Holiday Project Rush

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I’m a crafter wannabe with no talent to back up those aspirations. But my desire to come up with frugal and meaningful presents pushes me to attempt projects rather than stare dreamy-eyed at all the luscious offerings I can’t afford, the ones made by people with real skill.

Over the years my four kids and I have made hundreds of gifts: mosaic tiles, felted ornaments, hand-dipped candles in rustic holders, glass magnets, painted pillowcases, you name it we’ve probably done it. In most cases these projects came out reasonably well. Any flaws could easily be ascribed to the youthful nature of the participants. But now my kids are old enough to make or buy their own gifts, no need for mom’s help.

Yesterday one of my sons heated and hammered iron into an odal rune amulet, similar to the ones worn by his Scandinavian ancestors to ward off jötnar, those unhelpful yet powerful beings known as trolls. I want to wear one, or at least hang it near my computer where pesky trolls still lurk.

 

Another of my sons is doing woodworking projects. One is a simple board with a beverage opener mounted on it. But he’s hollowed out the back, where he’s installed a powerful magnet. When a  cap is popped off, it’ll cling like magic to the board just below the opener. Another of his projects is a five foot long custom rack for halters and ropes to be used in our barn. The wood on each is sanded and oiled to smooth perfection.

 

And my daughter has been making darling felt owl ornaments, inspired by her volunteer work at a avian wildlife rehabilitation center. These plump, stuffed little creatures are a hoot.

 

I had only a few projects lined up this year.

1. Homemade cocoa mix kits with chocolate spoons and homemade cocoa nib marshmallows. These are going into cookie baskets I give to neighbors and elderly aunt types.

2. A few felt ornaments (okay, I got the idea from my daughter), which I’ll use to adorn packages.

3. And my main project, cement stepping stones embedded with my friends’ favorite quotes. It was fun detective work finding out those quotes (including Virginia Woolf, J.R. R. Tolkien, and Buddha) but not so fun doing the project in a crowded garage.

I know leaving enough time is essential if I want to create in a lighthearted way rather than with that teeth-gritting get it done already attitude. But this year I got started too late.

Being short on time also leads to poorly done (okay: ridiculously bad) projects.

I hurriedly assembled my cocoa kits, meaning I couldn’t come up with more artful labels than old adhesive printer forms.

 

 

The felt ornaments, which I intended to look like quizzical chickens, were described by one of my helpful family members as strangled poultry.  I may just hang them on our tree o’homemade ornaments rather than give them away.

 

 

 

 

And I shan’t speak of the cement stepping stones, still sloshy in their forms.

At least my kids have learned to make their own projects joyfully, creatively, and occasionally ahead of time. Maybe my craft attempts aren’t the outcome of my artistic longings. Maybe generating kids who are themselves artful is what I’ve been working on all along.

Because this year’s gifts are still secret, I had to offer this throwback post from GeekMom.com

Hopeful, Helpful Holiday Links

hopeful, helpful holiday links

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”     Helen Keller

Sharing ideas and reflections here in hopes of passing along some holiday inspiration. 

 

Ideas

 

100+ non-toy gift ideas100+ Non-Toy Gifts for Toddlers to Teens 

Give real tools, out-of-the-ordinary experiences, even a giant Scrabble game. Over 100 suggestions to deepen connections and spark new ideas.

 

Resources for Simple Holiday Gifts & FunResources for Simple Holiday Gifts & Fun

Dozens of resources including simplified holiday traditions, DIY gift-giving, and more.

 

Fighting Crazed Holiday SyndromeFighting Crazed Holiday Syndrome

Five tactics to de-stress the holidays, including Shun Those Voices and renounce How Does She Do It All Disease.

 

aDo-Gooder Gifts: Personal As Well As Global

Clever ways to pair gifts to charity with a personal gift.

 

 

Reflections

Our worst Christmas became our most memorable ChristmasOur Worst Christmas Became Our Most Memorable Christmas

Heartwarming true story with despair, secrets, delight, and some poo.

 

aWhat Do Your Gifts Say? 

