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Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

This month’s Rocket City Bloggers’ shared carnival topic — “your favorite tool” — was a gimme.

It’s the set of screwdrivers that my grandmother gave me for Christmas the year after I got married.

One of the first realizations I had after moving in with the husband was that our organizational styles differed. He could live with items in any number of places, whereas I enjoyed finding the same items in the same places time and time again.

Screwdrivers, for some reason, were an early ongoing issue. I would find them on the kitchen counter, under a bathroom sink, on a bookshelf or in the car. Anywhere but the toolbox. And I would NEVER find the model I actually needed. Sure, it was nice to know that the medium Phillips head was on the end table, but that knowledge wasn’t helping me tighten the flat-head screw on the top bookshelf.

My grandmother heard my laments and came to the rescue. Christmas morning, I was the envy of all the men in the room, with my full set of Craftsman screwdrivers (complete with a bonus pair of RoboGrip pliers that have since met their demise).  The tools were packaged in a vinyl organizer, so it was easy to keep track of them, and keep track I did. I all but made the husband sign a checkout card when he needed to use one for a project.

The vinyl organizer disintegrated a couple of years ago, so the screwdrivers now reside in a plastic box that formerly housed jewelry. I had to steal back the favored medium Phillips head from the husband’s office for this photo, so obviously my efforts to keep them all in one place aren’t always that effective.

It would be too simple to say that these screwdrivers are my favorite tools because my grandmother gave them to me. I mean, she made sure I had the BEST screwdriver set that she could find. What could have been a throwaway joke gift was, instead, a well-planned purchase that I’ve used time and time again.

The woman who had given me a toaster and a mixer at my wedding shower was perfectly content with the idea of her granddaughter wielding a screwdriver in the name of DIY. Awesomeness personified.

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I’m not that fond of single-use kitchen gadgets — they take up a lot of space in exchange for performing tasks that other tools can usually do quite adequately. But I’ve found the Bialetti Electric Mukka Express Cappuccino Maker to be quite indispensable for the occasional afternoon pick-me-up.

It takes up less space than most fancier models I’ve seen, which makes it ultra-efficient since I’m the only coffee drinker in the house. It makes a rich, creamy cappuccino for way less money than I would spend at Starbucks. The only trick: Warming the milk slightly in the microwave before pouring it into the upper chamber makes the end product hotter and foamier.

All in all, the best birthday present I’ve ever heavily hinted around for.

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Kids love routine. You may think it’s exciting that you never know what you’re having for dinner until you pull it out of the freezer or the drive-through worker’s hands, or that you can make it to work/school on time only if you miss that first critical red light, but trust me, children want a degree of predictability.

Growing up, my brother and I had a few entirely predictable Christmas gifts, and I, for one, loved the routine. They were all candy items, and they didn’t stop until we had probably grown too old for some of them:

  • DeMet’s Turtles: Our maternal grandparents would give us each a box of these rich goodies every year. They were pretty basic: caramel-covered pecans coated with chocolate, in a vaguely turtle-like shape. They were also huge: If you ate more than two at a time (and just try to stop us), you could potentially suffer from that mythical stomachache that adults always warned us about. Meh. We were hardy children. No candy-induced stomachaches for us.
  • Chocolate mint patties: My paternal grandmother used to wrap up a box of these for each of us every year. You’d think that, given the popularity and year-round availability of the York Peppermint Pattie, these wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but they were thinner than Peppermint Patties and just more Christmas-y. (My in-laws still give my husband a box of them every year.)
  • Chocolate-covered cherries: My mom always made sure I got a box of these – not sure if my brother ever liked them. I loved biting through the thin chocolate shell to release the liquid surrounding the cherry. Looking back, I’m not sure how I ever ate so many — they may be the richest, sweetest Christmastime treat I remember.
  • Lifesavers Storybook: It was just a little cardboard box, hinged to resemble a book, but it held six or eight rolls of Lifesavers in different flavors and I was ALL about different flavors. Imagine. My favorite flavor was pineapple. I recently stumbled across a Lifesavers Storybook filled with gummy Lifesavers. We would have scarfed those down in minutes — maybe our paternal grandmother knew it would take us awhile to get through a box of hard candy.

We had other holiday traditions. We always went to my paternal grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve to unwrap presents, and left when the weatherman announced that Santa was getting close. My maternal grandmother always put walnuts in our stockings hung by the chimney with care, and we always dumped them back into the walnut bowl on Christmas morning. At some point, my grandmother started making fruitcake cookies every year, despite the face that nobody seemed to like them.

