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.

Say Yes to Your Weirdness

We tend to suppress certain aspects of ourselves in order to fit in. (Although when we display whatever weirdness is ‘in” I think that’s also a sort of conformity too.)

When I was growing up I did everything I could to hide what was odd and different in myself, letting out the funnier aspects in measured doses with my friends but keeping most tucked tightly in some inner compartment of my being. (To some extent I still do. You probably do too.)

I hope my kids have felt freer to express their own weirdness whether an early fascination with vacuum cleaners, a passion for forensic pathology, or unstoppable investigations of science-related oddities but I know for sure they are far more complex beings than their mother imagines.

Looking up the word “weird,” I see that its original meanings have to do with living out our uniqueness.

  • wyrd (fate or personal destiny)
  • wurđízwurd, wurt, urðr, worden (to become)
  •  wert (to turn, rotate)
  • wirþ, weorþan (to come to pass, to become)
  • weorþ (origin, worth)

Mythologist Michael Meade, founder of Mosaic Voices, says has plenty to say about that in an interview,

When I work with youth, I try to assist them in discovering their own unique essence. The sad fact is that everything in this culture is working against that essence. Mass culture is opposed to the uniqueness of individuals. Young people, whose job it is to become themselves, are walking into a culture whose goal is to turn them into everybody else. What I try to do is help young people realize who they already are inside. American culture says that you must make something of yourself, but the mythological understanding is that everybody already is someone. They have a seeded self at birth. As soon as young people are aware of the uniqueness inside them, they can begin to manifest the stories they’re carrying.

Meade’s comments echo a remarkable book, The Soul’s Codeby the late James Hillman. Hillman described each of us as coming into the world with a uniqueness that asks to be lived out, a sort of individual destiny which he termed an “acorn.” It’s a remarkable lens to view who we are. A child’s destiny may show itself in all sorts of ways: in behaviors we call disobedience, in obsession with certain topics or activities, in a constant pull toward or away from something. Rather than steering a child to a particular outcome, Hillman asks parents to pay closer attention to who the child is and how the child shows his or her calling. He also asks each of us, at any age, to listen to our weirdness. It’s integral to who we are on this moment-to-moment path of becoming.

What makes YOU weird?

Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.

“Whatever makes you weird, is probably your greatest asset.” Joss Whedon

There’s a whole category of people who miss out by not allowing themselves to be weird enough. ~ Alain de Botton

If you think people in your life are normal, then you undoubtedly have not spent any time getting to know the abnormal side of them. ~Shannon L. Alde

It ‘s weird not to be weird. ~ John Lennon

Blessed are the weird people – poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters & troubadours – for they teach us to see the world through different eyes. ~ Jacob Nordb

 “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision…” ~Cecil Beaton
“There is no such thing as a weird human being. It’s just that some people require more understanding than others.” ~Tom Robbins
“It’s not so much what you have to learn if you accept weird theories, it’s what you have to unlearn.” ~ Issac Asimov

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr

All images courtesy of pixabay.com.

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. Or send a letter every week or two with another installment of an ongoing story you make up as you go along. Or try some other strange and interesting snail mail 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. Write down or tell some stories about these relatives when you give such gifts!

Recognizing Each Child’s Particular Genius

 

Free Range Learning, children's gifts,

A child’s gifts can be difficult to recognize, perhaps because they tend to unfold in mysterious ways. What we might consider idiosyncrasies or problems may very well indicate a child’s strengths. Oftentimes we can’t see the whole picture until long after the child has grown into adulthood. It’s worth remembering we can’t easily see our own gifts either, even though they have whispered to us of destiny or wounded us where they were denied.

A little girl creates chaos with her toys. She won’t put blocks away with other blocks nor put socks in her dresser drawer. As a preschooler she creates groupings that go together with logic only she understands. One such collection is made up of red blocks, a striped sock, spoons, and marbles. She sings to herself while she rearranges these items over and over. The girl is punished when she refuses to put her puzzles away in the correct box or her tea set dishes back together. She continues making and playing with these strangely ordered sets but hides them to avoid getting in trouble. This phase passes when she is about nine years old. Now an adult, she is conducting post-doctoral studies relating to string theory. She explains her work as a physicist has to do with finding common equations among disparate natural forces.

