Archive for September, 2008

Fee increase for Christmas trees

The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest (GMUG) is proposing a fee increase for Christmas tree permits that are sold.

“We have worked hard to keep this increase to a minimum, to cover the administrative costs and still allow a family to cut their own tree from the forest” remarked Charlie Richmond forest supervisor.

“However, we are finding the need to increase the permit fees this year to be in line with what the White River National Forest and the BLM are charging for permits.”

As proposed, Christmas tree permits on the GMUG would increase from $8.00 to $10.00 per tree beginning this November.

Authorized under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 95% of the receipts collected from the permits will be retained locally and used to cover some of the expenses of administering the Christmas Tree program.

The GMUG is requesting public comment on this proposed fee increase.

No money for Pinner Christmas

THE future of Christmas celebrations in Pinner is in jeopardy as businesses struggle to fund the event.

The annual Pinner Pantomime evening has been running for years, paid for by traders and the Pinner Association, but recently organisers have been struggling with donations.

If the event goes ahead there will be Christmas lights in High Street, Pinner, and choir singing by pupils at local schools, but if the money cannot be found a local tradition will be lost.

Dee Davis, a High Street trader, said: “We’ve been the first to pay most years because it’s a lovely evening for children, it’s really good fun. There are the fireworks and face painters.

“I used to dress up for it. I do know that many of the local traders are struggling with cash flow at the moment.”

Businesses are expected to donate around £80 but recently sales have been much slower in High Street than in previous years and many traders say they simply cannot afford the fee.

But financial problems are more complicated than that and some shops say losing the pantomime event, which is an important source of income, would have a far greater impact.

For traders who stay open during the event it is an opportunity to sell to people who may not otherwise go to Pinner – and spread awareness of their products.

Mark Cuggy, owner of The Village Gallery, said: “We were the first people to pay our contribution. It’s quite a sad state of affairs really. It’s not much money and it’s a really good kick start to the Christmas period.

“We’ve got too many shops shutting down in the High Street as it is to risk missing out on this.”

Hussein Syed, a member of the committee that runs the pantomime evening, said: “If people see it as a community event then it doesn’t matter whether people are trading or not.

“There is also an issue with some traders who pay and open while others open but refuse to pay, and a lot of people are upset about the unfairess of this.”

He said there is less money available because some shop owners who used to donate have ceased trading.

Letters from Santa Delivered from the North Pole

Salt Lake City based business Women of Wisdom, Inc. launches www.SantaSaid.com in an effort to add a special element to the Christmas season for your child.

Every year thousands of adults across the world buy personalized letters from Santa for the children that they love. This year, the letters that are purchased can put a smile on more faces than just the faces of the children receiving them. Women of Wisdom, Inc. has launched their website www.santasaid.com and is committing 10% of net profits to the purchase gifts for children who may otherwise not have a visit from Santa Claus. The donations will go directly to their nonprofit website www.give2others.org and will be directed towards making Christmas a happy occasion for children in need.

Santa Said was created by moms for parents. Santa letters are personalized letters from Santa and delivered directly from the North Pole. Each letter from Santa is personalized with the child’s name, about their accomplishments, and gifts from their wish list. All information and payment information is confidential and will not be sold.

Christmas is a magical and fun time for each child and creating new Christmas memories is one of the best ways to carry on a tradition that will last a lifetime. Santa Said creates a personalized letter from Santa that is mailed directly from the North Pole. Each letter is created on holiday themed paper and includes information personal to your child.

Women of Wisdom Inc. found that many other sites offering Santa Letters did not keep your child’s information private and secure. They understand how important this is and that your personal information should be protected at all times. Their website does not sell or otherwise release any of your or your child’s information. It is their goal to provide a safe secure environment for parents, friends, and relatives to know that by ordering www.santasaid.com that the child’s personal information and safety is their top priority. Create a special memory for years to come by sending a personalized letter from Santa Claus from Santa Said.

The Santa Claus Letter can be ordered from www.santasaid.com. Each letter is only $5.00, you can also order the letter on a puzzle for an additional $5.00. The website is safe and secure.

Santa Said also donates 10% of the profits directly to charity. It is so important to give back and to purchase products and services from companies or entities that continually give back to our communities and to those who are in need. The spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

Women of Wisdom, Inc. is a business run by women, mothers, aunts, and more. They pride themselves on offering quality products and opportunities to those around them. Their passion is life and family, this shows through in everything that they do. Stay tuned for more exciting news from Women of Wisdom, Inc. in the future.

As the Leaves Change, Holiday Ads Arrive

BEGINNING to look a lot like Christmas? Heck, for consumers, it has been looking that way for more than a month.

Some marketers are already running advertisements for — and posting content on Web sites about — merchandise, entertainment and other offerings related to the holiday season. Trees, theater tickets, holiday trips, porcelain Nativity scenes, crystal snowmen and even a New York Mets Christmas Village are being peddled in print and online ads.

There is a simple reason for this holiday creep: with the economy in such fragile shape, sellers of holiday goods and services are seeking to gather their dollars while they may.

“I do start early, and it has been very successful,” said Leon Gamze, president and chief executive at Treeclassics.com in Barrington, Ill., which sells artificial trees, lights and other Christmas merchandise.

