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Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

The holidays can bring such joy — families gather together to share specially prepared meals, exchange gifts, and savor the particular magic that seems to permeate the air. Frosty windowpanes frame displays of trees and candles whose lights dance about merrily. The cold makes noses jauntily pink, and hot cocoa and spiced cider warm everyone back up. The scents of cinnamon and pine waft through the air.

Of course, that’s the ideal, what sparkles in our memories of favorite holidays. It’s also possible, with busy lives and the demands of work, kids’ last days of school before the winter break, and just trying to get ready for the expectations of what the holidays should be — grocery shopping, endless treks to the mall to get the toys and gadgets on the kids’ wish lists, getting lights strung around the house — to lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays.

Here are a few ideas for ways to bring back that wonderful feeling that can be the hallmark of this special time of year.

Get ideas from Grandma.

Ask an older member of your family, such as a grandmother or great-uncle, to share a tradition from his or her childhood and incorporate that this year. Grandma may tell you how when she was little she put her shoes outside the front door to have them filled with goodies from Santa Claus, instead of in a stocking next to the fireplace. This might work particularly well if you don’t have a fireplace and the children worry how Santa can get to their stockings without one!

Shake the family tree.

This free land of ours is a melting pot of many countries with their own unique practices surrounding the holidays. Your family may be a mixture of Russian, British and Norwegian, for example. Look up Christmas traditions that are common in Norway, perhaps, and pick one or two to incorporate this year in your celebrations. Christmas Eve dinner there usually features pork or lamb ribs or even cod, according to visitnorway.com, followed by the opening of gifts waiting under the tree. Get a recipe for Norwegian-style ribs and try that as a main course, and do the same for the traditional cookies — goro, krumkaker or berlinekrans.

Plan to volunteer or give back somehow as a family.

Depending on your family’s size and the ages of your children, it may be easy to find some way to give back to your community in some way or it may be a bit more challenging. Little ones won’t have a long attention span or may not be old enough to help out at homeless shelters or places that provide free meals, for instance. But anyone can find some way to serve others. Donating cans or boxes of nonperishable food items is a simple option; children can help Mom pick out vegetables they like and want to share with others. Take a box or bag full to your local food pantry. A more one-on-one way to brighten someone’s day is to visit a nursing home. Share your talents, such as music, or just sit and visit and ask an older person about his or her life. Ask him or her about long-ago traditions or holiday memories, even.

Re-emphasize your faith.

lightOur holidays are based on religious events, after all. Find a way to focus more on “what it really is all about.” Make an advent calendar that takes the whole month of December leading up to Christmas Day to remember miracles Christ performed. I’ve been enjoying the LDS Church’s #lighttheworld initiative this month so far, which gives an idea of something to do service-wise every day of the month leading up to the 25th, based on what Jesus did in his life.

Gift a memory.

It can sometimes be difficult to find just the right gift for a loved one. This year, try “throwing it back” by finding an item that reflects a favorite toy or experience the recipient had as a child. Children of the ‘80s had Atari game systems; try giving him a classic video game set in the form of an app. Maybe your grandma misses the beautiful farmhouse she grew up in; give her a framed photo of it or an ornament that harks back to it. Or try a charm for a bracelet or necklace. Have some fun!

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A few nights ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet a man who must absolutely wear his life out in service to others. I was sitting at a high school football game selling cookies to raise money for the marching band, and the other parent I was working with said hello to this particular individual, who was at the game volunteering with the police department as a security presence for these kinds of community events. Mr. B, as I’ll refer to him, stayed to talk a while and spoke of the things he’s been doing; he retired from being an elementary-school teacher a few years ago. In addition to helping out with the police, he and another man help repair bicycles for the homeless once a week; he has spent a month in China during the summer of each of the past few years teaching practical English to young people; he regularly does mission trips with his church to Central America with his wife; he helps in other ways to aid the poor and homeless. I was absolutely blown away by his dedication to doing good. In addition to that, Mr. B’s late brother’s wife runs a foundation dedicated to raising awareness about traumatic brain injuries, and he’s involved in that in some way too.