There’s meaning embedded in our gifts. We have certain intentions as we shop, wrap, anticipate giving, and finally offer the gift. Our efforts try to say something.

 

Preserve the Santa myth without lyingDo You Tell The Truth About Santa?

How to preserve delight in Santa without lying to your kids.

Worst Christmas Became Most Memorable Christmas

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Photo by doortoriver via Flickr, CC by 2.0

One year it seemed we were having the worst Christmas ever. That autumn my husband had been in a car accident. His broken neck was healing, but it left him with severe migraines and what doctors thought might be a seizure disorder. Because he wasn’t medically cleared to return to work, we had to pay for health insurance through COBRA (which cost more than our mortgage) while not receiving a paycheck. In addition, my mother was fighting cancer, my brother-in-law was recovering from open heart surgery, and my son was struggling with asthma so severe that his oxygen intake regularly hovered at the “go to emergency room” level.

We were broke and worried. But I insisted on a normal Christmas. I put up our usual decorations, baked the same goodies, and managed to wrap plenty of inexpensive gifts for our kids. Everyone else on my list would be getting something homemade.

Each night after getting my four children tucked in, I sat at the sewing machine making gifts for friends and family. The evening of December 23rd as I was finishing up the last few sewing projects I realized I didn’t have a single item for the kid’s stockings and absolutely no funds to buy even a pack of gum. I put my head down, too tired to cry. I was so overwhelmed by the bigger issues going on that the stocking problem pushed me right to the edge. I don’t know how long I sat there unable to get back to sewing, but when I lifted my head my eleven-year-old daughter stood next to me. When she asked what was wrong I admitted that I had nothing for any of their stockings. Her response lightened up my mood then and still does every time I think of it.

“All that matters is we’re a family,” she said. “ I don’t care if you squat over my stocking and poop in it.”

I laughed so loudly and for so long that something cleared out in me. I felt better than I had in months. She and I stayed up at least another hour together, restarting the giggles with just a look or more hilariously, a squatting motion.

When I woke up the next morning I still felt good. Until the phone rang. It was Katy* who said she needed to talk to someone. The mother of one of my children’s friends, she always seemed like a super women who did everything with panache. It was hard to imagine her with anything but a big smile. She said she didn’t want to tell anyone who might feel obligated to help her but, oddly, said she felt free to talk to me because she knew of my family’s dire financial straits. “We’re in the same boat I guess,” she said, “sinking.”

Katy revealed that her husband had been abusive and she’d finally worked up the courage to ask him to leave. He did, but not before emptying their bank accounts, turning off their utilities, disabling her car, and taking every single Christmas gift for their four children. Utility companies had promised to restore power to their cold, dark home but she was left with no money for groceries and no gifts for her kids. Katy said she was going to talk to her priest, hoping he’d find someone willing to drive her family to the Christmas service. She said her problems would be public knowledge soon enough. The neighbors would notice that her husband had punched a hole in the door on his way out.

Heartsick at her situation, my husband and I agreed we had to do something. I spent that day in eager anticipation of the plan we hatched. I went through the gifts I’d wrapped for our kids and took out about a third, putting on new gift tags for Katy’s children. I rewrapped gifts that friends and relatives had sent for me, putting Katy’s name on them. While I was happily engaged, my friend Rachel* called, someone who didn’t know Katy. I told her about the situation without revealing Katy’s identity. A few hours later Rachel showed up at my door with a tin of homemade cookies and a card with $100 tucked inside. She said she’d told her mother about the situation, and her mother insisted on supplying grocery bags full of holiday treats including a large ham.

Close to midnight my husband and I loaded up our car and drove quietly to Katy’s street. Snow was falling and the moon was full, like a movie set Christmas Eve. He turned off the headlights and cut the engine as we coasted into her drive. We quietly stacked groceries and piles of gifts on her porch, then pounded on her door yelling “Merry Christmas!” before dashing to make our getaway. By the time our car was a few houses down I could see that Katy had opened the door. Her hands were up in the air in a classic gesture of surprise and delight.