How early? Advertisements for Treeclassics.com began appearing in September issues of magazines, which are published in August. One reader received the September issues of two magazines that carried ads from Mr. Gamze, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart Living, on Aug. 7.

To acknowledge the state of the economy, some ads for Treeclassics.com say, “Don’t miss our large selection of budget buys for extra savings!”

Although “the bulk of my business is October, November, December,” Mr. Gamze said, front-running the holiday alleviates some of the need to make sales closer to Christmas, when competition intensifies.

Other marketers already starting the holiday season, include Radio City Music Hall, part of Cablevision Systems. Its first ad for the 2008 edition of the annual “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” featuring the Rockettes, ran on Sept. 7 in the fall preview issue of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for Radio City, Mikyl Cordova, said “the fall preview has always traditionally launched the media campaign” to sell tickets to the show, which this year will be performed Nov. 7 to Dec. 30.

Then, too, there are the purveyors of trinkets, bric-and-brac and collectibles like the Bradford Editions, the Hamilton Collection and Hawthorne Village.

They are already selling, among other things, the Thomas Kinkade “Holiday Reflections” crystal Christmas tree, the Hope Is Born Nativity, the Ultimate Disney Holiday Village, ornaments bearing portraits of New York Yankee players and the aforementioned Mets Christmas Village, including a snow-covered Shea Stadium with Santa Claus outside.

“You certainly shouldn’t be rushing Christmas, but it’s nice to be talking about your plans ahead of time,” said Frances Croke Page, a longtime executive at agencies like BBDO. She is starting a Web site devoted to New York during the holidays (ChristmastimeInNewYorkCity.com), aimed at residents as well as tourists.

The Web site, developed by What Works, an agency in Long Island City, Queens, is intended as “a place to go for planning,” Ms. Page said, “not a place to go for jumping the gun” on the holiday season.

“I don’t want to get in the way of Halloween,” she added, laughing.

That sentiment was echoed by Kevin McCollum, producer of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” a Broadway musical with 63 preview and regular performances from Nov. 14 to Jan. 4. The first ad for the show ran on Sept. 7 and tickets went on sale on Sunday.

“You open your mailbox the day after Halloween, and all those holiday catalogs are there,” Mr. McCollum said.

Still, “I’m not getting a sense it’s too early for Christmas,” he added, referring to the timing of the campaign for his show, created by SpotCo, part of the First Artist Corporation.

The limited time the musical will be staged, its orientation toward family audiences and its Christmas theme mean “we have to get the word out” early, Mr. McCollum said. “If you’re buying four and six and eight tickets at a time, you have to plan it.”

Planning is also the rationale for a mid-September start for a campaign to promote visiting New Orleans for the holiday season. The campaign, by Peter A. Mayer Advertising, carries the theme “Christmas New Orleans style.”

“What we find is that people planning to travel over the holidays are already making their decisions now,” said Sandy Shilstone, president and chief executive at the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

“And we have requests for ‘Christmas New Orleans style’ information all year round,” she added, received by mail, phone and the Internet (NewOrleansOnline.com).

The campaign includes holiday themes for entertainment and meals, along with discount “Papa Noël” hotel rates.

Most major retailers wait until Nov. 1 to decorate their stores for Christmas or begin running ads with Christmas trappings. If they try to start earlier, they can draw complaints from consumers who prefer a more traditional approach to the shopping calendar.

But holiday merchandise can already be found on the Web sites of retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.

Mr. Gamze of Treeclassics.com said that occasionally his company would receive an e-mail message from a consumer who “will be a little cranky” that the company begins advertising so early, “but it’s rare.”

“If it wasn’t working for me, I wouldn’t do it,” he added. “I’m not that meshugeneh.”

Spirit of Christmas applications are available

Once again, the Louisiana Press-Journal and NECAC will sponsor the Spirit of Christmas to make the season a little brighter for some lower-income families.

Applications are ready to be picked up at the NECAC family service division during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Applications are lengthy and require some thought. Families need to be specific and designate specific needs,” coordinator for the event, Dana Gordy, said.

All applications are due back to the NECAC office by Oct. 31. No late applications will be accepted.

Families chosen to be published and adopted are required to do four hours volunteer work and attend four hours of workshops on life skills. These will be announced at a later date.

Twenty families and five alternates will be selected.

“We really want to concentrate on the neediest families and seniors so we are most apt to review the serious applications from caseworkers and referrals from service organizations that have worked with and been in the homes of the families and seniors that know the real story behind our scenes. But in case we or local agencies are not working with the family but there is still a great need in the home we want to encourage and accept applications from individuals,” Gordy said.

The Machine Shop helping those in need

When you think of the Machine Shop in Flint, you probably think of live bands, large crowds and fun times. But, now you can add generosity into the mix. The Machine Shop, along with some well known bands, will work to raise money, awareness and “hair” for some needy charities.

On Friday, September 26, Nuroksol, Given Six , and Fear Blind will be performing, while Studio 57 will will be on hand cuting off ponytails to donate to Locks of Love and Children with Hair Loss. Ponytails must be 6 inches or longer. Russ Mettler, from Crop Circle, is taking it one step further; he’s cutting his hair and is challenging any other local artists to donate their hair.

On Saturday, September 27, Crop Circle, and National recording artist Royal Bliss, from Salt Lake City, will perform.

