Smaller Than a Breadbox

It is said that good things come in small packages, and for the Mountain Farmgirl this Christmas, that is doubly true! Rounding out this year’s ‘warm-up’ for long-term simple living, Mountain Farmgirl Cathi Belcher has come up with some guidelines for holiday gift-giving at her house. Come see why the joyousness of the holy-days do not have to translate into overspending, overconsumption and overdoing! Check out what’s stirring under the Mountain Farmgirl’s tree this (practically stress-free!)  Christmas…

Let’s face it, the holidays are busy, and for many folks, it’s a generally hard time of year, adding even more burdens to our already overly-busy lives. Many people get depressed, many more feel the pressures of too much to do and too little time to do them in, and financial limitations seldom hit home as keenly as they do this time of year. But frantic, frenetic holiday follies have never been my thing.  I avoid crowds like the plague, and I’m definitely not a “shopper”.  The motto “Shop Till You Drop” was never meant for me; ‘Drop the Shop’ hits closer to my mark.

Basically, I’m  more of a list person, and if I HAVE to go to a store (UGH!), I am armed with my list, I make a beeline to my purchases and then I’m outta there.  For me, staying home is my idea of a good time! No, I’m not a stick-in-the-mud, I just love being home, and if I live to be 120, I will never run out of things to do or learn there!  While lots of other people scramble and hassle themselves from Black Friday through the final Count-down of Christmas eve,  I enjoy the more simple pleasures of staying home and making gifts.  This year I’ve combined this with my love of tiny things.  For as long as I can remember, whatever it was that struck my fancy, if there was a miniature version of it, then that was the one for me! Just a personal quirk, I suppose … from my long-ago, beloved Africal  pygmy goat Chloe, and the Smart car or the Mini-Cooper I hope one day soon to get, to the tiny Tiny Tumbleweed House we had the good fortune to host this summer at our inn … little things just intrigue me!

This year, which has been the beginning of my experimental  “Year of Living Frugally”, I needed to keep gift-giving in line with my goals of zero-spending. And while the economy seems to be on the upswing, the safe thing to do as far as my business and I are concerned is to be optimistically cautious and err on the side of conserving money.  I didn’t want the rest of the family to feel burdened with holiday gift-giving obligations either. With one son about to get married, another putting himself through college, a daughter about to embark at a 4-year art school, and a fourth child still at home who is looking ahead shortly to an Ivy League Engineering school in the not-too-distant future, it is clear that we all need to conserve resources, and there is very little that any of us actually NEED. Still, giving is such a joy, and to eliminate it altogether seemed just a bit too harsh.  So that’s when I got the idea that this year we would go LIGHT on the gifts and heavy on the sentiment behind them. This translated into nothing but ‘Stocking Presents’ for us this Christmas. The guidelines we came up with were that our gifts to each other needed to fit into a stocking, or at the very least, be no bigger than a breadbox! If it wasn't homemade, it was locally created to support a budding artist and our close-to-home economy, or 'experiences' we could all share in together, to help make future 'memories'.

A little sidetrack ...

Before each of my children were born, I spent so much time ‘talking’ to them (yup, it’s true!) … and imagining who each of them might be as a person  and become when they grew up. And while I was pregnant with each of them, I needlepointed each one a special Christmas stocking, which have become treasured family heirlooms. Now that two and a half of them have officially left the nest (and I wholeheartedly embrace their ‘flights’ into young adulthood), I am simultaneously  not quite ready to relinquish the stockings! They will need to hang on the mantle for many more Christmases ahead and future homecomings. So I got the idea to make new stockings this year for our two oldest sons and their fiancés. It took a relatively small investment in yarn, but many relaxing evenings during which I poured my heart and soul into each stitch, as I meditated on each of these lovely young people and their exciting and independent lives which are so entwined with mine. Knitting stockings was new for me, and there are more than a few mistakes if you look too closely, but I tackled the projects with gusto, and what they lacked in expertise they made up for in love. The result was four folksy (if somewhat imperfect) stockings, which I filled with many little inexpensive treasures, such as socks, homemade cookies, along with some fun/some useful items that did not break the bank or blow the budget. Other family members got similar little gifts, now wrapped and waiting for Christmas day to arrive. My youngest son is getting a scarf with the leftover yarn ... it is more than half finished. The fun of such gifts is in the planning, the making and in the joy of giving, not killing ourselves in the process because our society has come to expect it of us.  So this year, with much concerted effort, the pressures of the holidays have been kept to a bare minimum at our house, and I hope they have been at yours as well. I’m not saying that we all have to celebrate in the same way, or that “simple” or “small” is necessarily the way to go. What I am advocating is conscious consumption and responsible allocation of our precious time.  Living in the moment and experiencing JOY, rather than hoping the whole thing would be over with so that we can get a break and get back to our lives … 