A young boy’s high energy frustrates his parents. As a preschooler he climbs on furniture and curtain rods, even repeatedly tries to scale the kitchen cabinets. When he becomes a preteen he breaks his collarbone skateboarding. He is caught shoplifting at 13. His parents are frightened when he says he “only feels alive on the edge.” Around the age of 15 he becomes fascinated with rock-climbing. His fellow climbers, mostly in their 20’s, also love the adrenaline rush that comes from adventure sports but help him gain perspective about his responsibility to himself and other climbers. His ability to focus on the cliff face boosts his confidence on the ground. At 19 he is already certified as a mountain search and rescue volunteer. He is thinking of going to school to become an emergency medical technician.

James Hillman explains in his book, The Soul’s Code,

I want us to envision that what children go through has to do with finding a place in the world for their specific calling. They are trying to live two lives at once, the one they were born with and the one of the place and among the people they were born into. The entire image of a destiny is packed into a tiny acorn, the seed of a huge oak on small shoulders. And its call rings loud and persistent and is as demanding as any scolding voice from the surroundings. The call shows in the tantrums and obstinacies, in the shyness and retreats, that seem to set the child against our world but that may be protections of the world it comes with and comes from.

Yehudi Menuhin, one of the preeminent violinists of the 20th century, became fascinated when he heard classical music on the radio as a three year old. He wanted to feel the same rich notes coming out of a violin in his hands. His parents lovingly presented him with a toy fiddle. He drew the bow across the strings and was horrified at the cheap squawk the toy made. Enraged, he threw the instrument across the room and broke it. His imagination had already taken him to the place in himself where beautiful music was made and he was unable to bear that awful sound. We normally call that behavior a “tantrum.”

Then there’s R. Buckminster Fuller, whose young adult years were marked with struggle. As a college student he hired an entire dance troupe to entertain a party, and in that one night of excess he squandered all the tuition money his family saved to send him to school. In his 20’s he was a mechanic, meat-packer, and Navy commander before starting a business that left him bankrupt. After his daughter died of polio he began drinking heavily. By conventional wisdom he’d be considered a total failure at this point. But while contemplating suicide, Fuller decided instead to live his life as an experiment to find out if one penniless individual could benefit humanity. He called himself Guinea Pig B. Without credentials or training Fuller worked as an engineer and architect, inventing such designs as the geodesic dome and advancing the concept of sustainable development. He wrote more than 30 books and registered dozens of patents. Fuller once said, “Everybody is born a genius. Society de-geniuses them.”

Few young people have clear indications of their gifts. Most have multiple abilities. A single true calling is rarely anyone’s lot in life as it is for a legendary artist or inventor. Instead, a mix of ready potential waits, offering a life of balance among many options. When we emphasize a child’s particular strengths we help that child to flourish, no matter if those gifts fall within mainstream academic subjects or broader personal capacities. Traits such as a highly developed sense of justice, a way with animals, a love of organization, a contemplative nature, the knack for getting others to cooperate—-these are of inestimable value, far more important skills than good grades on a spelling test.

Free Range Learning, all kids geniuses,

Although society confuses genius with IQ scores, such scores don’t determine what an individual will do with his or her intelligence. In fact, studies have shown that specific personality traits are better predictors of success than I.Q. scores. Genius has more to do with using one’s gifts. In Roman mythology each man was seen as having a genius within (and each woman its corollary, a juno) which functioned like a guardian of intellectual powers or ancestral talent.

What today’s innovators bring to any discipline, whether history or art or technology, is a sort of persistent childlike wonder. They are able to see with fresh eyes. They can’t be dissuaded from what they want to do and often what they do is highly original. Sometimes these people have a difficult personal journey before using their gifts. Their paths are not easy or risk-free, but the lessons learned from making mistakes can lead to strength of character.

We must leave ample space for these gifts to unfold. This takes time and understanding. The alternative deprives not only the child, it also deprives our world of what that child might become.

Acknowledging that each person is born with innate abilities waiting to manifest doesn’t imply our children are destined for greatness in the popular sense of power or wealth. It means that children are cued to develop their own personal greatness. This unfolding is a lifelong process for each of us as we work toward our capabilities for fulfillment, joy, health, meaning, and that intangible sense of well-being that comes of using one’s gifts.