Both nights, Pancho’s Tacos will be serving food and donating a portion of their proceeds to Wheels 4 Wheels which assists in purchasing handicapped accessible vehicles. In addition, Toys for Tots will be collecting new, unwrapped toys. The toys will be distributed as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community.

Christmas Tree Will Have Elkton Theme

ELKTON — Donna Mowbray, leader of the Centennial Jubilee Committee’s Christmas tree ornament project, began thinking about ways to celebrate the town’s 100th birthday, and jotting down ideas, months ago.

Watching a segment of a home and garden show one day, Mowbray saw people making decorations for their state Christmas tree for the White House ellipse — the area directly south of the White House where every state in the union has a Christmas tree under its own name with state-made decorations.

Mowbray saw an opportunity. Why not have the Virginia state tree decorated by Elkton, in honor of the town’s centennial?

A call to the National Park Service and an explanation about the Centennial Jubilee won a sympathetic hearing.

“I told the Park Service lady about our events, and she took our name. When I talked to her again in February we had won the assignment,” Mowbray said.

The Centennial Steering Committee voted in favor of the project last spring, and Mowbray and her informal group have received, signed, and returned a contract to create the decorations.

“We will make them here and send them in December to the White House. The staff there will actually decorate the tree,” she said.

Each bauble will be made of two transparent hemispheres, into which a hand-made decoration will be placed and the two hemispheres then joined together into a single ornament. The decorations will be representative of Elkton and its history. As plans stand now, ten will contain small patches of hand-made quilting, stitched by Linda and Pam Monger.

Five will contain small horseshoes, symbolic of the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, Gov. Spotswood’s troupe that first crossed the Blue Ridge. These are being made by Anthony Diorio of Mount Solon. Diorio’s Harrisonburg company already makes slightly smaller miniature horseshoes for students graduating from Elkton Elementary School.

Rhonda Meredith is making stained-glass interiors for five ornaments. Other ornaments are expected to include pictures of the Shenandoah River, the Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains and other local scenes. Some will include the Centennial logo, Stonewall Jackson, and an Elk head.

A total of 51 ornaments will be made.

“From these, the First Lady (Laura Bush) selects one for the tree inside the White House,” Mowbray explained.

The ornaments will be placed on display at the Centennial Jubilee headquarters, at 306 W. Old Spotswood Trail, before they are sent to the White House on Dec. 4. Government staff will do the actual tree decoration for Virginia, as it does for all the state trees.

Several of Mowbray’s group are looking into the possibility of chartering a bus, or buses, in December to take interested persons to Washington to see the trees on the ellipse.

Christmas parade canceled, other events still planned

South Milwaukee’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade has been canceled for this year, and a lack of volunteers could endanger the celebration’s other activities, said Bob Pfeiffer, Old Fashioned Christmas Committee chairman.

“We just don’t have the money, nor do we have the volunteers to do (a parade),” Pfeiffer said.

Old Fashioned Christmas began about 10 years ago with family activities at City Hall. The parade became part of the festivities about five years ago, but weather and volunteer numbers have made it difficult to put on, Pfeiffer said.

Funding for Old Fashioned Christmas is provided entirely through contributions. The committee still has enough money for family activities, provided enough people volunteer to run them, Pfeiffer said.

“We’re going to use those funds, the little money we have left there, to put on the activities at City Hall, the tree lighting and fireworks,” Pfeiffer said.

There also will be crafts and food.

Don Bulley, a former parade Santa Claus and husband to the current Mrs. Claus, said it is sad to lose the parade.

“It was either that or cut out the rest of the program. There will still be a Santa Claus and a Mrs. Claus. We’re saving the most important part.”

This year’s celebration will be Sunday, Nov. 30, at City Hall, 2424 15th Ave. The committee has not yet set an exact time.

If enough money and volunteers can be found, Pfeiffer said, there could be a parade next year.

“We’ll probably need about $8,000 (for next year),” he said.

Mayor Thomas Zepecki said ongoing economic turbulence may continue to impact funding for events like Old Fashioned Christmas.

“It always depends on the amount of contributors and the ability and wherewithal of the private industry and commercial people to invest in those types of things,” Zepecki said. “Certainly you’re not going to put government money in it.”

Santa Claus is coming to town

SANTA Claus is set to ride through High Wycombe on a reindeer-drawn carriage during the annual Christmas lights switch on this year.

He will be accompanied by stilt walking Christmas trees, fairies and other colourful charcaters during a parade on November 13.

Santa and his helpers will also be joined by a 20-piece Scottish piping band and the High Wycombe sea cadet brass band.

The fun will start early with childrens rides being set up along the High Street and caterers cooking up a festive treat or two in Frogmoor.

The parade will wind its way down the main throughfare to a stage where a countdown to the big switch on will take place.

Plans for the event, which attracts hundreds of people every year, were announced last night at a meeting of the High Wycombe Town Committee.

Christmas lights to cost £252,500

More than a quarter of a million pounds is to be spent by the city council on Dundee’s Christmas lights displays this year.
The economic development committee unanimously gave approval for the provision of displays in the City Square, the city centre and at several local centres across Dundee.

Dundee Contract Services has been awarded the installation work for the city centre, Broughty Ferry, Westport, Seabraes, Stobswell, Lochee and Whitfield at a total cost of just over £218,000.