I’m so curious as to how other farmgirls are handling the holidays this year. What are some of the traditions (new or old) that you celebrate, or have decided to dispense with? Are you able to experience the JOY, or do you find yourself caught up in the mindless rat race which we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another? If so, just go with it and don't beat yourself up; refining our lives is, after all, a process!! Deep breath ... and SMILE!!  :-)

A Mountain of  Bounty and Christmas  Blessings, from my home to yours this season …
With love from,
Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl



By: Debbie
On: 12/12/2010 07:18:21
I'm with you Cathi!
I'm not much of a shopper... I do love Browsing antique stores and flea markets though. I love your idea of a Stocking Christmas... with tinier things. I love being home too and homeschooling gives us much more time at home to do the things we love most. For me this year, I've been trying my hand and more homemade foods... baking and cooking new and healthier meals for my family has been my homemade gift to my family this year and it will continue through the holiday season and beyond...And while I have grand illusions of baking more goodies for neighbor's and friends, I know it probably won't happen... I'll send a card and that will be that... I don't want to be stressed with too much to do either!

I sure do enjoy your posts... and I look forward to more wonderful words from the Mountain Farmgirl in 2011.
Beach Blessings,
By: Gale
On: 12/13/2010 03:48:52
Funny, this summer I too decided we had too much, used too much, and consumed too much. I formulated my own year of frugality. After we left the Lodge my plan began to take shape. While I have done a little shopping, it has become more thoughtfuland purpose driven. I examined the house for any kind of wasteful spending for utilities which resulted in reduction in shower time, lights off, faucet and toilet leaks fixed, etc. My car remains an issue, it's an SUV, but happens to be most comfortable for my back. That said, I have become rigid in how much I will drive/wk combining trips out to encompass all of the short trips. Bookstores remain my downfall but purchase are ONLY made now if the library does not have the book AND after I've looked at the book in the store to be certain it is what truly want. Or if it is for reference. I feel as you do with stores any longer. Have not been to the mall once since vacation. My entertainment experience has taken the route of free lectures or less expensive performances at the myriad of colleges in our area, heading to the local film institute for really good cinema and Orchestra broadcasts, museums on their free days or reduced rate times, and the like. This added challenge makes the entire event more interesting. I will spend money to take classes at the local night school, however. I am a visual learner and all of the videos and written instructions do not hold a candle to actual classes for me. It seems a worthwhile investment. The same is being applied to our Christmas here too. Homemade items are the order of the day with few exceptions. It has made the holiday much more exciting and engaging and present. Home for the holidays has really taken on new and deeper meaning this year. Cannot wait for our son to arrive home to join in the new celebration!!
Happy holidays to everyone.
See you soon,
By: Margaret
On: 12/13/2010 07:50:39
I am also trying harder to live simply. We just found out that my 40yr old daughter is going to need surgery shortly and it has changed my thinking even more. We have to learn to celebrate each day as a gift and remember to show our loved ones that they are loved. When my daughter's son was little I used an idea from Gooseberry Patch and started making him a warm thoughts jar every year. You wrap a piece of candy like a gift and tie a warm thought to it and they open one each day. They can be quote's or lyrics from Christmas songs, anything to help them feel the season. He's now 17 and I told him that I may not do the jars this year (other grandkids as well) and the look he gave me said it all! At 17 he appreciates the tradition that I started with him! I did do the jars and will not even toy with the idea of stopping. As for gifts, I'm trying harder to make my gifts as money is very tight this year. BUT, I am letting the family know that from now on many of their gifts will be handmade by me! A lot of love goes into every stitch, evry bead, every piece of wood sanded! Simple is good, large crowds spending money they do not have is not for me! Be happy and happy Holidays!
By: Pamela Joy
On: 12/13/2010 08:29:24
We have way too much in common!! I have always favored smaller things than larger. And I agree, if there is a smaller version of something, that's the one for me. I am not a shopper, never has been my thing. I have my rare moments of having fun shopping for little gifts in a specialty shop with local goods. And though I favor thrift stores, I wouldn't say I actually enjoy shopping in them anymore than I enjoy shopping anywhere else.