Katy called the next day. She told me there’d been a late night interruption. She thought to herself, what now, but when she got to her door her porch was full of gifts and groceries.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” she said. “The gifts had the kids’ names on them and were just right for their ages and there were even gifts for me. We can’t figure out who might have done that. I know it couldn’t have been you but why wouldn’t someone leave their name so I could thank them?”

I could only tell her that whoever left her porch that night must have wanted the gesture to remain a simple gift of love. She said her kids were calling it their Christmas miracle.

A small gesture of kindness hardly makes up for what Katy’s family endured that Christmas. But as we drove away, my husband and I felt a lift of euphoria that our own circumstances couldn’t diminish. That feeling stuck with us. It held us through problems that got worse before they got better. Even when our situation seemed intractable my husband and I could easily summon the sense of complete peace we felt in those moments at Katy’s door. I’m not sure if a word has been coined that encompasses that feeling: a mix of peace, and possibility, and complete happiness. But it’s far more precious than any wrapped package.

Oh, and that Christmas my brother gave my daughter, who at that time was an aspiring paleontologist, the perfect gift. Coprolite. Basically a hunk of fossilized poop. He thought it was a funny present but never understood why seeing it made me laugh until tears came to my eyes.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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Photo by andrewmalone via Flickr, CC by 2.0

100+ Non-Toy Gifts for Toddlers to Teens

What do we really want when we offer gifts to our kids? I’m guessing excitement, happiness, hopefully some lasting joy. It’s disheartening to give a highly anticipated toy or the newest gadget only to see it ignored a day or a week later. The antidote? Fewer presents of better quality, as well as an emphasis on experiences. According to science, these are the gifts that result in real pleasure.

Real Tools for Real Work

Young kids beg to help out.  When we let them, they’re learning skills as well as the satisfaction of taking on responsibilities. Rather than toy versions of tools, get them appropriately sized real tools (to use with supervision). You can get plenty of useful, not-too-large tools at your local hardware and home goods stores. As kids get older, invest in adult-sized tools they can use for a lifetime.

Starting at four years old we got our own kids woodworking tools and gave them access to scrap wood. We also kept a stool handy for little kids to help at the kitchen counter, and whenever possible let them pour their own drinks from a tiny pitcher into a tiny cup during mealtimes—-cultivating coordination as well as a sense of involvement. When our oldest was three and loved to turn machines on and off, we got him a hand vac as a gift. He used it for years, immediately on the scene to vacuum up crumbs like a man on a mission. Saying yes when a child offers to help is more important than we might imagine.

Woodworking tools: Rubber mallet, vintage manual hand drill ,work gloves, level, sandpaper, safety glasses, tool belt, battery-powered drill, cordless screwdriver, measuring tape, wood glue, tool box, and low sturdy work bench. Consider books such as Builder Boards: How to Build the Take-Apart Playhouse14 Woodworking Projects For Parents and Kids To Build Togetherand The Kids’ Building Workshop. For teens, more complex project books as well as power tools, adult-sized hand tools, a sturdy workbench, and the freedom to work on their own.

Kitchen-y enticements: Apron, egg slicer, small rolling pin, small pitcher, rotary egg beater, small mixing bowls, tongs, whisk, wooden spoon, cutting board, Doodle by Stitch apron, safe Curious Chef knives, a step stool or adjustable kitchen helper stoolEngaging cookbooks like The Do It Myself Kids’ CookbookTwist It Up, and Kids’ First Cookbook. For teens, a high quality kitchen utensil of their own (a good chef’s knife is a classic gift) along with cookbooks they’ll be eager to test out such as Cooking for GeeksThe Everything College Cookbook, or a cookbook aimed at particular tastes.

Gardening tools: Seeds, small gloves, trowel, bucket, watering can, small rake and shovel, (there are lots of child-sized tools at For Small Hands), containers to start indoor plants (like starting plants from sweet potato pieces and avocado pits), a kit to grow sprouts for salads and stir fries, books such as Gardening Lab for Kids and Gardening Projects for Kids.Teens with horticultural interests will appreciate adult-sized tools, gift certificates for seed companies, and specialty books.