 

This article is an excerpt from the book Free Range Learning. It was also published in Life Learning Magazine

Un-Cliché Your Valentine’s Day

Heart made while hiking. (Image by Sam Weldon)

Heart made while hiking. (Image by Sam Weldon)

Valentine’s Day may be about love but it’s too often expressed with clichéd sentiments and perfunctory presents. Average U.S. Valentine’s Day spending is estimated to be 17.3 billion. Yes, billion. In a world that needs more tenderness and less stuff, there are alternatives. That doesn’t mean giving up on cards, chocolate, and flowers if these expressions truly touch your heart. It means we can do more with the love we feel for people, our communities, and for the natural world—any day of the year.

Art-oriented

Find hearts everywhere. You can stop by a gallery or museum, finding hearts and other representations of love. Or challenge yourself to photograph hearts you see in nature and everyday objects.

Make original hearts. Create a heart out of something unexpected. Try Legos or spoons or hammers. Then photograph it. Send it out via social media or print the image on cards. For a wealth of inspiration, check out Monday Hearts for Madalene.

Learn about symbolism of the heart. This shape has been painted on cave walls by Cro-Magnon people, showed up in ancient Minoan art, and appeared on 15th century playing cards. Assign loving symbolism to some other shape and use it as your secret language.

Kindness-oriented

Appreciate people in your community. Use children’s drawings as wrapping paper, tucking inside each one a piece of wrapped candy or other goodie, along with a note like “thanks for being so nice” or “you made my day.” Then stay on the lookout for a cheery cashier, helpful librarian, or kind friend to hand a surprise package. Find more ways kids can perform community service, toddler to teen, here. No kids? No problem. Wrap up tiny gifts and do the same thing. It cues us to see goodness everywhere.

Put dollars to work. Give money out to your family and friends, with a caveat. Challenge recipients to do as much good as they can with $10 (or whatever denomination you choose), then report back with the results by a certain deadline. You might set up a Facebook event page for this so their ideas are shared. (Yup, side benefits. This boosts the happiness of the givers too.)

Say Thanks. Get in touch with Great Aunt Betty to say you appreciate advice she gave you decades ago, send a note of appreciation to a teacher who made a difference, call your parents to share a sweet memory from your childhood. (Again, side benefit, gratitude boosts your own health.)

Volunteer. Walk dogs at a shelter, or assemble backpacks for homeless people and hand them out, or deliver Meals on Wheels. For more ideas, check out Volunteer Match.

Commit good deeds anonymously.  Valentine’s week is also Random Act of Kindness week. Ideas? Smile at five strangers, leave quarters at the laundromat or in the change slot of vending machines, do someone else’s chore secretly, pay the tab for the next customer,  clean up someone else’s mess.

Gift-oriented

Make a scratch-off card. It takes paint and dish soap, that’s it. Make a love list card or one that reveals a surprise or come up with your own design.

Give gift certificates from locally owned businesses and organizations like a greenhouse, restaurant or coffee shop, massage therapist, art gallery, sports shop, bookstore. Or pay for a few hours of an local worker who specializes in home repair, house cleaning, or landscaping.

Give experiences. Go to the theater, take tai chi or weaving lessons, go horseback riding, attend a concert of music new to you, take a city tour, head to a skating rink, or rent a houseboat/

Give gifts for a good cause. There are all sorts of nonprofit stores and charitable shopping sites. Try Water.org, One World Futbol, FreewatersSerrvGreater Good, Ten Thousand Villages, and ASPCA. Or get a gift from the gift shop of a non-profit in your area.

Nature-oriented

Plant something. Start seeds indoors for your garden. You might start extras to set up a seed or plant exchange.

Get out there. Picnic outside no matter what the weather, or hike somewhere new to you, or go outside after dark to look at the stars.

Build together. Make a fairy house in the woods using nearby sticks and rocks. Build a snow fort. Make a hide-out in the attic or backyard or anywhere you can enter the magic of hidden spaces.

Re-experience childhood delights. Swing on the swings, climb a tree, run a footrace, cook marshmallows over a campfire, play outdoor games.

Romance-oriented

Revive the mix-tape tradition. Put together a collection of tunes that says what you feel. In this instance, sappy is good. Even better reaction, put together a sexy playlist

Do something that scares you, together. Go bungee jumping or rock climbing or whatever gets your heart racing. Even a scary movie can be good for the love life.