Our family has moved toward "stocking only" presents, as well. My mother in law has knit everyone a special, unique stocking with our names and birth years and fun decorations. You can fit so much in them that by the time we were done opening all our stocking gifts, we were pretty well satisfied and then we'd have to move to the "bigger" presents under the tree, which always overwhelmed me and made me a bit sad. So in the last few years, I have tried to push the "let's keep it small and simple" idea, and everyone else is starting to agree. Nobody really needs much, and I can't think of much I want.
My main gifts I am giving this year - to family and some friends and teachers - are MaryJane's idea of small canning jar with strike anywhere matches and sand paper top; and a small burlap sack of locally produced dry beans (Anasazi Beans) with a recipe for cooking them in the crock pot. Each gift cost $2 - $3. Easy, affordable and consumable.
Every other year, we travel to spend Christmas with the in-laws. On the years we stay home (this year!), we like to bake a bunch of cookies and go visiting and sharing cookies on Christmas day. That's our homey tradition.
And I am Jewish, so we also celebrate Hanukkah simply. We light our Menorah each night, and we choose one night to eat potato latkes and matzoh ball soup. But maybe just one gift, if any.
Happy Holidays to you! Enjoy your family and all your wonderful traditions, old and new.
By: Wendy Brown
On: 12/13/2010 08:51:16
Christmas Greetings, I"m a drop the shop mother and grama too. I have 3 girls each with a very different personality. One is the shop till you drop and spend beyond your limit type.The other two are not. Then there's my son who even though we would go to stocking size gifts,could think of many,very expensive electronic gadgets that would fit. I love the idea of homemade gifts. Have a super Merry Farmgirl Holiday. I love crying over your stories.Why? Because they bring back so many fond memories.
By: Raynita
On: 12/13/2010 09:23:23
We are most definitely finding the JOY this year in the moments....striving to be "present" in every moment with my family and not stressing about the presents....that's my motto this year:) Oh! Your sweet little cabin pic above looks so much like my living room right now except I have a big ole brown & white Standard Poodles lying beside the fire on a

Merry Christmas Cathi! I look forward to the year ahead and keeping up with your adventures and especially the frugal living part. Love, love your blog.

By: bonnie ellis
On: 12/13/2010 09:57:04
Cathi: I love your plan. I have been making aprons, small bags and table runners for my Christmas presents. In addition to our own family gifts we draw names so that we only have one family member to be responsible for. The little fun stuff I tie onto the presents makes fun shopping for me (usually at the large pharmacy, everythins store close by). A Blessed Christmas to all. Frugal doesn't have to mean poor. Find someone in need and surprise them.
By: Deborah
On: 12/13/2010 13:17:34
Since this holiiday season has been consumed with cancer surgery for my husband. I have taken time to sit at the computer and create calendars and mugs for our family with the photos I have downloaded from my digital camera. All the fun events we have shared together on items that get used daily for them to see how they are thought of all year and loved.
By: Peggy
On: 12/13/2010 17:31:45
Great post Cathi. Since my layoff last year we have been living on much less so this Christmas will not be the same as Christmas' in the past. For one thing this is the first year ever that I will not send out Christms cards...I usually love choosing the perfect card and thinking of family and friends when I make them out. But the cost of all of the cards and the postage is just not in the budget this year. We have also spoke to our kids and other family and explained what we will and will not do this year. I
ve been fortunate in the past to help my daughter out with the grandkids Christmas but this year we just can't do it and my other two girls are big enough now to understand that the number of gifts will be less but the day will not be less special.
By: Katie
On: 12/14/2010 06:57:35
Dear Cathi,
You and I are on the same page this year. I guess this is why we all love MJ farm so much, a commonality of thought.I also just did not want to support the large corporate stores that are ruining our nation and our small local businesses, this year. I've been making all my gifts so far. Also we too are short of money , but have realized this had opened up a new type of riches. The ones we both are talking about.
Thank you for your thoughtful posts. If you want read mine. KD Earthwork
By: Tresa
On: 12/14/2010 19:07:52
Dear Cathi,