It’s funny that the goofy little things are the ones you remember the best. I can’t recall the “big gifts” that I got from year to year, but I can assure you that I would trade them all for one more Christmas with all my grandparents, swapping turtles and chocolate-covered cherries around the tree.

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Meet Franz. I bought him for $2 at an estate sale I attended just so I could get a look at the interior of some townhomes in my neighborhood. He looked lonely and in danger of being shipped off to a thrift store with the rest of the unsellables. Franz was hand-sketched in charcoal. He deserved better.

Plus, let’s just admit it, I decorate like a lunatic.

Franz hangs by my desk at home, though he’s not so much inspiration as he is entertainment. I just like him, even though I’m really not sure what sort of animal he is. I’m not even sure how I decided he was German.

I thought of Franz today as I was dropping off a few things at a thrift store, items that were cute and in good shape, but items that I just could not bring myself to love.

I decided a few years ago that open space was my decorating style, and I’ve been decluttering my way to that goal ever since. Gone are the knickknacks that someone else chose for me, the extra set of everyday dishes from my grandmother’s house, the candleholder collection that accumulated after a few people saw me burning candles at a couple of parties.

The things that stay are the things I use and/or simply love. The best part about bringing the rest to a thrift store isn’t the empty space left behind in a closet or on a shelf, but the idea that someone else WILL love these things.

Every item that I give away may become somebody’s Franz. How awesome is that?

My favorite thrift store, by the way, is A New Leash on Life Marketplace at 707 Andrew Jackson Way in Huntsville. It’s a cute little store, filled with a nicer selection than you find in larger thrift stores, and there’s sometimes a couple of adoptable animals there for a visit. A New Leash on Life is a non-profit animal rescue group that houses adoptable animals in approved foster homes.

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So … gift cards. The hip, hassle-free gift, the only thing that you KNOW your recipient will appreciate, etc.

In theory, I have no problem with gift cards. Newlyweds can head to Bed Bath & Beyond and purchase the exact items they need, freed from the burden of first returning three s’mores sets. Teenagers can purchase the songs they want, without the worry that some hipster relative has decided to help them “improve” their musical tastes.

In reality, gift cards have become a way for adults to simply swap money at Christmas.

It’s ridiculous. Adult A buys her daughter-in-law a $30 gift card for Barnes & Noble. DIL in turn buys her mother-in-law a $30 gift card for the Pottery Barn.

Two adults have just exchanged $30. Merry Christmas.

I know it’s a hassle to purchase Christmas gifts. But I think it’s a hassle mostly because the gift-giving has gotten out of hand, along with the season’s celebrations in general. We have unrealistic expectations for Christmas, and we buy spouses, children, siblings, in-laws, co-workers, nieces and nephews entirely too much stuff. (Note: When your small children have a meltdown on Christmas morning simply because they have run out of packages to hastily unwrap, you have bought them too much stuff and they are clearly overwhelmed. Rethink your generosity.)

Many times, giving someone a gift card means that you simply haven’t been paying attention. People eat. They drink. They watch TV and listen to music. Many wear jewelry (not necessarily the expensive stuff). They wear bathrobes and slippers. They cook. They read.

Afraid you’re going to get someone the wrong thing, or a duplicate of something they already have? Include a gift receipt. (I am continually amazed, BTW, at the number of people who will pretty much hand someone cash in lieu of a gift, but refuse to enclose a gift receipt when they have actually purchased a gift. What is that?)

I LIKE finding the perfect gift for somebody. I get a little shot of adrenaline when I realize that someone I care about has inadvertently dropped a hint, whether they’re complaining about an item that needs replacement, pondering something new they’d like to try, or describing something they love and would like to have more of.

When I try to name gifts that I remember most, the list doesn’t have a single gift card on it. It includes things like the set of springform pans my mom got me the year she heard me saying I’d like to learn to make cheesecake. It also includes a fun, funky old vase my mother-in-law picked up at a garage sale and decided was perfect for me.  To this day, I can’t open a bag of Cafe L’Orange coffee from the Fresh Market without thinking of a friend in Mobile who would give me a pound of it without fail on birthdays and at Christmas. Never mind that it wasn’t some rarity that I couldn’t get for myself. He knew I loved it and would appreciate it – in short, he paid attention. A $10 gift card to the Fresh Market wouldn’t have carried the same message.

Truthfully, the gift I’d like most to share with friends and family is the gift of time, a few laid-back hours to talk and eat and drink and just enjoy one another’s company, without the zero-sum exchange of money that Christmas gift-giving has become.

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