Handwork tools:  Lucet is a medieval era wooden tool to help make braided cords and necklaces, knitting needles and yarn along with My First Knitting Book, or Kids Knitting: Projects for Kids of all Ages
First Knitter is a device to help small hands learn to knit., Embroidery hoop and embroidery thread. Fabric scraps and a sewing box with some essentials like needles, thread, thimble, and scissors. Needle felting kit and wool roving.  Try a small weaving loom, a larger loom, or make one out of a sturdy picture frame.

Outdoor exploration tools: magnifying glass, collapsible cup
or collapsible water bottle , water bottle sling, spork, sleeping bag, flashlight, or crank flashlight, hand-warmers, Stick-Lets, field guides, vest with lots of pockets for gear, binoculars, telescope, raincoat or rain parka, headlamp, compass, lantern, multi-tool.  (Thanks to Gillian for these suggestions.)

Interest-Based Classes 

One of my kids’ favorite activities was surprisingly affordable bagpiping lessons with a gentleman who’d once been Pipe Major for Scotland’s Black Watch. One-time or ongoing classes can expand on nearly every interest or create new ones. For teens, one-on-one mentoring in an area of passionate interest is even better.  Here are some ways you can connect teens to experts in all sorts of fields. Class ideas?

coding

whittling

horseback riding

yoga

fencing

skiing

dance

pottery

rock climbing

archery

fencing

gymnastics

parkour

glass blowing

sailing

Membership or Season Passes

My oldest son was the youngest member of a model railroad club and almost never missed their regular meetings. Give a membership to an organization that fits your child’s quirky passions. You can purchase memberships to the local historical society, rock collector’s group, chess club, amateur archaeology organization, herpetology society, magician’s guild, whatever builds on a young person’s fascination. Be sure to read newsletters, attend classes, and otherwise enjoy member benefits. Other possibilities include:

hacker space

museum

aviary

botanical garden

wildlife area

Maker programs

amusement park

recreation center

aquarium

One Time Passes

Make this an adult-child activity for young children, for older kids buy two or more passes so they can go with friends.

ski slopes

challenge courses

paintball range

climbing gym

skating rink

go-kart track

bowling alley

Event Tickets

These are special occasions, ones that’ll stay in their memories. Don’t forget to take pictures when you arrive.

live theater

concert

sporting event

con

Maker Faire 

escape room adventure

Out-of-the-Ordinary Things to do Together 

These ideas are great coming from a parent, they may be even more thrilling coming from relatives who want to spend some one-on-one time with younger members of the family. Simply give materials, instructions, or brochures for something you’ll be doing together.  When you give the gift, make sure to set a date!

Print out a recipe you’ve never tried, include ingredients, and set a date to make it together.

Go on a train ride.

Make a fairy garden together. Gift a few supplies for the project, like a tiny watering can fairies might use.

Give a bunch of boxes along with the inspiration of Welcome to Your Awesome Robot or find even bigger boxes to throw a kids BYOB party (bring-your-own-box).

Give fabric markers and white or light-colored plain pillowcases (well-worn ones from thrift stores are perfect for this) to decorate one’s dreams with drawings, quotes, or wishes.

Take a road trip, maybe aiming to see oddball attractions in your state.

Give some beanbags and learn to juggle together.

Go on a hike. Give hike-related gear and maybe a book like My Nature Book or any of Jane Kirland’s books in the Take a Walk series

Go on a more challenging hike with teens, maybe take along a book like Wreck This Journal Everywhere.

Enjoy plein air art experiences together. You might want to give the youngest child a special tote bag to bring art supplies to the park, zoo, or local wildlife spot to draw or paint. For older youth, consider gifting a small sketchbook along with a  compact set of watercolorsoil pastels,  sketch pencilsor charcoal.

Try stand up paddle boarding together.

Take kayaking lessons together.

Give a roll of quarters to play at a place that still has arcade games.

Try geocaching. This modern-day treasure hunt is made possible with a GPS.  Learn more at geocaching.com or navicache.com

Participate in a mud run scheduled in your area.

Construct an insect hotel together. You might give a related book like Insectigations. Teens may enjoy creating larger-scale insect habitat.

Build a clay oven together. Test it out by baking homemade pizza.

Give a bird feeder or binoculars, and sign up together to log bird sightings at eBird or participate together in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Give rubber stamps and a logbook to go letterboxing together.  Learn more at letterboxing.org and atlasquest.com

Go cloud watching. Consult The Cloud Collector’s Handbook as you “collect” different cloud types. Post photos to the online gallery of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Make treats for  birds and animals including pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed, popcorn strings, and cranberry garlands. Then go outside to hang them on a tree together.

Mark cardboard squares with Scrabble letters for a giant game to be played outside.

Set aside open-ended project time together. Get inspiration from books such as RoboticsTinkerlab, and Unbored.

Subscriptions

Magazines are often the only things kids receive in the mail. (Although you can change this with strange and interesting ways to send snail mail.)

For babies there’s Babybug, toddler to preschool ages consider Ladybug, National Geographic Little Kids, Click, and Ranger Rick Jr..

For elementary-age kids, New Moon Girls, MuseFaces, and OWL.

Boomerang subscriptions are one of the best things ever and a favorite with my kids. We saved every one we got. It’s like a radio show wrapped up in an audio magazine, covered with a delicious layer of smart. Perfect to save for a long trip, great to pass along to younger siblings.

For teens, find a publication that meets their interests, whether hip hop or high fashion. Look for indie magazines if you can’t find something that’s just right.

Come up with your own version of a subscription box. Send a themed box every month or every season with projects, snacks, or other small surprises.

 

Quality Musical Instruments 

Real instruments, scaled for a child’s size, sound great and inspire interest. Even very young children can pluck along to sheet music tucked under the strings of a lap harp. For impromptu playing at my house we leave out a number of instruments including a wooden flute,  set of panpipes, ukulele, small pentatonic scale harp, and a small accordion. And one of the best gifts we gave one of our sons was a used electric guitar when he turned 13. You might want to start with something affordable, such as a harmonica or ocarina. (Thanks to Silvia for suggesting instruments as gifts.)  Here are some sources for child-sized instruments.

HearthSong lap harp and extra sheet music

Schylling accordian or Woodstock accordion

For Small Hands percussion instruments such as shakers and drums

Harps of Lorien child-sized or larger lyre

ocarinas and harmonicas

Woodstock chimes and children’s hand bells

Hohner guitars, variable sizes

Bella Luna pentatonic flute

Zither Heaven bowed psaltery or a Roosebeck psaltery

Parent-Made Gifts

There’s something special about gifts you make. A snuggly fleece blanket, a second-hand riding toy with a custom paint job, a refinished child-sized rocking chair. You can find plenty of ideas online, but don’t forget these old standbys.

Homemade coupons they can “spend.”

  • Get-out-of-one chore.
  • Kid’s choice movie night.
  • Stay up an hour past bedtime.
  • Solo time with mom or dad all Saturday, kid’s choice of activities.
  • Sleep-over party.
  • After dark walk.
  • Scary storytelling around a fire.
  • A “yes” to any one project on Instructibles.com.

A dress-up trunk with lengths of fabric for capes, interesting hats, strange shirts and skirts, badges, belts, purses, jewelry, masks, and more.

A recording. Perhaps great-grandma telling stories of her childhood, mom reading aloud from a favorite book, or a a song composed by dad for his child.

Make a “Who Loves Me” board book with pictures of family and friends (and pets) for the newest baby. For an older child write an adventure story featuring them or stage and then photograph Dinovember scenes when they’re asleep. For a teen, maybe a silly book with pictures of relatives back when they were teens. Such books easily created on Snapfish.com and other sites.

Memorabilia to celebrate a teen’s birthday. This is easier than ever with eBay. Find a newspaper issued on the day of his or her birth. You can add a magazine from the month of his or her birth, music popular that year, a political button, a piece of vintage clothing, etc.

A collection of family-favorite recipes. This is particularly useful for older teens and young adults. Just scan them and print out, or use one of the many services that prints hardbound books with your content.

