all for Thanksgiving dinner.

    I was a little concerned when I stepped into the kitchen to see if I could help out with the preparations and found the turkey in a microwave oven.  This is back when microwaves were big monsters that could hardly fit on a counter.  I looked in the microwave and the turkey, wrapped in some kind of plastic was going round and round.  I prepared myself for the worst turkey ever. 

    Imagine my chagrin when the turkey was brought out, carefully lifted from the plastic bag and placed on an antique serving platter, a lovely roasted brown with oozing juices.  This turkey was so moist that it spoiled me forever.  Wings (my fave) were NOT over done, the legs (usually difficult to keep moist) were juicy and succulent.  The breasts were shameful in their plumpness and perfection.  Usually I like the sides best, but that year I couldn't get enough turkey.

    While I don't even know if they make microwaves big enough to hold a turkey anymore, I thought that I would try the oven bag technique in my conventional oven.  I already had a box of the Reynolds Oven Bags in the pantry so why not.  I went to the Reynolds Oven Bag website to see if there were any tips or tricks that would make it fool proof.  Here's a link and there is a really wonderful video on how to make the perfect turkey in an oven bag:

    You know how sometimes you watch things or read things and you think "Easy Peasy" and then you get into it and it turns into a nightmare?  Not this.  It really is as simple as it sounds.  Really.  Let me tell you how I did it:

    • Don't even get me started on long it took to thaw my turkey.  I keep my refrigerator pretty cold.  That started out of habit when my son was still living at home.  He adored his milk hurt-your-teeth ice cold.  But anyway, thaw the bird.
    • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
    • You'll need a pan that is at least two inches deep.  My turkey was 13 pounds and fit perfectly fine in a 13 x 9 x 2 pan -- that's right, the kind of pan you make a cake in.
    • Take 1 tablespoon of flour, and toss it in the bag.  Grab the opening and shake the flour all around.
    • Place the bag on its side, in the pan with the opening of the bag to the side.  In the bottom of the bag, I tossed a couple of stalks of celery, a couple of carrots and two onions cut in half.  You will not be eating these vegetables.  They will help keep the back of the turkey up out of the juices and also lend their flavor to those juices that you can turn into the best gravy ever.  I cooked the neck bone separately, but you could put that in the bottom as well.
    • Make sure you check both cavities of the turkey for bags of giblets and the neck bone.  Remove. 
    • Remove the little plastic pop up timer. 
    • Dry turkey with paper towels.
    • Using your hands or a pastry brush, rub oil or butter into the skin of the turkey.
    • You can use your own favorite seasonings, but I use salt, pepper and paprika.  I thought I might need the paprika to help with the color, but I think it would have been fine without it.
    • It's okay to leave the legs just the way they were when you got it or you can tie them up.
    • Place the turkey in the Oven Bag.  Close it up with the included ties.  Cut 6 half inch slits in the top of the bag.  Tuck all the bag loosely into the pan. 
    • Place pan on bottom rack in oven.
    • It is recommended that you follow the roasting timetable that is included with the Oven Bags rather than the roasting timetable that comes with your turkey.
    The Oven Bag takes just about 1 hour off of the roasting time.  The time wasn't that big of a deal, it was the moistness that I was looking for.

    2.25 hours later, my turkey was done to perfection.  And the juiciness and beauty is unforgettable. And I did NOT start with a premium turkey.  Just an old store brand, Winn Dixie frozen turkey.  I also didn't stuff the bird.  It's just way easier to make it on the side.

    Since I made the turkey in the middle of the day, I let it rest lightly tented on the counter and proceeded to make the gravy.  First I discard the spend celery, onions and carrots.  Then I poured the contents from the bag into a large bowl.  I tore the bits of meat off the neck bone.  I was able to skim the fat after it rest for about a half an hour, leaving behind the juices and other delicious tidbits.  And by this time I had already rinsed out the roasting pan -- how great was that.  I made my gravy in my big frying pan which was much easier that trying to use two burners under  the roasting pan. 

    So what I'm trying to say is that this was the best turkey and the best gravy I've ever had in my 56 years of life.  AND it was the easiest.  So if you're tired of stressing over a turkey, worrying about over cooking it, under cooking it, or ending up so dry that it resembles that turkey from Christmas Vacation, I hope you'll give the Oven Bag technique a try. 

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    A Christmas Side Note

    This has been bouncing around the Internet for the last couple of weeks and I'm surprised at how many people are posting it on their Facebook page.  What I would really like for my family and friends AND this country is for everyone to pull back a little and just think twice about what your spend during the holiday season.  I want people to keep their credit cards in their wallets and just pay cash.  Remember, folks, I'm living in Fort Myers, Florida.  You might have seen us on the news lately as our practically the entire city was foreclosed on. 

    Just think about it.
    "As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high
    gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods --
    merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor. This
    year will be different. This year Americans will give the gift of genuine
    concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that, at gift
    giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by American hands. Yes
    there is!
    It's time to think outside the box, people. Who says a gift needs to fit in
    a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper?
    Everyone -- yes EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates
    from your local American hair salon or barber?
    Gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some
    health improvement.

    Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, American owned
    detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a
    book of gift certificates.

    Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plunking down
    the Benjamin’s on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift
    receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or
    driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

    There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants -- all offering gift
    certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about
    a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. Remember, folks this
    isn't about big National chains -- this is about supporting your home town
    Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

    How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or
    motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy?

    Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would LOVE the services of a
    local cleaning lady for a day.
    My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who
    is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

    Okay, you were looking for something more personal?  Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit them into scarves.  They make jewelry, and pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.
    Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre.

    Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.
    Honestly, people, do you really need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house?  When you buy a five dollar string of lights, about 50 cents stays in the community.  If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip. 
    You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city.  Christmas is now about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams.  And, when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine.

    This is the new American Christmas tradition."
    Forward this to everyone on your mailing list -- post it to discussion
    groups -- throw up a post on Craigslist
    your city -- send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations,
    and TV news departments. This is a revolution of caring about each other,
    and isn't that what Christmas is about?