How refreshing it is to read about your plan to celebrate simply and in such a loving and caring manner. To some, these ideas may seem unappealing or even boring, but in truth, I feel so many are trying to buy what can only be created and found within the heart.

There is a lot of pressure to perform during the holidays and out do what was done last year. That usually means spending more. We wear ourselves out going through all the usual holiday activity one can imagine and when it's all said and done, we are worn to a frazzle with little energy left to enjoy what is most important, our family and friends. I know, I was one that had to take things to a new level each year from decorating to open houses, and buying gifts. But after years of trying to find that special 'something' with stuff, I finally learned there is a great truth in words my dad would tell me when it came to dressing up, putting on makeup, or other adornment, "Little is much." I think the same could be said when planning for the holidays if we take time to think things through.

It only takes a little planning to really make our time together special and memorable. One of my very favorite past seasons of celebration was when, out of necessity, I took time to make all of the gifts I sent to family. From securing pizza boxes in which to mail my humble embroider hoop door wreaths, to rolling and packing up the carefully sewn and stenciled denim and muslin bags for my young neices and nephews, I loved every minute of it. As I remember, the only decorations in the house was the tree and a couple of trinkets here or there.

Thanks for sharing your ideas and leaving a reminder that you can bless your loved ones with a priceless gift, created with caring hands and given with a loving heart, and not wear yourself out in the process.
By: Judi Jacobs
On: 12/15/2010 15:11:08
I am a rural farmgal of 42 years of marriage. Conserving has been our lifestyle as we raised 3 girls, put them through school and bought our farm and more farmground. My trick every year is to come up with some unique and "green" ways of wrapping presents. This summer I went to my local garden center and asked for their potato bags. They are wonderful burlap and HUGE. I washed them and put a garbage bag inside and a raffia bow on top. My family will love them because they all garden and you never have enough bags. Last year I bought Home Depots bags for 1.99 each. We have a good time as a family even our "boys" enjoy it.
By: barb
On: 12/26/2010 16:48:55
This year I hand painted ornaments for my sisters, made cookies and candy, distributed them to my neightbors, made a "bed buddy" for a friend of mine, delivered and stopped to have tea with her.That was a present for me! what a nice visit we had, and she appreciated the company and I enjoyed the downtime of connecting with a friend. We live 25 miles from town and I am so glad I could make things and not "shop till I dropped" Happy and quiet New Year to you.
By: Brigitte Farmgirl with a heart
On: 01/10/2011 12:39:52
I'm from Quebec, Canada. Since I lost my job in a retiring home, my family and I decided to give each others pratical things. So each of us wrote down a list of things to choose among (let's try to have a little surprise...). GranPa needed a new pair of jeans, put only wrote eatable things on his list...But as there were no places on his old jeans to put another patch, ma sister and I gave him a new pair but we make sure to add some homemade jam and a box of homemade cookies! For myself, I demanded some home basics like toilet paper, shampoo, things like that...And since I'm doing a big house cleanning, my parents gave me a LLLOOOTTTSSS of basics and all of that were put in big Plastic Boxes (so I can use them in my cleanning procedure!) What a great and PRATICAL Chrismas we had! Pretty sure we'll do the same next year! Brigitte
By: kirsten
On: 04/07/2011 06:28:32
This comment is a bit belated but none the less on your side! Christmas for me is about the home-made and home-spun. The simpler the better and not hard on the wallet. Last Christmas, all the extended families recieved two jars of delicious preserves(hande made in my kitchen) and a set of lovely cotton dish towels. A gift that they could use and not have end up in a neighbourhood garage sale in the spring. love the post. kirsten.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir