Lisa’s Guide to Gift Giving

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Image via Wikipedia

I am both the best and the worst gift-giver in the world!

How is it possible to be both? Allow me to explain.

When it comes to the times you people expect gifts, like Christmas, birthdays, other random holidays, I stink. I do not like getting gifts for people just because I’m supposed to get them a gift.

However, when the time comes to give a gift because I care, I shine. I would rather give gifts when people least expect them, because then those gifts come from the heart. For example, when I lived in Japan, I think I missed most of the gift-giving moments, but I spent a lot of time (and in some cases a lot of money) looking for the perfect gift to send the important individuals in my life. In other words, I thought about what each person would want/need/love and never get for him/herself and that is the gift I gave.

At this time of year, when gifts seem more like obligations than signs of caring, there are several questions that drive me crazy:

  • What do you want . . .?
  • Which one of these do you like?
  • Would you like ______ or _______?

If I have to answer a bunch of questions about a gift, then just let me get it myself. It’s almost easier if you give me money or a gift card. Of course, money often feels like it has strings attached. So often, when I get money as a gift, it comes with instructions as to how the giver would like me to spend it. But seriously, if paying an outstanding bill gives me peace of mind, isn’t that just as valuable as treating myself to a day at a spa?

To me, a gift is something you give a person because it makes you think of that person. It is something that the recipient may never get for him/herself, but you know he/she would love.

A gift is thoughtful and from the heart.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want gifts on my birthday. But, I prefer the gift of having someone remember and care, to anything bought because someone felt obliged to get me a gift. Actually, I’d rather have a thoughtful dinner with friends, or a special day, then an expensive bauble that has more to do with the buyer than me.

So far, during this crazed gift-giving season, the best gift I have received was the holiday card from Mark (aka the Idiot). I know, everyone gets masses of holiday greetings and year-end updates at this time of year (although a lot of ours seem to have been lost in the mail, as the Post Office continues to be abysmal about forwarding letters.) The reason I say this was a special gift is because it signifies the growing friendship with a person that I have only met through words. I was honored to be put on the list, and that felt like a gift.

To me, the rules of gift giving should be as follows:

  • give gifts because you feel like giving them, not because you are expected to give them
  • give gifts that show you know and care about the recipient, that you had him/her in mind when you found the gift
  • the price or size of a gift doesn’t matter, the love and meaning does
  • gives should be given without expectation of return
  • gifts should have significance or meaning
  • the exception to these rules lies in the giving of  gifts to thank someone for their hospitality–that’s a slightly different kind of gift giving, which people should do more often. When in doubt, give chocolate
  • once a gift is given, the recipient can do with it whatever he/she wants, including spending money or regifting. But, I think there would be a lot less regifting if gifts were given with purpose and meaning.

So, please understand when I don’t give gifts on a holiday which holds little meaning to me, beyond the festive lights, the music, and the atmosphere of chaotic joy.  But, don’t be surprised if someday, for no reason, you get a little gift from me, even if it is simply a note of encouragement.

After all, one of my strongest gifts is with words, so if I can’t share those in kindness than I have nothing else to give.

I wish you all a calm and peaceful holiday season, filled with love, warmth, and joy.  The only other gift I can offer, right now, is my continued support to this fabulous community of warm, creative people.

It’s a gift from the heart.

Travel at the Most Terrifying Time of the Year

I am trying to get ready for the trip to Slovakia.

The most terrifying part of travel is not what you would expect. It’s not the unknown adventure–that’s what I’m going for. It’s not the flight, even though I have my occasional panic moments when I do fly (as you can read about here). It’s not the long flight alone, I flew to Japan by myself and that was much longer.

It’s not even the packing, although this time the  challenge is how to pack lightly while still packing for warmth.

No my friends, the most terrifying part of the trip is . . .

THE MALL!!! (Not this mall, but any image will do).

Yes folks, the most terrifying part of this trip is the fact that I had to go to the mall. I know, I chose to go at the worst possible time (the week before Christmas) but I didn’t get my packing specifics until last week, and I want to be sure I have everything before the last minute. Plus, there are still good sales out there.

But . . . for me, the mall at any time of year is terrifying. I am bad at shopping for myself . I can’t stand trying things on in mirrors that emphasize every disgusting part of your body. I hate finding something that I think will be perfect, only to discover that when I put it on I look like a walrus stuffed into some children’s stockings.