Talk about first loves. Maybe just first crushes. It’s a way of tenderly exploring the inner world of your partner’s earliest years.

Make date night fascinatingly unexpected. Try an alternative identity date. Make up your own triathlon (competing in air hockey, tongue twisters, and onion ring eating). Participate in a mud run. Here are 43 ideas for livelier date nights.

alternative Valentine's Day, do something fun,

Frosty front door handprints melt to reveal a surprise heart in my right palm. (Image: L. Weldon)

Plan A $100 Wedding

$100 wedding, most frugal wedding, marry cheap, cheap wedding,

For a frugal wedding, just add friends.

The most memorable wedding I ever attended was by far the cheapest. The bride and groom were moving from a small apartment to a three acre homestead they could barely afford. They wanted to start their life on the land without another cent of debt. So they invited everyone they knew to celebrate with them at a Wedding Potluck & MusicFest.

They reserved space for free at a park pavilion in an out-of-the-way nature preserve. Everything they purchased could be reused on their homestead. Tables were made from sawhorses and planks using wood scavenged from her father’s workshop, covered with thrift shop fabric they intended to make into curtains. The centerpieces were daisies in thrift store mason jars while jelly jars were used as eco-friendly drinking glasses (they planned to use all the jars for years to come in home canning). More daisies were strung together into daisy chain garlands worn in the bride’s hair.

The couple requested no gifts. They simply asked that friends make the celebration possible by bringing food, drink, and music to share. The bounty was overwhelming. Tables were heaped with a wonderful array of dishes. Drinks were kept cold in galvanized stock tanks (planned for the couple’s eventual livestock) filled with ice.

After the ceremony itself, performed under fragrant flowering locust trees, guests enjoyed a banquet with a greater variety than any pricey caterer could have provided. The wedding cake (made by the bride’s aunt) made an entrance in a new bright red wheelbarrow.

Then the evening’s entertainment began. Guests who chose to participate offered all sorts of music. There were saxophone and guitar jazz pieces, clever skits, lively bluegrass numbers, humorous duets, and impromptu sing-alongs. By the end of the evening everyone was playing an instrument, singing, or dancing.

I’ve never been to a wedding filled with so much laughter and love. Such happiness is a wonderful way to inaugurate a new life together.

And it was cheap.

The average wedding today costs $28,000. For creatively inexpensive wedding ideas check out:

Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides and companion site OffBeat Bride

The Broke-Ass Bride

18 Tips For a Frugal Wedding

A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration and companion site A Practical Wedding.

The Green Bride Guide: How to Create an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget and companion site Green Bride Guide

The DIY Wedding: Celebrate Your Day Your Way

Do It For Less! Weddings: How to Create Your Dream Wedding Without Breaking the Bank  (mostly ideas for self-catering) 

Save Moments In A Memory Jar

make a memory jar, how to save family memories,

Today is a wonderfully ordinary day. Lots of laughter and no squabbles. Will we remember any of it? Probably not.

It’s hard to understand why we hang on to some memories but not others. The process isn’t about how much effort or money we expend trying to make something memorable.

Long-term retrievable memories are built by what we notice, fully notice, with our minds as well as our bodies. (They aren’t made when we multitask.) Look back at any particular memory. What you recall is constructed from the sights, sounds, tastes, thoughts, and feelings unique to your experience. The way you pay attention to those elements forms your memories. The shocking part? Looking back and realizing how few rich and full memories we really form.

That’s because we only really latch on to memories when we pay attention. When we’re engaged in the moment. Recall the last really memorable meal you had. It probably wasn’t one you ate in the car or standing at the kitchen counter. It was one you savored with full awareness of flavor, texture, scent. Most likely there were other important elements as well. Perhaps it was a meal shared with a new friend or made from a challenging cookbook. Perhaps it was a last meal you had before a loved one passed away, a meal you now try reconstruct in detail.

Emotion plays a part in memory formation. And our five senses are integral when forming strong memories. Particularly smell, perhaps because the olfactory bulb is closely connected to the hippocampus (related to learning) and the amygdale (related to emotion).