Economic development director Doug Grimmond said the City Square display is in the final year of a three-year lease arrangement with Scotia Animations Ltd and will cost just over £34,500.

City Square will have a 45-feet high artificial tree, with red bows and thousands of white lights. Greenery will be attached to the Caird Hall columns, the City Square fountains illuminated, light cones put on natural trees and the area behind the Caird Hall columns back-washed with coloured lights.

For the rest of the city centre, light features will be displayed in Reform Street, Whitehall Street, Crichton Street, Castle Street, Commercial Street, Murraygate, High Street, Nethergate and Union Street.

In Broughty Ferry, there will be a natural tree and lights at the library and in Brook Street and Gray Street; Lochee will have a natural tree and lights on the roundabout at the by-pass; natural trees and lights will also be put up at Westport, at Seabraes in Perth Road, in Whitfield at the police station and in Stobswell in the Morgan Academy grounds.

DTI to monitor Christmas lights sale

WITH the Christmas season just a couple of months away, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in Southern Mindanao is now intensifying their monitoring of the influx of Christmas lights in the city’s trading centers.

In an interview Monday, Boy Cubillas, Senior Trade and Industry Development Specialist of DTI said they are now monitoring the influx of Christmas lights into the region without the Import Clearance Commodity sticker being issued by the agency.

“Like last year, we started around September, we do not do it during December,” Cubillas said.

“We monitor it during the months leading to the Holiday season.”

Christmas lights without the quality seal of the DTI usually proliferate in the various shopping establishments in the city.

Due to their substandard quality, these Christmas lights usually cause electric short circuits resulting to fires.

However, a bigger problem being faced by the trade department is the modus operandi of some importers who initially submit quality Christmas lights for testing by the trade department.

Afterwards, these importers would then import sub quality Christmas lights and use the codes of the ICC given by the trade department for the sub quality Christmas lights.

Ice destroyed Christmas lights must be replaced

Last winter’s ice storm completely destroyed Clay Center’s Christmas decorations, but Chamber officials are in the final stages of selecting complete new designs to replace the old.

“They (city utilities) said there is nothing left,” Chamber director Andy Contreras said. “We’ll be getting them replaced and we’ve picked out a design we’re happy with.”

Contreras said the Chamber is in negotiations with two vendors, and that a final decision won’t be made until after Piotique.

“We’re not doing anything until Sept. 29,” Contreras said. He said the Chamber has access to some funds but may need to raise some contributions to complete the decoration replacement.

Among decorations being considered are five foot banners for light poles.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to do all of it this year,” Contreras said, “but we’ve been working with Bill (Callaway) and he has been very helpful.

Contreras said he is spending most of his time in preparation for Piotique Sept. 27 and that the Chamber’s web site has received a lot of electronic registrations from vendors, parade participants and those interested in participating in the three-on-three basketball event.

“We still need people to sign up for basketball,” he said.

Will Christmas light shine in Malmesbury?

MALMESBURY faces the prospect of a Christmas without lights this year after the chamber of commerce revealed it can not afford to chip in towards the cost.

The chamber has paid a donation each year since the town council took over responsibility for the illuminations back in 2004.

Last year it helped to raise money towards a £3,000 new set of LED lights and handed over a £500 towards the annual bill, which is usually around the £2,000 mark.

But now it says there is nothing left in the kitty.

Chamber chairman Alan Woodward explained: “Money has become tight over the past couple of years especially. We employ a secretary part-time and to pay her wages we need every bit of money spare that comes in.

“By the time we have paid our subscription to the Wessex Association and the secretary’s wages there is nothing left.”

He said the late night shopping evening was their main event of the year and a lot of time and effort was put into it.

“We have written to non-member retailers in the high street to ask for support and the response has been feeble.”

Only two businesses, one a major chain, had responded.

But many more had the chance to benefit from the event. “Our members are basically subsidising them,” he said.

As far as the lights themselves were concerned, members did want to see them up but last year’s £500 donation had left the organisation in desperate straits.

The main cost involved is putting up the display and paying for the electricity.

Mayor Andrew Woodcock said: “It would be a dreadful shame when all the surrounding towns, Cirencester, Tetbury and Chippenham have them.”

The council, which was due to discuss the issue as the Standard went to press, is hoping to canvass chamber members and other traders before taking a decision on the future of the lights.

One choice is to pay the full costs itself. But Mr Woodcock said: “If push comes to shove the problem is that we have only got one source of revenue, which basically is the ratepayers.

“We would very much like to put the Christmas lights up but we are cognisant of the fact that at the end of the day it is those ratepayers that will have to foot the bill.”

For Christmas magic head to the forest

In the heart of The National Forest lies an enchanting woodland grotto. At Conkers’ Winter Wonderland Extravaganza, all good girls and boys will be invited to travel on the festive train and weave their way through the trees to reach the cosy century-old log cabin and receive a present from Santa.

His reindeers will be close at hand for children to meet. Places are restricted with set time slots throughout the day, so booking is essential. Dates to see Santa include the 6th, 7th, 13th and 14th December and then every day from 18th December to Sunday 4th January (excluding Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day).