A legacy present. If you’re lucky enough to have things from earlier generations, pass them on. Give grandpa’s fountain pen to your daughter, explaining that he loved to write as much as she does. Give a great uncle’s watch to a teen who shares his wanderlust. Give the funky afghan your aunt made to the kid who is as offbeat as she was. Tell them some stories about these relatives when you give such gifts!

Resources for Simple Holiday Gifts & Fun

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Enjoy tradition or create new ones.

Some families choose to generate their own fun and meaningful traditions that have little emphasis on gifts. Here are just a few examples.

The children in one Florida family wake on Christmas morning to lollipop trees: dozens of lollipops and other tiny items tied by ribbon to tree branches in their yard. After scrambling to harvest from trees tagged with their names, the family heads the beach for a picnic with extended family before going home to play games.

Inspired by the book Night Tree, a family from British Columbia spends a day with friends and family making treats for birds and animals. They roll pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed, string popcorn, make cranberry garlands. At dusk they bundle up, carrying these treats along with cracked corn and suet cakes, to decorate on and around trees while singing Christmas carols. Afterwards they go back to sit by the fireplace and eat dinner together. Their children now insist that they decorate trees with food all winter long, spreading holiday good cheer throughout the season. 

A Michigan family gives one main gift that benefits everyone, other gifts must either be handmade or repurposed.

An Austrian family has stopped loading up children with Hanukkah presents. Instead each family member creates clues for a scavenger hunt to find wrapped and hidden gifts. As the children have gotten older the clues and hiding places have become more elaborate. Instead of hiding gifts in the house, now gifts are stashed at distances requiring hikes to reach them.

A New Jersey family chooses to remember a much-loved grandmother by making huge batches of her best recipe for the holidays. It keeps them in a flurry of preparations for several days. Then on the afternoon of Christmas they top her pecan rolls with icing and deliver them, as a surprise, to those who have to work on Christmas. They stop by the local fire station, police station, hospital, and nursing home leaving trays of rolls along with crayoned good wishes. They feel they’re sharing a little of grandma’s love with the community where she lived all her life. It’s their favorite part of the holiday.

For more inspiration, consider the following resources.

Ten Ways To Take Back The Holidays” (New Urban Habitat)

Avoiding Consumerism at Christmas” (Natural Life Magazine)

A Non-Consumer Christmas” (Get Rich Slowly)

Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas

Simple Pleasures for the Holidays

Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season

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Make it yourself.

Overspending to show we care has gotten out of hand. American Consumer Credit Council reports the average American family has approximately $5,000 in credit card debt, but will spend $704 for holiday gifts. Longstanding movements against rampant materialism such as Buy Nothing Day and Buy Nothing Christmas ask us to consider a different approach. They advocate handmade gifts, gifts of service, and simple holiday togetherness as alternatives to spending. In my family, kids make a gift for everyone, putting the focus on giving as well as receiving.

For ideas, check out the following resources.

34 Homemade Gifts to Make Yourself” (Get Rich Slowly)

Gift Ideas” (Make It and Love It)

Holiday Gifts Kids Can Make

FamilyFun Homemade Holidays

Christmas Crafting with Kids

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Spend consciously.

Your spending choices have a powerful impact. One in four Americans is now identified as a consumer attracted to “goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development, and sustainable living.” These consumers are a 290 billion dollar market. Simply by purchase decisions, shoppers have forced industries to limit the use of BPA, avoid bovine growth hormone in dairy products, reduce packaging on all sorts of products, and make organics more widely available. We do vote with our dollars.

Each time you spend, you’re saying “yes” to the businesses and products your money supports. Choose who gets your “yes.” You can easily find out how big companies are rated in such areas as environmental responsibility, gender equality, and worker’s rights using the following resources.

Knowmore is a web community sharing information about corporate responsibility with a searchable database for conscious consumers and activists.

Crocodyl provides searchable profiles of corporations. This service, offered by CorpWatch.org, is based on extensive information provided by researchers, journalists and non-profit organizations.

