Wednesday, April 29, 2009


In this season where we are receiving a lot of presents (and, may I say, greatly appreciate them and the spirit in which they are given - we feel the love), we are trying to figure out how to keep our level of stuff to a minimum. We want to be good stewards of what we have, and we're trying to move forward in the "enjoying without owning" direction - especially when there are others who are actually in need; but it's hard when you've spent a lifetime accumulating things and getting in the habit of acquisition.

I've been seeing this kind of thing (below) a lot recently, and I wanted to post it here mostly as a reminder to myself.


Great Gifts for Kids that Don't Involve "Stuff"

The following guest post is by Professional Organizer Liz Jenkins.

My daughter and I are cruising the aisle at Target last year on the hunt for the birthday present we need TODAY (you know . . . Barbie, My Little Pony, Polly Pockets, etc.) and then it hit me. Besides the fact that these presents cause piles of clutter and seem to be sort of a cop out (go to big box store, get plastic made in China, get gift bag, stick in bag, give to recipient), it also goes against my grain which is to be thoughtful and mindful about what I purchase.

She and I had the discussion that while these things were sooooo cute (her words), all of the plastic packages and wrapping end up in the trash, all of the little parts quickly break, and the abundance of stuff kids get is rarely played with, it was mostly the lack of actual care given to the choosing of the gift. So we’ve decided that our new mission is to give a gift that not only do we really believe the recipient will enjoy, but also one that doesn’t involve more STUFF that has to be stored.

In that spirit, here a list of great gifts that don’t involve stuff:

  • Movie tickets (you can get them on Fandango and don’t even have to leave the house – saving gas and time) – this is my number one all time favorite!
  • A trip with the gift giver to a place both would enjoy such as the zoo, children’s theatre, science center or aquarium. (We received tickets to Junie B. Jones at the Nashville Children’s Theatre for my daughter’s birthday and went with the friends that gave it – we had a blast!)
  • Make a movie on the computer of pictures of your child and the friend – Windows Movie Maker lets you add photos, captions and titles – then you can burn it to disc!
  • An edible creation made by the gift giver such as cookies, bread or homemade candy.
  • An art project made just for the birthday child, or a gift that includes all of the materials needed for an art project.
  • A gift certificate to a “make your own pottery” place or a place that offers classes such as cooking or acting.
  • A gift certificate to a book store (I don’t consider books to be clutter when it comes to kids!)
  • A donation in the child’s name to an animal shelter or charity that might speak to them.
  • “Buy” them a star and name it after them (you can find sites on the web) or “adopt” an animal at the zoo.
  • A gardening set with tools and seeds, or plants, and pots & soil if the recipient doesn’t have a place to dig in the dirt (this is “stuff” but useful and healthy).

While many of us are resistant to the idea of not giving stuff, suggestions such as these can make it easier, especially for family members. I think many grandparents or other relatives want their gifts to really be appreciated, and one way they tend to do this is to get things that are bigger and bigger.

My favorite suggestion for grandparents came from my friend, Namaste. She encourages her parents and in-laws to “buy” lessons (sports, dance, art, etc.) for a period of time. For example, if the grandparents pay for the ballet lessons, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Then they can come to the recital to see the results. Often, they just don’t have other ideas – hopefully this list will jump start a conversation – and reduce the amount of stuff that comes into the house.
The funny part is that when I started doing this, I was a bit concerned that other parents would think I was weird, but the gifts we chose were hits. It started sort of a trend in my “set”. Go figure!

Liz Jenkins is a Professional Organizer and owner of a fresh space :: home staging and thoughtful organizing, based in Franklin, TN. Visit her at


Birthdays Without Pressure

This site has a lot of information, but there are some interesting suggestions on the "Ideas for Parents" page, as follows:

Many parents have expressed concern about their children receiving too many gifts, not having places to store the gifts they receive, and gifts being too much of a focus at birthday parties. The following ideas were suggested by other parents as helpful in keeping gifts from getting out of control. Each idea has worked for actual families. See which ones might work for you.

  • Explain to the birthday child that they will already be receiving plenty of gifts from family members, but that the friend party is just for fun. Write on the party invitation “presence/no presents.”
  • Ask the invitees to bring something to donate rather than a gift. On the invitation you may write that “gifts are by no means necessary, but that any gifts will be gratefully received on behalf of ____ charity.” Options for places to donate include: a community outreach program, day care for mentally challenged children, children’s hospital, pet shelter, etc.
  • Ask the invitees to bring their favorite new or used book to donate to a local library or shelter or have all the invitees exchange books at the party.
  • Ask grandparents and family members to give no more than 1 gift. If they feel they need to give more ask them to donate $10 to the birthday child’s 529 account.
  • Ask for no gifts and suggest that invitees bring a canned food item to give to the local food pantry.
  • Give your child one nice present instead of several. Explain that the party itself is part of the present.
  • Ask the invitees to bring a smile, themselves, and their favorite birthday wish song.
  • In lieu of a gift, ask invitees to bring a favorite memory that they share with the birthday child. They may choose to draw a picture that reminds them of the memory and bring it.
  • Put gifts that are duplicates or not age appropriate at the time of the birthday into a large box in the basement. At the end of the year, donate all of the stored toys.
  • Have the birthday child write thank you notes before playing with any of the newly received gifts.
  • Make a fancy homemade certificate giving the birthday child the gift of a special outing with a parent such as to a museum, science center, sledding, beach day, camping, etc.
  • Ask invitees to bring something small and creative in lieu of a toy like seeds for a garden, or cool photos for a scrapbook.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Borrowed post.