Conkers will also be hosting four Christmas Party Nights on 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th December, the panto favourite Dick Whittington on 13th and 14th December and a beautiful candlelit carol service on 23th December. To finish off the festive period there will be the annual New Years Eve Extravaganza on 31st December, which this year has a Disney Theme.

Nearby Moira Furnace will be open until 9pm on the 27th November and 6th, 13th and 20th December with a craft village, Santa’s Grotto and choir.

Pokey Hole’s Christmas Special will be at Moira Miners Welfare on 29th December with music performed by Herman’s Hermits.

Visitors to Calke Abbey on 29th-30th November can help make decorations and dress the trees on the Christmas Tree Trail that weaves from this fascinating house, up through the gardens to the church. The trail will be open on 6th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 20th and 21st December and will be illuminated by Christmas lights and lanterns after dusk. Families can listen to the seasonal music, enjoy children’s craft activities and visit Father Christmas in his grotto.

From 7th November to 31st December the Ferrers Gallery at Staunton Harold will have a Christmas Exhibition including a special ‘Sparkle’ Christmas jewellery showcase.

Christmas celebrations start in South Derbyshire on Friday 28th November with Swadlincote Christmas Lights switch-on. Celebrations go on all day with music, entertainment, stalls and rides, followed by a spectacular firework display. Sharpe’s Pottery Museum has a packed Christmas Programme. Coinciding with Swadlincote Christmas light switch-on, it is hosting a Christmas Fayre with stalls, crafts, pottery tree decorations, as well as carols, songs, stories and poems to entertain all the family.

A Christmas exhibition runs throughout December at this beautifully restored pottery including hand painted Christmas themed ceramics and cards. And visitors can learn Christmas Flower Arranging on 6th December or how to write a Festive Tale on 9th December. This workshop is suitable for complete beginners or those with some writing experience.

Wild Orchid Theatre will present a selection of humorous Christmas plays that include Santa going on strike, misbehaving angels, three wise men from Bootle and a bowlful of bickering cake ingredients on 6th December. Or for more traditional Christmas music, Karl Harper presents A Victorian Christmas on 19th December and there will be a concert in the Kiln on 20th December.

Children can visit Santa’s Grotto and ride on the Ice Train at Staunton Harold Nursery on 8th, 15th- 16th, 22nd – 23rd and 29th – 30th November, 6th- 7th and 13th – 18th December. There will also be a children’s entertainer and competitions. And from 23rd November to 23rd December Ingleby Gallery will be hosting a Christmas Exhibition.

Santa will also be visiting Melbourne on 6th December where there be a street fair, funfair rides for small children and performances by Melbourne Town Band.

Christmas festivities at the National Memorial Arboretum start with the hugely popular Reindeer Parade on 7th December. Santa will be there every weekend throughout December and on 19th December the arboretum is hosting an open air traditional Christmas concert. There will be a brunch-time guided walk on 1st January to walk off those Christmas excesses.

Create beautiful Christmas cards with Forest Arts’ Watercolours Workshop at Rosliston Forestry Centre on 12th November. With places limited on this popular session, booking is essential.

Rosliston Forestry Centre is holding a Christmas Craft Fair on 6th December where you will find special gifts and unique Christmas presents. Or if all the Christmas shopping is too much, visitors to Rosliston Forestry Centre on 13th December can enjoy a bracing guided walk followed by a warm up of mulled wine and mince pie in the restaurant.

The splendid Illuminated Christmas Trees along Tutbury High Street will be officially switched on during the town’s Christmas Festival on 28th November from 6 pm. It will be a lively evening with a traditional street market, fairy grotto, the Ghost of Christmas Past and music from Tutbury Band.

For those people scratching their heads for Christmas gifts, the Forest may hold the perfect solution. Plant a Tree is a gift that grows. The recipient receives a certificate and is invited to a special tree planting day to actually plant the little tree in a new woodland. Or how about a gift voucher for one of the fantastic woodland craft and bushcraft courses in The National Forest. Greenwood Days, Woodland Ways, Survival School and Woodland Survival Crafts all offer gift vouchers that make perfect presents.

Finally, where better to get your Christmas tree than The National Forest! Real Christmas trees are available during December from the Forestry Commission at Rosliston Forestry Centre and Sence Valley Forest Park as well as Forest Timber, near Conkers Waterside in Moira.

Approaching holiday means lots of work

The cool, crisp in the morning air may have just alerted some of you that fall will soon be upon us. And if you’re the kind of laid-back, go-with-the-flow person who is just realizing this, I envy you.

I, like many other busy working moms, have to anticipate the coming of the winter months way in advance. There are coats and new shoes to buy, costumes to pick, decorating to do, gift lists to make, and, above all, scheduling to be done.

This is the part the men in my family seem unable to understand. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are still MONTHS away,” they whine. “Why are we having to talk about it now?” Oh, how wonderful that existence must be. I’d love to proceed throughout the holiday season on a well-oiled schedule, visiting every family member in turn, eating festive meals in each of three states, and all without a care in the world.

But, well, it doesn’t work that way. In order for the holiday season to proceed that way, someone’s got to make all those plans. And who does it? Why, your friendly neighborhood mom, that’s who!

So, here we are. Christmas is 100 days out, and I have schedules to organize, gift lists to compile, budgets to make, meals to plan and secrets to keep. While I’m doing that, I have to make sure all the in-laws are happy, and no child can possibly think he’s less special than any other child.