In this time when we are at odds politically about how much we feel government should be involved in people’s lives, in providing for very basic needs (food, shelter) and slightly-less-basic needs (like health care and education), it still strikes me how very important it is for all of us to give of ourselves to our communities and the world at large. If every person volunteered their time just a little every week, according as their schedules and particular obligations allowed, think about what good would happen. Without any government outlays of tax dollars or resources, so many people would be helped. Even those who are the ones more “in need” can often do something to give back, even if it’s just making a few phone calls or coordinating others’ efforts.

Very likely, we would have far less need of government to take care of so many people. And think about the benefits to each person who is volunteering: an improved work ethic for themselves and those they care for; more compassion and empathy for those who are in more need or experience different kinds of struggles; an appreciation for how we are all connected and how what each of us does affects so many others.

I have written about how so often when I see so much need that I wish I could do more, but I have to remind myself that just helping one person (throwing back that one starfish…) is something. But if each of us did a little more, … wow. So many starfish would be back in the sea, alive and well and thriving.

This is a fun little way to remember to give the best gift you can give.

This is a fun little way to remember to give the best gift you can give.

At this season when we start thinking about giving thanks and giving gifts, perhaps one great gift we could give is to find a little something extra we can do for our fellow men, right in our own communities, and then sustain it past this season, right into the coming year and years. Our efforts, even if they’re small, do make a difference.

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Well, here it is the holiday season, and I’ve been working hard to get my shopping done a couple weeks before Christmas so I can maybe sit and breathe and just enjoy the actual holiday. With four kids and a bunch of interests and projects, I’m always busy, so the holidays can really turbo-charge my busy-ness. I’ve found myself going to bed at 9:00 at night several times because my days have worn me out so thoroughly.

Now THAT's the kind of face I like to see when I give a gift.

Now THAT’s the kind of face I like to see when I give a gift.

Even though the selecting and buying/preparation of gifts can be exhausting, particularly when it’s so many all at once, I still find myself reflecting on how much fun it is to find just the right ones. It’s so satisfying to know someone well enough to match them with a cool present that will make him or her smile. Even better is if that gift becomes something they talk about for months or years to come.

I was thinking about the year I sent a pregnant friend a box of Omaha steaks. We’d been talking about how she was at that point of the pregnancy where she was just wanting meat. I’d been there myself, so I knew that right around the midway point, I always wanted steak. Meat, meat, meat. I guess that is also when the baby’s brain is really growing, so it probably needs lots of protein. So I craved steak. I thought it would just be fun to ship her a box of meat. Sure enough, even her family remembered it for ages. One sister told me some years later that she thought it was a great idea. And how often does someone get a box of meat in the mail?

My dad was generally very enthusiastic about the gifts I got him. He got into a smoothie groove one year, so I sent him a  personal smoothie maker. He loved it. When he died and I had to clear out his apartment, his freezer was still stocked with smoothie ingredients: sherbet and yogurt and frozen fruit. I brought the little smoothie maker home and now use it myself. It makes me smile to think about Dad and his smoothies. Another time, I got him a peanut butter maker. I happened to run across it in a kitchen store, and knowing Dad’s dedication to natural peanut butter, I snatched that right up and gave it to him for Father’s Day. He ran that thing ragged, making a lot more peanut butter than that gadget was probably designed for. Over the course of a few years, he got great mileage out of it until it died. We were both very sad I couldn’t find another one by that point.

One young friend who enjoyed my fresh waffles received a waffle iron for a wedding gift, along with my recipes for waffles. He tells me now that he and his wife are now famous for making waffles for young missionaries they have over for dinner, just as we fed him when he was a missionary for our church. It’s really satisfying to know that a tradition we started now has carried over into another family.

My oldest daughter decorated this wrapping paper herself. That was even cooler than the gift inside!

My oldest daughter decorated this wrapping paper herself. That was even cooler than the gift inside!

Of course, it’s also a nice thing to give people gifts that aren’t necessarily things, but services. If someone never has time to cook, make them some homemade meals that freeze easily and can be popped in the oven. I am a fan of baking homemade bread or cookies because a lot of people don’t bake anymore. I just invest in a lot of flour, sugar, and butter. Or if a friend is particularly busy (or pregnant), give a gift of a month of maid service. Just be sure to remind them not to feel compelled to clean their house before the maid comes over.