For years I’ve encouraged my family to take “sensory snapshots.” We may be standing out back together, having just finished stacking firewood (because togetherness on our little farm often has to do with work) and I urge them to remember the moment in their bodies as well as their minds. We notice the scent of blackberry and milkweed blossoms, listen to frogs croaking in the pond, feel the evening’s coolness on our skin, look at the fireflies beginning to arc through the dusky sky. I don’t just want the moment to linger, I want to be able to retrieve it long after today. I want to hang on to our easy banter and feeling of shared accomplishment.

That’s where memory-storing traditions come into play. Yes, it’s easier than ever to take photos and videos. But there’s something about writing down our impressions that augments the process of locking them into place.

One tradition you might want to start in your family is a memory jar. Grab any jar, name it the Memory Jar, and keep it in an accessible place. Filling it is pretty easy. Encourage your family members to scrawl memories on any piece of paper, sign their names, add a date if they can, and stuff these memory scraps in the jar. Let the youngest ones dictate their memories to you and pop them in as well.

You’ll be interested to note what different family members regard as significant enough for the memory jar. Good grades on a test probably won’t get in. Watching the neighbor’s puppies born probably will. Your five year old may stuff in a new memory each day, your teenager may add one only at your prompting, you may tend to write down funny things the kids say. But if they’re not noted and saved, chances are they’re lost.

It’s helpful to have a “no grudge” rule. Memories don’t have to be happy, of course. The most powerful are probably those that aren’t. Your daughter may write,

“I was really scared when Max fell off the slide. We went right from the park to the hospital. We waited a long time and I fell asleep watching a TV high on the wall. Max got a green cast on his arm and I was first to sign it. I was mad my name didn’t come out too good because it’s not easy writing on a cast. The letters are kinda bumpy. We were so hungry Mom stopped for ice cream on the way home. I got peach, Max got chocolate chip, Mom got a smoothie. I think it would be fun to have a cast too but I don’t want to fall off a slide to get it.”

There are plenty of options that go along with opening and sharing the tidbits from your Memory Jar. You might choose to have a memory ceremony once a year. That’s a day when the jar is opened and the memories are read. You might want to do this on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, or every July 13th because that’s your family’s yearly Dad Finished His Tour of Duty party.

And you’ll want to store these memories safely. It’s easiest to start a new jar every year. Label last year’s jar and tuck it in the back of your closet. If you’re ambitious, carefully scrapbook each slip of paper next to photos or turn them into a photo collage to hang on the wall. Or, your family may prefer to keep adding to a collective jar of memories without going over the contents together, happy to make the jar a sort of time capsule to be opened well into their adult years.

While a memory jar is well-suited for family use, there are other great ways to use this random-memories-on-scraps-of-paper approach.

For couples, why not start a Memory Bank? This is best made with an opening no bigger than a piggybank. This way the memories each of you contribute can’t be fished out and read in private. It’s a way of noting little tidbits about your lives together without the pressure to contribute. Of course a “no grudge” rule is still important. And when a Memory Bank is shared by a couple, it’s best to make it a long-term project. Vow to keep it sealed until your 25th anniversary or some other far off date. By then neither of you will care if she contributed 95% of the memories, you’ll both simply have fun going over recollections you thought were long gone.

Perhaps the best impetus for storing and retrieve memories is in partnership with the oldest members of the family. On each Father’s Day card I used to share a reminiscence about my childhood to let my Dad know how much he factored into my happiness then and my resilience now. I thought I was doing it for him but I know now that sharing these memories was one way I strengthened a link with someone so dear to me.

preserve memories with your elders, keep a memory book, daily log book for seniors,

You can keep track of up-to-date memories with the elders in your family using a Memory Book, one that’s always open. A large format blank book is especially good for this purpose. With each visit write down a recollection (old or new) to paste in the log book. Add drawings and photos. If you’ve exchanged memorable phone calls, texts, and other communications remember to add notes about them when you visit. The Memory Book is a warm reminder of your affection. It’s also helpful if your loved one is in an assisted living facility or nursing home because other visitors can flip through the pages, starting conversations by talking about these and other memories while making new ones.

Thinking about the ways we form and hold on to memories is inspiring me to have more fun with my family than stacking firewood!