Oh, you know, and the day-to-day business of being a government beat reporter, a wife, a mother, a friend … all that jazz.

If this sounds exhausting and unfamiliar to you, then you’re probably not a mom. If you’re laughing and saying, “Wow, that’s my life, too,” well, you probably ARE a mom.

The truth is, it is exhausting. The holidays wear me out. By the time Valentine’s Day has come and gone I’ll be at the end of my proverbial rope. But I can’t help it … I love the holidays.

I love when the air gets that tell-tale bite. I love pumpkins and homemade ghosts in the trees. I love watching my son crack the wishbone. I love working on Christmas music in our church choir. I love thinking about the look on my best friend’s face when she unwraps the “perfect” pair of shoes I bought her (oops!). There’s absolutely nothing about the holiday season that isn’t worth the rush it takes to get it done.

But someday, oh sweet someday, I hope I’ll have a holiday season where everything’s just taken care of. Where I’m shuffled from place to place, blissfully unaware of the work that went into planning these gatherings. Where my name is signed to the card attached to everyone’s perfect gift. And, well, ideally I’d be able to accomplish this stress-free holiday season without either going back in time and being a toddler or fast-forwarding to my octogenarian days.

Or, you know, without having to endure a Freaky Friday incident and switch places with my husband.

Light up this Christmas with new ideas

If you own a local business and have ideas about how to make this Christmas a special one for residents, members of the annual Mayerthorpe Lite Up have a job for you.

Members of the group met last Thursday to discuss ideas for this year’s event and to encourage new volunteers and local businesses to help out in making the Lite Up even brighter than last year.

Organizer of the Mayerthorpe Lite Up, Charlotte Arthur, said the group is looking for new businesses to get involved and are already excited to see that a new business has joined in.

“We’re just really wanting to focus on fun, fellowship and shopping,” she said.

“We are trying to get people to come downtown, even if you don’t shop, to get in the spirit and be happy.”

According to Arthur, the Lite Up is a night of many different Christmas specials including a parade, a big bon fire on Main Street and even a visit from one very special person.

“The stores have lots of specials and we usually have a concession,” she explained.

“We have Santa Claus from two different times in the day and evening (so) people can get a pic with Santa for a very reasonable price without having to travel to the city.”

Arthur also said the town can look forward to the delightful sound of Christmas music, playing for the whole month of December.

“You can hear it from the Mini Mart to the hotel,” she said.

A variety of other local businesses will also be participating in the event, Arthur said, so there is so much more for residents to look forward to.

“Uptown Auto does the greeting window (so) if you walk in with a loonie you can write a message on the window (and) the money goes to the food bank,” she said.

“The Treasury Bank (ATB) does a colouring contest (and) kids bring their posters to the night of the Lite Up.”

There will also be a business challenge where local businesses will be judged on how well the outside of their building has been decorated for the Christmas season.

Arthur explained the goal of this year’s Lite Up and how organizers hope to get as many people involved as possible.

“Our main idea and our main focus was to decorate the entrance into town,” she said.

Christmas shopping in September

Personal Finance Reminder: avoid busting your budget by shopping early for Christmas.

Early birds get more time to look for bargains, more time to stretch artistic skills to create unique and personal (and less expensive) gifts, and avoid overcharging credit cards and paying hefty fees.

Sometimes, the late birdies do get rewarded, because retailers have been known to cut down prices at the last minute. But would you like to fall prey to an “if?”

What are your plans for a money-smart Christmas? Let me hear those ideas!

Christmas sales forecast cheerless

Christmas sales are expected to grow at the slowest pace in six years as shoppers worry about jobs, the housing and stock markets and high gas and food prices, according to a forecast from the National Retail Federation being released today.

The outlook from the retail trade group joins other weak Christmas sales predictions issued so far that will likely lead to aggressive discounting and pre-Thanksgiving sales blitzes as stores try to pry dollars from frugal shoppers.

Merchants have also scaled back Christmas inventories and seasonal sales staff from a year ago. The challenges are compounded by a Christmas shopping season that has five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day than in 2007, which could make consumers delay their buying.

“You don’t have a good picture,” said Rosalind Wells, the federation’s chief economist. Last week’s financial turbulence, from Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy protection to a proposed $ 700 billion government bailout of the financial system, “only increases the uncertainty and anxiety,” she said. Wells said she doesn’t expect an economic turnaround until the second half of next year.

The Washington-based trade association predicted that total Christmas sales will rise a modest 2. 2 percent for the November and December period from a year ago, to $ 470. 4 billion. That would be below the 10-year average of 4. 4 percent Christmas sales growth and a bit below the 2. 4 percent gain last year. It would also be the slowest pace since 1. 3 percent in 2002.

Total retail sales figures from the National Retail Federation exclude business from auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants. The estimate also excludes online sales and reflects last week’s financial turmoil, Wells said.

Two other forecasts, from Deloitte Research and TNS Retail Forward, that were made before the recent market turbulence had predicted the weakest Christmas sales growth since 1991 — though they use different metrics.