Environmental Working Group provides up-to-date reports for conscientious shoppers. Recent ratings include least polluting cars and safest personal care products.

Center for a New American Dream offers detailed resources for making one’s own ethical choices, aimed at both adults and children.

The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference is a pocket reference grading companies in a range of sectors, from department stores to prepared foods.

*

Cut Down on Toys

Not in a Grinch-y way, just a don’t-go-crazy way. Here are some useful ways to make your gifts fun and meaningful without burdening your house (and the planet).

100 Non-Toy Gifts for Toddlers to Teens 

Give four gifts in the categories of Want, Need, Wear, Read.

Give gifts that support a good cause.

The holidays may inspire you to donate, particularly in the names of people important to you. It’s particularly meaningful when that gesture connects to what the recipient means to you. You can protect endangered land for someone who grounds you, donate baby chicks for your favorite chick pals, give the gift of vision for someone who helped you see in a new way. Let them know what they mean to you and why you chose that donation. Sometimes donation gifts don’t seem particularly festive when others are unwrapping presents. It’s easy to pair a donation with a small related gift. For someone who has sweetened your life, you might tie a gift tag on a jar of local honey, add a donation of bees and a beehive for new beekeepers in the developing world.

Gifts: Personal As Well As Global” (Wired) for more gift pairing ideas.

Glorious Do-Gooder Gifts” (Wired) to support charities. Or make a donation to a local charity, arts organization, or other cause dear to the heart of your recipient.

When you buy a gift from a museum, house of worship, or any non-profit you know part of the purchase price helps to benefit that institution. It’s easy to find beautiful, useful, or just plain fun gifts that also do some good.

Consider a giving a certificate to a charity clearinghouse, allowing your gift recipient to choose his or her own causes.

Give wisely. Before donating to any cause, check them out using Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.

*Buy right in your community

When you do buy gifts, consider shifting your money to independently owned businesses. Research shows that only $13 of every $100 spent at a big box store stays in the community. But when you shop at a locally owned store, $45 of $100 remains to boost your area’s economy. Other studies have found somewhat different figures, but all indicate that supporting locally owned stores is a viable way to promote jobs and increase economic activity.

Don’t limit your local present-buying to something that will fit in a gift bag. Consider the following ideas.

Give gift certificates from locally owned landscaping companies and greenhouses, restaurants and coffee shops, golf courses, skating rinks, city tours, and galleries.

Give memberships to museums, theater companies, recreation centers, gyms, clubs, and art centers.

Pay for a lesson or two in horseback riding, yoga, sculpture, glass blowing, tai chi, skiing, or whittling.

Find a local worker who specializes in house cleaning, home repair, car repair, lawn mowing, driveway plowing, or plumbing, then pay for a few hours of his or her time in advance.

Buy from area artists including potters, knitters, jewelry makers, calligraphers, woodworkers, and painters.

*

We try to say something with our gifts: I care about you, I’m thinking of you, I get you.  We also say something about ourselves and our values with each choice we make too. It’s possible to welcome the brightest possible future even through our holiday gift-giving choices. Are you making a shift?

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Fighting Crazed Holiday Syndrome

un-busy your holiday, un-crazy Christmas, slow Christmas, slow holiday,

life-takers-crayons.deviantart.com

Who isn’t busy all the time? But around the holidays we’re crazy busy. I venture to say women are especially busy and those lights in our lives we call children make the pace even more frantic.

Sure we make all sorts of efforts to simplify and de-stress but for most of us the joys of holiday shopping, gifting, cooking, decorating, visiting, hosting and merrymaking have to fit right into our regular (overburdened) schedules.

It’s not like we can make more time where there is none. Well, maybe we can. Or at least use our time differently. I confess to the Crazed Holiday Syndrome but I fight back with these tactics.

Renounce the How-Does-She-Do-It-All Disease. You know the symptoms. You show excessive responsible because you’re sure no one else will do it (or do it right). You uphold traditions your family counts on. You pay close attention to get just the right gifts. You worry about money more than usual. You try to keep the focus on intangibles like faith and togetherness. When the frenzy is over you end up with an empty feeling. I’m the first to stand and admit that I’m still in recovery from this disease.