What Do Your Gifts Say?

gifts of love, meaning in gift giving, making gifts magical,

It’s upon us in full force, the biggest buying season of the year. A giant transfer is taking place. The life energy we call money (representing hours of work) or credit (hours of future work) is exchanged for stuff. Lots of stuff—toys, clothes, perfume, electronics, fancy foods, plus those novelty items that no one ever uses. (Okay, I actually wear the silly socks given to me and wear them with glee. I may be the only one.)

We transfer more than time and money. That’s because 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.

What? It’s complicated. Our gifts say different things to different people. A well-made carving knife for a friend who has recently taken up woodcarving shows you pay attention to what brings him delight and what you hope will enhance that delight. A box filled with birthday, get-well, sympathy, and thank you cards plus a roll of stamps for a great grandparent shows that you appreciate the way she keeps in touch with the extended family. It also helps her keep up that tradition now that she’s no longer driving.

Of course what we try to say with our gifts differs depending on whether we’re giving them to our children, our lovers, or our bosses. Still, most of us hope for that rare happenstance, when our gift brings our recipient more joy than we could have imagined. It’s almost like magic.

Maybe I take this too seriously. The first time I bought gifts on my own I was five years old. That year our church set up a Santa Shop in the basement where kids with a handful of change could buy gifts. Volunteers dressed as elves led each child to  tables where merchandise was arrayed. After making selections and paying, these elves helped the child wrap and tag each gift. The elf outfits didn’t fool me. These were the same nice older ladies whose wrinkled hands pretty much ran the whole church.

The elf who walked me from table to table was patient as I tried to choose. I knew that money wasn’t to be spent carelessly. My frugal parents always impressed upon me the importance of saving money. They made do with what they had, using it up until it was worn out and then fixing it to last a little longer. That was true of our car, the floorboards recently patched so I could no longer see the road rippling past in a dizzying gray stripe as we drove. That was true of my hand-me-down clothes, sagging at the knees and stitched at the elbows. So I shopped carefully.

I spent fifty cents on a super-sized paperclip for my schoolteacher father. I spent a quarter on a plastic optical illusion toy for my older sister. I couldn’t find anything for my mother. The elf told me a large strangely shaped bottle of perfume would be perfect. She nodded so much as she talked that the bell on her hat tinkled and the flesh under her chin wobbled. The liquid inside the bottle was dark. She unscrewed the cap and let me smell it. It smelled awful. She told me it was the best deal there. I knew “deal” meant a good thing. I’d heard my parents use that word. So I bought it, even though it cost a dollar and twenty-five cents.

The days before Christmas weren’t filled with delicious anticipation. I woke each morning with a heavy feeling. My Santa Shop gifts under our Christmas tree were terrible. I’d wanted to get my father a gift that would make him feel like whistling little tunes all day, the way he did when he was lighthearted. I’d wanted to get my sister something she liked so much that she’d never let me play with it. And I’d wanted to get my mother something special. When I thought of that bottle of perfume I knew it was what she called “vulgar.” It hit me then, the days leading up to my kindergarten year Christmas, that no gift could show people how much I loved them. It was a sad realization, particularly when every holiday commercial on TV told me the opposite.

I’m a lot more cheerful than my five-year-old self but I keep trying to give gifts that say the impossible. Every birthday and holiday I try. I realize holiday gift-giving is overhyped. Are we really supposed to show someone we care by presenting them with a mass-produced item? “I got you one of the 3 million identical objects made by underpaid workers in an overseas factory. Merry Christmas!”

I love to give all sorts of gifts. Books, music, tools. Handmade gifts (or gifts others make by hand).  Gifts of service, do-gooder gifts , gifts that support non-profit organizations, Fair Trade gifts, gifts to local restaurants/theaters/galleries, and of course, specific gifts the recipient requested. What I want to give is so much more. I want each person to know how much they are cherished. That can’t be wrapped.

If the cliché “it’s the thought that counts” really counted, my gifts would shimmer with magic. Instead my loved ones may be getting this year’s equivalent of a paper clip, plastic toy, and vulgar bottle of perfume despite my best attempts.

Do you suffer from gift-related dilemmas? What are you really trying to say with your gifts? What gifts have you given that were downright wondrous? Rest assured, one of my favorite gift-giving memories is finding a bagpipe action figure (that made farting sounds rather than pipe music) for a certain teenager. Sometimes silliness is magic too.

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“Presents” illustration courtesy of BulletsInGunn