I read this several years ago in the Fort Worth Weekly, and I just rediscovered it again - found the clipping, wanted to share it, and, lo and behold, the author had posted it on his blog.

Interesting perspective.


Socratic Soyburgers
Living up to your ideals? Bummer.

American society is built around “feelgood.” We want to feel good — about ourselves, about how we live our lives, about the direction we’re taking toward our goals. There is the annoying problem, however, when the ideal meets the reality. Our usual response is not to adjust the ideal or the reality, but just to change the definitions to suit our politics, religion, or lifestyle.

Let’s say that Joe Rocko is a man with an ideal: He wants to be a vegetarian. However, being a vegetarian means giving up something that he enjoys doing — eating meat. Joe really wants to be a vegetarian, but he also really likes to have a steak — just a small one — on Saturday nights. The logical response would be for Joe to say, “Well, if I can’t make the sacrifice, then I don’t deserve the label” and just move on.

It’s a logical response, but it isn’t the American response. Joe wants to be a vegetarian, so he says he is a vegetarian —meat denial be damned! Thus, according to today’s postmod “you are who you say you are” dogma, Joe is a vegetarian. Of the meat-eating variety. A meat-eating vegetarian, of course, is a conflict in concepts. It is illogical. But it is also American.

Head Vegetarian Bob, or HVB for short, hears of Joe’s claim, and he is not pleased. HVB en-forces the prime directive of vegetarianism. To allow a meat-eating vegetarian would be a slap in the face to the vegetarians who make the effort to abstain from meat. So with the authority vested in him as the Head Veg, HVB formally excommunicates Joe Rocko from the community of vegetarians.

Joe is outraged at this. “How dare HVB shove his views down my throat! Who is he to tell me what I can and can’t call myself?” Joe is so outraged that he takes to the media and the talk show circuit. “Shameless power-mongering!” “Heavy-handed HVB hammers dissident vegetarian!” scream the headlines. Despite the heavy flak, HVB holds his ground. Being a vegetarian means abstaining from meat, and HVB will not budge from this.

Now a group of vegetarians comes out for Joe, because they believe that “It’s time to open our doors to Saturday-night-steak-eaters.” So they decide to accept him into their vegetarian community. HVB declares them heretics and excommunicates them. Meanwhile, Joe’s state representative has succeeded in getting victim status for meat-eating vegetarians, so Joe now qualifies for public funds to help educate the public at large about his plight. A web petition circulates, demanding that HVB accept Joe as a vegetarian and reverse the excommunication of the vegetarians who supported Joe. Even after all this, HVB still will not budge. He still insists that vegetarians do not eat meat. And so it goes.

It would have been easier on everyone if Joe would just admit that he isn’t a vegetarian, no matter how much he wants to believe otherwise. Obvious, you say — but is it so easy in real life to spot the meat-eating vegetarians?

Who would I give that title to? How about “pro-choice Catholics.” Abortion, of course, is against Catholic teachings, but politicians who use this label are trying to have it both ways by appealing to their pro-choice constituency without alienating their Catholic constituency. It would be easier if such politicians would just own up to the fact that they aren’t Catholic anymore —but when did honesty and politics ever mix anyway?

Of course not all lies are so obvious as meat-eating vegetarianism, but no doubt you wouldn’t have far to dig to discover some contradictions of your own. To admit to these comforting delusions, however, would require a level of mental self-examination beyond the patience or desire of most Americans. It’s easier and faster to just believe in the lie. Socrates once said that an unexamined life is not worth living — but then Socrates wasn’t an American. Vegetarianism is an ideal, but meat-eating vegetarianism is an American moral shortcut. Shortcuts to enlightenment are the American way! So pass me the carrot stick, please. Yes, I know it looks like a hamburger, but trust me, it’s a carrot stick.

John Araujo is a Fort Worth freelance writer and cartoonist.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pleasant Pregnancy Surprise #2

Despite my historical need for a very large personal space, I have not (so far) minded people touching my belly.

I really thought I would mind.

NOTE: This should in no way encourage anyone to touch pregnant bellies indiscriminately. Most women are annoyed by it, or so I've been told. If in doubt, don't.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Will I?

I like to dream about all the things I might do once I can stay home... but will I actually do them?
Will I actually go to the library?
Will I read the books I check out?
Will I cook real meals?
Will I keep my house cleaner?
Will I follow through on the make-your-own-baby-food thing?
Will I go whole days without turning on the TV?
Will I talk to adults?
Will I blog more?
If I do blog more, will it be about things other than what my precious child did that day?
Will I be able to carry on a conversation about something other than my child?
Will it matter?