Deloitte Research expects total Christmas sales — excluding motor vehicles and gasoline, but including online sales — to rise 2. 5 percent to 3 percent in the November-through-January period, less than last year’s 3. 4 percent gain. A rise of 2. 5 percent to 2. 8 percent in that period would be the smallest gain since 1991, Deloitte noted.

TNS Retail Forward, a global market information group, sees retail sales rising 1. 5 percent in the October-through-December period, the weakest performance since 1991. The figure includes online sales but excludes sales from gas, supermarkets, restaurants, drug chains and autos.

The downbeat forecasts come as many retailers have already suffered from a weak fall shopping season. While autumn selling isn’t a predictor of Christmas sales, it’s seen as a barometer of consumers’ willingness to spend. And currently, shoppers don’t seem to feel generous. While they have been squeezed by high gas and food prices, they are also contending with a weak job market and tighter credit. Last week’s financial turbulence could further rattle people’s confidence, which was near historic lows in August, according to the Conference Board. The group is expected to release its latest reading on Sept. 30.

Stores are closely monitoring what’s happening on Wall Street as lawmakers rush to put their imprint on the Bush administration’s plan to save financial markets. Any more upheaval could lead to stores’ retooling their plans, including hiring. Christmastime hiring is already likely to fall significantly short of last year’s total, which was the lowest since 2003, according to job placement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Given the anemic environment, Wells expects discounters to keep faring well as shoppers focus on prices. Joshua Thomas, a spokesman for Target Corp., which has been hurt in this weak economy because of its emphasis on nonessentials such as trendy jeans and housewares, said the chain is focusing on gifts under $ 25 in its Christmas marketing.

Chris Byrne, a New Yorkbased toy consultant, said that toy sales could suffer too as parents might cut back. “Consumers are nervous about what they are going to spend. They may buy fewer toys,” he said.

Byrne believes, though, that there will be isolated hits. He cited Elmo Live, made by Mattel Inc. ’s Fisher-Price unit, which will be in stores Oct. 14, as well as anything related to Star Wars and Bakugan, action figure warriors from Spin Master Ltd. that he said have been very popular.

Mall-based apparel stores will likely keep struggling, as shoppers cut back on discretionary spending or shift their buying to stores such as T. J. Maxx, which offers major brands at discounts.

Analysts are closely monitoring luxury stores, whose sales have slowed in recent months. Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianna Shapira noted in a report last week that New York City luxury flagships are unlikely to remain bright spots amid Wall Street’s turmoil.

“The slowdown will undoubtedly ripple beyond NYC to impact others tied to high-end spending such as Coach, Nordstrom and Ralph Lauren,” Shapira wrote.

Retailers readying for early holiday shopping

Monday is the first day of autumn, but for some area merchants, the focus is already very much on a certain winter holiday. Retailers are wishing you a “Merry Christmas” earlier than ever.

The Christmas shopping season used to begin the day after Thanksgiving. But that is no more, as the date has now been pushed up to right after Halloween.

Stores that sell December’s holiday decorations are stocking the shelves beginning in late summer to try and expand their sales volume and profitability.

But will the increasingly early jumpstart to Christmas actually pay dividends for business?

“I think households will determine the amount that they are going to spend,” explains UNLV Economics Professor, Dr. Keith Schwer. “They will simply spend the same amount distributed over as larger amount of days. I think in the final analysis, it probably doesn’t have much impact in the total level of revenues of the firms.”

In case you are counting, there are only 93 shopping days left until Christmas. Chances are that most of us will be decking the halls with “boughs of holly” long before then.

Cleric’s warning as store kicks off Christmas

A SENIOR cleric has sounded a note of caution after a department store unveiled a Christmas display.

Debenhams presented a festive range for shoppers at Londonderry’s Foyleside Centre last week.

But Dean of St Columb’s Cathedral in the city, the Rev Dr William Morton, said: “What we need here is a sense of balance.

“I am not against people or traders planning for Christmas.

“But, what is not good is the dreadful commercialisation which is against the true message of Christmas.”

Dean Morton also stated that the Christmas rush becomes so intense that it places people in a “terrible position”.

“This will particularly apply this year with the recession or credit crunch, whatever you choose to call it,” he said.

On a spiritual level, Dean Morton said it was becoming increasingly difficult each year to get the true message of Christmas across to a wider number of people.

“Thankfully there are still a lot of people out there who know the real meaning of Christmas.

“But people are almost wishing their lives away and it means they are missing the importance of everyday opportunities and challenges.”

Dean Morton also said over-commercialisation places children under severe peer pressure in terms of comparing what they receive with what other children are given.

City Centre Intiative (CCI) manager Sean Trainor said that having worked in the retail sector he understands the need for businesses to prepare early.

“Christmas certainly does come early every year within the retail sector. That sector depends heavily on revenue gathered at that period.

“It is certainly true that if you don’t have a good Christmas you don’t have a good year.”

Mr Trainor said that up to a third of the retail sector’s money is gathered at the festive period and as such most businesses would have their plans in place by the end of August, although he said that displays at this time “did appear to be a little early”.

“This, however, is not exclusive to Debenhams,” he said.

“From a commercial point of view, most multi-nationals want to have their brand associated with Christmas.”

A spokeswoman for Debenhams said: “We begin to install our Christmas departments at this time every year. This is in response to customer demand for availability at this time.