The cure? Talk to your loved ones about what means the most to them, slice away the rest. If that doesn’t work, slice anyway.

Shun Those Voices. They’re everywhere around the holidays. They seem so genuine and alluring but their sole aim is to make you feel insufficient. They speak to you from Pinterest, TV, magazines, websites, blogs, store displays— let’s admit they’re ubiquitous. These voices tell you that you’re not enough. To compensate you must do more. Dress beautifully, make elaborate meals, buy lavish gifts (and wrap them a whole lot better too).

This is the only diet you need to go on. Don’t watch a single cooking show, don’t open one slick women’s magazine, it’s best if you avoid stores as much as possible. You’ll have a lot more time plus you won’t have to reassemble what’s left of your self esteem.

Screw Tradition. No, I don’t mean avoiding your house of worship or shunning Grandma’s house. I do mean it’s possible to celebrate the season without so much of the heavy Gotta Do It weight hanging over you.

Some of our most memorable holidays have actually been those that veered wildly from tradition. My family will not forget a holiday dinner at Becky’s house featuring walls of wet paint, an oven on fire, and a dog getting sick everywhere. The zinger? She was eager to show foreign guests how we celebrate here in the U.S.

Try doing things a little differently, a little more slowly. If you’ve always gone to the movie theater to see the newest holiday releases after a day of shopping, skip both and go to a play at your community theater. If you’ve accepted every holiday invitation despite the costs of babysitters, travel, and lost sleep instead limit your selections to a few events that are reliably warm and wonderful. If you’ve always made a big meal, consider ordering take-out from a locally owned restaurant and serve it on your best plates. If you’ve always accommodated your kids’ requests for gifts because it’s Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanzaa put new limits on materialism, letting them know you’ll consider one or two items they consider their highest priorities. If you’ve always driven around to see the holiday lights, go outside on a frosty night to sing together (even if only to a lone tree lit by moonlight). You’ll not only save time and money, you’ll also create new traditions.

Rethink Gift-Giving. Things have gotten out of hand. Children in this country once looked forward to a fresh orange, maybe a piece of candy and if they were lucky a toy or useful gift like a pocketknife or sewing kit. Historian Howard Chudacoff writes in Children at Play: An American History that most toys co-opt and control a child’s play. They’re better off with free time and objects they can use to fuel their imaginations (yes, a cardboard box). I even know a child being raised, quite happily, without a single purchased toy.

I admit things got out of hand in my own house. In a quest for meaning (let’s rephrase that to my quest for meaning) we’ve always had handmade holidays. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people….. Meals from scratch, homemade organic cookies, handmade gifts. Each of my four children made gifts for everyone every year, gifts that took substantial effort such as woodworking, felting, and ceramics. My teens still make some of the gifts they give although thankfully I’m not the one coming up with the ideas and supervising the process. The last few years economic realities have made hand made gifts ever more necessary, for other gifts I turn to non-profit and artisan sources. Try products offered by non-profits you support, works of art sold at local galleries, and these resources for simple holiday giving.

Last Resort. This tactic is heavy duty, the one I bring out when I start to feel sorry for myself. Because we’re not crazy busy in comparison to women throughout history. We think we’re stressed? Our foremothers hauled water; carded, spun and sewed clothes; chopped firewood and maintained the fire they cooked on; ground grain and made bread each day; planted and weeded gardens, then canned or dried the harvest; stretched limited food reserves with careful planning to last until the next harvest; cared for babies, children and the elderly with no professional help; treated the sick, stitched wounds and prepared the dead for burial; well, you get the idea.

Worse, many many women in the world still do this sort of grinding labor each day. Typically, women in developing countries work 17 hours a day.  Our sisters receive a tenth of the world’s income while performing two-thirds of the world’s work. These harsh realities put any concept of busy or stressed right out of my head. (For more information and ways to help, check out the wonderful book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.)

So fight the Crazy Busy Syndrome with all you’ve got. Remember to count your blessings, including the joy of not eating my homemade buckwheat cookies!