But, brave the mall I did. I first suspected this was a bad choice when I had to play parking lot shark in order to find any parking anywhere.

Luckily that didn’t take long.

My plan was to go to only one store in the mall, with a specific mission in mind, but that was enough. As soon as I walked in and became overwhelmed by the cloying sweetness of competing perfume and the signs everywhere advertising a Special One Day Sale! I knew I was doomed.

I wandered aimlessly through the stacks, seeing clothes I’d love to have but realizing that none of them would fit. Pants, I said to myself, I need some pants, maybe a sweater, and some underwear.  Stay focused.

Of course, the pants and sweater that caught my eye first were made for normal sized people. Now, before you get upset that I’m insulting myself, I’m not talking about weight here. I am 5 ft. tall. Any pants in the regular section require either major cutting or lots of cuffing. And the sweaters were meant to be long, but on me (to get a size that would fit) they would hang below my  knees.

Of course, when you get to the land of  petites (Where oh where are the petites in this jungle of  stimulation?) then you have to deal with the fact that, in the warped minds of whoever designs clothes nobody could be short as well as a larger size. I’ve got curves people. Yes, I’m overweight, but even without the extra weight, I’VE GOT CURVES!!!

Finally, I made my way through the jungle, and found the petite section. I picked up a couple of things that would do, even though I still hated every moment of trying them on. I only managed to snag one of the deals (figures). Then I headed upstairs to buy some underwear . . . more trauma as this was not my usual store, so I had no clue what would be comfortable.

The stress, the music, the smells, the women talking loudly about buying more for themselves then others, the salespeople trying to help clueless men buy the perfect gift for their wives  . . . it all became so overwhelming that I just grabbed something and ran.

The worst part is, I still need a few things for my trip.

Slovakia will be great, if I survive to get on the plane. Perhaps the only way to do it is with a song (apologies to Andy Williams):

It’s the most terrifying time of the year
With the car horns yelling
And everyone telling you “Buy this thing here”
It’s the most terrifying time of the year
It’s the grump-grumpiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and smelly infusions
When you walk in the mall
It’s the grump-grumpiest season of all

Wish me luck!

Lily Loves Monsters

My friend Lily loves monsters.

She doesn’t just love them, she makes them. Marvelous and miraculous  monsters that can’t help but make you smile.

A monster making you smile? How can that be?

Sick Sarah getting a little monster love from Purple Princess, the monster Lily made for her last year.

A close-up of Purple Princess

When I first saw Lily’s cuddly creatures, I told her she should sell them because they far surpass Ugly Dolls which have somehow became a sensation. What’s an Ugly Doll?

Kind of cute in a generic ugly kind of way.




At that time, however, Lily wasn’t ready to venture into the sales side of her creations. She just kept adding to her monster family and gifting people she cares about with her crazy creatures.

But then, Lily fell in love. Not with a monster but with a man.

While  I only met Mike in person once (at our farewell party) I’ve learned a lot about him through a Facebook friendship and because of my continuing contact with Lily. He is a talented cartoonist with a love of life, laughter, and of course Lily. He has that remarkable ability to encourage people when they have doubts and give advice which is actually useful. I was the recipient of some of his words of wisdom this week, as he has tried to help me deal with my current seedless state.

Through his support and encouragement, and with a little nudge from a comic book Mike created to help market the monsters, Lily had made her first ventures into monster sales.

The first page of the comic, with Lily the elf making monsters. Click on the image to link to more of Mike's amazing work.

Lily has tons of amazing monsters, so I can’t include them all here. But I will share a few of my favorites.

One side of a two-sided Christmas monster.

The other side of the two-sided Christmas monster.

I could keep adding images forever, but I’ll leave it there. If you know of anyone who could use a little monster love (great for gifts for any time of year) let me know and I’ll get you in touch with Lily. She’s working on her website, but it isn’t up yet.

I truly believe that life is a little bit better with monster love in it, don’t you?

Questioning Christmas Carols

Perhaps its just my inner Grinch, but have you ever noticed the number of Christmas carols that are really depressing?

For example, while I’m trying to forget about the ultra-vomit inducing sight of 30-something Mariah Carey sexily singing about wanting the nearly diapered Justin Bieber, I realized the lyrics to that song are really about someone who is waiting underneath the mistletoe for someone who is nowhere to be found. Either he doesn’t love her or is so far away she can’t hope for a visit on Christmas.

Of course the same thing happens in the beautiful, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” which ends with

“Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.”