I’ve kept a file on my computer with a list of all the Christmas gifts I’ve given family members over the years. It lets me ensure I don’t repeat years, and it just helps me keep track of what ideas I’ve come up with in the past and even can help spark new ideas. The Word document I’m using now has gifts all the way back to 2002. This year, I think I’ve come up with some really neat, personalized gifts, some of which I’ve made myself, but I can’t yet write what they are because my recipients might read this!

I just love gift-giving occasions. Christmas can be overwhelming with the sheer number of items and people to shop for, so I particularly enjoy birthdays and other celebrations like weddings or baby showers. (Now that my girls are getting big, it’s really fun to buy tiny little clothes and other items for someone else’s babies.)

Yep, giving can be lots more fun than receiving. (But it is nice to get a really great gift sometimes, too, particularly from my husband.)

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So I wrote yesterday about how I’ve been overwhelmed by all the huge obligations and responsibilities of mothering four growing girls. I’ve been feeling low on the coping scale for a few weeks, so by the time my birthday hit the other day, I wasn’t steadied by very many more reserves of patience or understanding.

I knew my “special day” would be crazy, so I expected that. What I also knew, after 19 years of experience, is that my husband is nearly completely unable to surprise me with anything, including gifts. I have to tell him ahead of time for any kind of occasion what I would like. Either he goes out and gets it and wraps it for me to unwrap and exclaim, “Oh, that’s great! I love it!” or we sit down to order it online together (he’ll click the “order” button so it’s from him), or we’ll go out shopping together after the fact.

I’ve largely grown accustomed to this setup, and I do appreciate that 1) I am difficult to buy for because my mood is always changing and 2) not everyone is a great gift-giver. I like to think I’m pretty good at selecting presents for others. I mostly really enjoy it, in fact. It’s so fun to always keep my eyes peeled for little ideas that come up in the course of conversations and then seeing something in a store or online that just matches up. It’s then so fun to see how the person reacts to what I found. I really love it. But no, not everyone can do that very well.

So my dear hubby really tried to come up with some fun things for me on my birthday (the other big problem for him at this time of year is that my birthday and Mother’s Day are always very close together: two big occasions to honor me right in a row, or even on the same day). He came up with a couple of ideas, one of which was one we’ve already done a few times, and which I do enjoy, but in this case, I wasn’t really in the mood and wanted something different. The second ended up being ridiculously expensive, therefore, out of the question. The upshot: on my birthday, as I was racing around doing mommy stuff and wearing myself out, I ended up with not a single present to open.

 

This drawing and the new header for the site are actually gifts from my oldest daughter. She’s my amazing, in-house talented artist.

 

It was not a pretty combination. In fact, that snafu ended up being the match that lit the powder keg. I won’t go into detail on my reactions.

What I keep trying to tell my husband is that I really like gifts. I was informed a couple of years ago about the Five Love Languages, and what I really appreciate are Words of Affirmation and Receiving Gifts. Like the website says, gifts are not about getting “stuff” or anything fancy or expensive; it’s about what goes into it. I love just little tokens that say something meaningful, or even semi-meaningful. I want to be thought about and have that thought go into that kind of action. My husband and I have discussed the love languages a few times since our introduction to them, and he knows exactly what I really like. Has he succeeded in learning and applying that knowledge? Not so much. (Let me even quote from the site: “A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous — so would the absence of everyday gestures.” Ha! See?!)

My mom says that most men are terrible at gift-giving and that I should just accept that my husband, as great as he is in so many ways, will never be able to surprise me or give me good gifts. I wonder if that’s true. If it is, then why would the people behind the love languages encourage couples to do better at speaking their spouses’ languages? It would be a lost cause. I still have hope it’s possible to change or at least improve a little.

I’d like to simply say, no, I’m not selfish or self-centered; I don’t think I have high expectations. I just want a simple but fairly meaningful gift on special occasions and just cute, sweet little tokens to surprise me throughout the rest of the year. I think I’m worth it. In fact, I need those expressions of love and appreciation to feed me, to fill up my tank so I can keep going, keep super-mothering. I simply can’t run on emotionally empty.

What say you? Are gifts important to you or someone you care about?

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