Posts Tagged ‘Gifts’

The important part about buying a souvenir when you’re traveling is, will it fit in your luggage? Summer is here and Americans are back on the road, in trains and planes, searching for just the right trinket for a special someone…

… but buying a gift for someone you love is an art.

I’m not talking about a teeshirt from Key West. In the past, I’ve returned from Provence with pillow covers and napkins. I’ve been known to stuff a beautiful woven bread basket in the overhead returning from Charleston. But mostly, I was always on the lookout for anything with a bluebird – tea towels, tiny blown glass tchotchkes, silk scarves in an aviary print.

Today, we rarely have the opportunity to express our individual gift-giving skills; to think about the recipient and their quirks and desires. Whimsy has been subverted by The Gift Registry, just check something off an online list and poof, you’re done! It’s the opposite of thoughtfulness, it’s commerce. And sure, a wedding registry may be as unavoidable as ants at a picnic, but at least with a first marriage I can understand the need for it.

We all need to outfit a kitchen, whether we plan to cook or not. Still, I loved strolling through a foreign farmer’s market to find just the right present for Great Grandma Ada. She always returned from her travels with a small treasure for me. Maybe it was handmade beads from Russia, or a piece of pottery from Japan.

On one of our last nights at the beach, we went in search of the perfect ice cream cone. Thank God the Blue Mountain Creamery was still open because all the tourist shops had closed at 5! I strolled along some still open, open-air artist shacks, looking at the stained glass, the paintings of surf and sand, the tiny clay sea turtles. And without warning, a frog jumped into my throat; I no longer needed to find a bluebird for Adala.

June is her birthday month. She would have been so happy to see the world coming back to life. To see Joe and Jill meet the Queen. She would have smiled when she learned I was feeding the birds like she did. She would tell me it’s OK to light a candle on her birthday, and not on her death day.

And she would laugh to learn I was featured in a music video, pink hair and all! Here is the Love Bug and her buddy post-ice cream, did I mention she made a Clip with the L’il Pumpkin about the trash they found on the beach? Ada would be so proud of their nascent climate activism.

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I grew up in a quaint, working class town on the western fringe of NJ. We didn’t have much, but on the other hand, we didn’t need much. Here is a blog about Dover, NJ you might enjoy! The photographer is the father of a dear friend. http://blogfinger.net/2015/03/22/dover-ata-christmas-1960-by-henry-boschen/   1960 Dover, NJ picture by Henry Boschenboschen

I lived in a tiny house on a hill outside of town with one bathroom, but it was a house filled with love and a nurturing though agoraphobic foster mother, Nell. I never thought of myself as poor; but when I moved to the Flapper’s big Victorian house in town, with older siblings, I must have noticed the difference.

My life immediately expanded to include a glamorous sister in NYC and two brothers, one still in high school. I acquired step-siblings and a step-father, who was a well respected judge in town. We lived across the street from the Jewish synagogue, and I remember my first visit on Purim with my step-father and boyfriend/future husband Bob. This Catholic school girl was delighted to hear people talking during the service, making noise in fact, and generally not listening to the Rabbi. No more kneeling, rosary beads or silent praying in Latin!

So raising my children Jewish, in a wealthy Jersey suburb should have been easy, right? Wrong. Rumson was and probably still is a mix of “old” and “new” money. The kids’ cars were much better than the teachers’ cars in the RFH parking lot. And my children’s peers pretty much got whatever they wanted, when they wanted it. I developed a saying for the Rocker, “Want? Work. Wait!” The three “W”s it was called. Just because all his friends had the latest gizmo, didn’t mean I’d run out and buy one for him. When the Bride wanted a car, we offered to pay for half and she ponied up the rest of her cash from summer jobs.

And so I give you Day 5 of Hannukah’s Yiddish saying:

Ich darf es vi a loch in kop!

In other words, I need it like a hole in the head! Yiddish words convey beautiful bits of sarcasm. In this season of giving, and getting too much, it’s important to differentiate between what our children want, and what they actually need. They may want a drum set, but you need that like a hole in the head! Most toys are played with for a few days, and thrown away because they break or they are lost forever at the bottom of a toy trunk.

I love the approach some parents are using – they have their children make a list for Santa of four things: 1) something they want, 2) something to read, 3) something to wear, and 4) something to give away to a needy child. Perfect right? But I’d have to come up with four more for Hannukah!

How about: 5) something they need (like an educational game), 6) something for or from nature (like a terrarium), 7) an experience (like Nutcracker tickets, or a trip to Rockefeller Center), and 8) how about a kiss? That’s always what my foster father wanted for Christmas. He got that with a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco every year!

Now that’s enough of my kibitzing for one day!  21551_1194777985859_3581712_n


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I’ve been thinking about giving. While driving through the Great Smokies, past cows and barns and more cows and barns on my way back to VA, I listened to This American Life podcast #514 “It’s the Thought That Counts.” http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/514/thought-that-counts But don’t we learn how to give by what we’ve received over the years?