 Don’t forget the ultimate way of wishing people a Merry Christmas which says

“Have yourself a merry little Chrsitmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
our troubles will be out of sight.”

 A song which suggests that, for a short while, the trials and tribulations of life will fade away. Only, I’m sure, to be reinstated in a larger form when the bills from Christmas spending come in January.

Think about the trauma caused by a child who watches his mother kissing Santa Claus or a family who lost their beloved grandmother to the inept flying abilities of a reindeer. Or what about the ultimate bullying song, where the bullies only welcome the poor different reindeer after Santa puts him to work? They don’t get punished for their bad behavior.

Bad behavior rules the day, despite the fact that a jolly man somewhere up North is watching every move a child makes. Nobody can be angelic all the time, but he’s determined to “find out whose naughty or nice” and “sees you when your sleeping, and knows when your awake.” I guess Big Brother is welcome at Christmas time.

But the bad behavior can cause family problems. After all, when “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. . . Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.”

It may be “the most wonderful time of the year” but what if you are having a bad day? Sometimes “everyone telling you to ‘be of good cheer'” pushes you completely in the opposite direction.

There are those who dream of a white Christmas, perhaps because global warming might make it very brown and gray, or because of the nostalgia of yesterday. They want Christmases “just like the one’s [they] used to know” rather than the competitive materialistic frenzy of current holiday traditions, which itself is celebrated with the seductive temptations of “Santa Baby” who better show up with a ring or he is in BIG trouble.

Now, of course I’m not really touching on the more religious carols, but they too reflect on a tinge of sadness like a child born in a manger “no crib for a bed,” who “shivers in the cold” according to what the shephard boy tells the mighty king.

Please realize that I actually do love some things about this time of year. I love Christmas decorations and the smell of pine. I love hot chocolate with a hint of mint. I love Christmas cookies and smiling faces. I actually enjoy listening to Christmas music (in small doses) and believe some of the more religious carols to be the most beautiful pieces to sing and to hear. But, I struggle at times with this holiday, as I believe many do, as it emphasizes things that separate us and makes lonely people feel even more alone. 

 I probably could go on with further disturbing holiday lyrics, but instead I will leave you with one of a few non-depressing holiday songs, which doesn’t even mention Christmas.

It’s the Loneliest Time of the Year

Bah humbug!

Okay, maybe I’m not that bad. I like Christmas. I like the holiday season. But, every year at this time I feel lonely deep inside.

Maybe it is the number of required festivities that bring me down. There’s nothing like an Office Holiday Party to make me feel like I am a stranger in the midst of people who have only one thing in common, the place they work.

Maybe it is the number of parties I don’t get invited to. Last year, we didn’t get invited many places because people felt bad about our leaving, this year, we won’t get invited many places because we are so new we only know a few people.

Maybe it is leftover from my childhood, when Christmas was something I saw only from the distance. Friends celebrated and I did not, being raised in a Jewish household. Of course, I always had the obligatory explanation of Hanukkah in school, which only served to make me seem even stranger to my peers.

Maybe it is the constant explanation of Hanukkah which is not really the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar, but has taken on the aura of Christmas. I love lighting the menorah, but at the same time it is a symbol of my difference. This year in particular our menorah will be one of a very few.

Maybe it is the hope of magic and mysteries that fill the airwaves, or the movies that always end with new love or Christmas miracles. Hope is high at this time of year, but after it is over we go back to the status quo, and that feels discouraging.

Maybe it is the fact that, since I work in education, I’m always facing my failures at this time. The students who should have done better. The grading that shows nothing has changed. True, I often have successes as well, but as any instructor knows, the pain of grading has the tendency to cut into the joy of the season. At least usually that grading can be supported by the decadence of chocolate, cookies, and egg nog lattes.

Or maybe it is that I look back at the year and see all the things I promised myself last year and did not achieve. Where did my weight loss go? Down and up on the scale as usual. Where is the sense of achievement? My portfolio keeps growing, my cv gets longer, but I’m still looking for something.


Maybe it is watching my daughter soak in the joy of the season and knowing that she will be a little disappointed when she doesn’t get exactly what she wants, or misses out on some festive fun. I love the smiles of children at this time; but the “I want” attitude really bothers me.

Whatever it is, at this time of year I find myself withdrawing just a little bit. I love the songs. I love the lights. I love the feeling of hope. But somehow, each year, it just feels a little bit lonelier.

Does anyone else feel that way, or am I alone?

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