“By doing this, we allow our customers to spread the cost of their Christmas shopping over a number of months which is especially important in the current climate.”

You can be part of the magic of giving

Several businesses, organizations, volunteers and government officials from both sides of the border are joining forces to put together a blow-out Dia de los Reyes celebration for Ambos Nogales children.

“The magic of Dia de los Reyes is the overwhelming involvement … to make more than 4,000 children smile for a day,” said Gael “Sylvia” Pullen, owner of the Nogales McDonald’s restaurants.

“The real surprise is that it is the children who make more than 250 volunteers smile,” she said.

For about 30 years, McDonald’s restaurants in Nogales has partnered with immigration and Border Patrol officials, service organizations and a host of community volunteers to provide Happy Meals, clothing and school supplies to children from Nogales.

In 2008, the Pullen family expanded the Christmas tradition to bring joy to more than 4,000 children from Ambos Nogales.

Dia de los Reyes is on Jan. 6, but the celebration comes a bit early on New Year’s Day as it captures the spirit of the Three Wise Men by bearing gifts of encouragement, food and clothing to children who otherwise would be completely without, Pullen said.

“The children are truly grateful for any and all gifts,” she said.

Last year, those gifts included backpacks, rice, beans, produce, tortillas, blankets, scarves, knit caps, gloves, toys, candy, cookies and school supplies.

Organizers are hoping to garner 4,000 of each item through donations, Pullen said, adding that the deadline for delivering the items will be Friday, Dec. 5.

It takes a Snow Village to warm a heart

Virginia Walker has the perfect view of the sparkling, bustling downtown in Snow Village – from the comfort of the center cushion on her living room couch.

From there, she can keep an eye on the distinguished Victorian homes on the bluff and the worker-bees on the south side farm and rail station.

She can watch children playing in the snow, youngsters ice skating on the pond and the old man sitting on a snowy bench, reading the newspaper with his mittens on.

“Sometimes, you get down and out, and you come in here and you just lose yourself in it,” said Walker.

A whole world of magical, peaceful delight known as Snow Village by Department 56 has been a part of Walker’s Farmington Hills home since she started the collection 22 years ago.

The snow-themed collection has been a work in progress and has evolved to a multilevel, 15-foot by 4-foot snow-dusted arrangement, assembled by Walker’s longtime friend and neighbor, Louise Clark.

“It’s just been a progressive thing,” said Clark, who designed and built the display. “It’s been a hobby of mine for years.”

The collection, which has about 85 structures, 400 people and cars and 250 trees, will soon be relocated to Greenfield Village, where Walker decided to donate it. Walker’s first pieces are her favorite – St. James Church, the Springfield House and the Habersham House.

Her display reminds her of circa 1900 East Coast.

“It’s just so restful,” she said.

Walker has enjoyed opening her home and her Snow Village to visitors through the years – more than 400 per year. She has left the display up year-round for the past four years. Now, she’s ready to reclaim the space in her condo.

The collection will reflect an age-old holiday tradition, said Jeanine Miller, curator of domestic life exhibits at The Henry Ford.

“The scope and the attention to detail brings out the charm of miniature scenes, which have been a part of Christmas for more than a century,” said Miller. “This collection is the continuation of a very old Christmas tradition.”

Jim Johnson, senior manager of creative programs for Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford, said it will likely be placed in the pavilion inside the Village during Holiday Nights in December. They plan to set it up on various levels, so visitors can “virtually step into it.”

Huge Christmas VillageHuge Christmas VillageHuge Christmas Village

Dexter can’t afford Christmas lights

There’s no doubt that holiday lights will twinkle in downtown Dexter this holiday season. What’s not clear is who will pay for the decorations that have become a Christmas tradition.

At its meeting Monday night, the Dexter Village Council discussed an Aug. 18 letter from the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce that said the chamber can no longer afford to pay the approximately $5,000 cost for the holiday lights that adorn lampposts, trees and displays in Monument Park.

“While we all so much enjoy the lights and we feel they are important to all the citizens of Dexter, financial constraints make it impossible for the Dexter Chamber of Commerce to continue to bear all the costs and responsibilities of the project,” the letter states.

The letter notes that the chamber “has been working aggressively to reduce costs by cutting staff and implementing cost-cutting measures throughout our organization.”

The chamber said it could offer a yearly $1,000 contribution to the project as well as a donation of the lights that are stored at the old Department of Public Works Building below the fire station. The board encouraged the council to take over the project.

Council Member Paul Cousins, who is the liaison to the chamber, said that in the past the chamber hired someone to put up, maintain and take down all the lights.

“The chamber decided that its funds should be used for more business-oriented things,” Cousins said.

Council President Shawn Keough said he would approach the village’s Downtown Development Authority to see if it was interested in picking up some of the costs for the annual holiday lights.

“I don’t have a problem with us helping with this,” he said.

Council Member Donna Fisher said she thought the lighting of downtown “should be a DDA function.”

In addition, there are liability and manpower issues that will need to be worked out, said Village Manager Donna Dettling.

Cousins said the village lift truck could be used to help install the lights, but he said that the work usually takes place at the end of November, which is also the end of the village’s leaf-pickup season.

“If we are going to take it over, let’s have snap and pop, simple, clean white lights,” that are easy to install, said Council Member Ray Tell.