When I was young, Christmas meant a special doll, one that talked or maybe wet itself. And as I grew older, a slip (remember those?) would invariably arrive in the mail from an elderly aunt in Washington. My foster Daddy Jim would always say he didn’t want anything for Christmas, that he had everything he needed in our little house in Victory Gardens. But Nell would make sure I gave him a pair of slippers and a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.

Every day when he came home from work, Jim would have a present for me. Sometimes it was a tiny flower in his pocket, or maybe a piece of candy, but can you imagine, every. single. day! That was a hard act to follow for future suitors.

Some people can think only of themselves. We know these gifts, we open them trepidatiously. “What a beautiful book about art that you are interested in Uncle Sam.” Some people are pragmatic, like my aunt and her slip. “I really needed more socks and pajamas Aunt Helen.” Some people like to boast with their gifts, like the time my step father gave the Flapper a mink coat, “I’m speechless, how thoughtful.” But some people have a knack for gift-giving, like my niece Lisa.

She remembered something I had said in passing that must have resonated with her. Over the years I’ve made only a few close friends with each move. I’m not saying this is a good thing, in fact next year I should work on my friendship skills definitely. My motto has been it’s important to have a friend who knows where the spoons are in your kitchen.

And so Lisa sent me a gigantic spoon to hang in my kitchen! I smile each time I look at it.

In the past, I had searched endlessly for gifts that were actually made here in the US to send to Irish relatives, an almost impossible task. Something might be designed here, but chances are it was manufactured in Bangladesh. So like many, this season of endless giving has turned for me into some distorted, commercialized cartoon holiday. I avoid malls like the plague.

We Americans have so much in the grand scheme of things. I love it when the whole Secret Santa bit is employed to contain costs. Bob’s friend in Richmond passed out some papers to his relatives – only gifts for kids this year, which was always our style – the paper was to make a donation in the family’s name to the local food bank. Great idea Al!

So if you are planning on re-gifting or returning that salad bowl that doesn’t go with anything, take a minute to think about the thought that went into your gift as you trudge back to Target hoping that your credit and pin information is still safely tucked into their hardware. Are they telling you to eat healthy, or sending you a message to stop bringing them pie?

As the Stones famously said, you can’t always get what you want. As for me, I can’t wait till the Love Bug is old enough for a trip to NYC and the great American Girl Doll pilgrimage.  IMG_2349

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What’s that old saying; “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” Maybe you’re too young to have heard it, but it means be grateful for whatever someone hands you. In the days before Oprah was giving away cars, horses were the penultimate gift. And you wouldn’t want to imply that this horse was “long in the tooth,” ie getting on in years with one hoof in the glue factory. That would be tacky.

But what if you’re an elected official, like say the GOP Governor in our fair state of Virginia. And what if one of your biggest political donors, let’s say he owns a pretty big vitamin supplement company and his name is Jonnie Williams Sr., chief executive of Star Scientific, let’s just say Jonnie decides to give you and your family gifts worth over six figures?

The First Lady of VA gets a Rolex to give to her hubby, and then a $15,000 shopping spree in NYC at Bergdorf’s.

The First Daughter receives a $15,000 wedding catering gift, and a another $10,000 engagement gift goes to a different daughter.

Believe me, I know weddings can be expensive! We have 4 this year to attend, and thank goodness for online wedding registries. I wonder what would cost $10,000? That wooden salad bowl?

Last week, R-Gov Bob McDonnell released a written statement apologizing for the scandal and saying that he had repaid Williams for $120,000 in loans: $70,000 to a real estate company owned by the governor and his sister and $50,000 to first lady Maureen McDonnell. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/mcdonnell-daughter-repaid-15000-catering-gift/2013/07/31/58bb18ba-f9ea-11e2-9bde-7ddaa186b751_story.html

So while everyone has been focusing on the slimy, sexual antics of other political men, our Governor was hoping all this would just go away. But the tables have turned and Jonnie (whatever happened to the “H” in John?) is cooperating with federal investigators, which can only mean they are planning to prosecute McDonnell under the Hobbs Act which “…prohibits elected officials from taking money or other items of value in exchange for the performance of official duties.” http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/star-donor-assists-u-s-in-mcdonnell-probe/article_f8012a33-00b4-56b9-b9af-1901751965e3.html

Now I had to raise my hand and swear I’d never take any gifts while I was a member of the School Board in NJ. And I was never offered any, still…there was no ambiguity about it, none whatsoever. And when I covered Borough Council Meetings, members would recuse themselves from votes if they had the slightest interest in a business.  On every level of government this conflict of interest oath must stand if we want to rise above the banana republics of the world.

Such a slippery slope our Governor has been on, and his holier than thou wanna-be replacement Ken Cuccinelli, running for his seat in November, hasn’t uttered a peep. Maybe Gov Ultrasound, and his  AG Cuccinelli who would like to overturn Roe vs Wade – who sponsored the ‘choose life’ license plates and supports fake pregnancy centers – maybe these two just need to refocus their public policy on the economy.

Something is rotten in the state of Virginia! Quick, call the veterinary dentist.


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