Friday, December 9, 2011

Cheap? A Priceless Christmas Gift Is The Way To Go

12/9/11-Christmas gifts1
Nicholas had no idea why we had a tree in the house before his first Christmas as part of our family

Yikes!  It’s 18 days until Christmas and all I’ve purchased is one small stocking stuffer.  It’s not like I haven’t hit the stores.  It’s just that I seem to come out of them with bags of things only for me – new holiday makeup, new holiday necklace, new red sweater.  All vital necessities, but still not gettin’ the job done.

Aside from the savvy shoppers who snapped up the $75,000 yurts and the $395,000 sports cars in retailer Neiman Marcus’ 2011 Christmas Book, the average person says he’ll be spending just under $700 for presents this year.  At least half of that, I’m sure, will go towards batteries.  My kids are grown, so no more piles of presents taller than the tree for each of them.  My sisters and I decided a few years ago that since all the kids in the family were grown we didn’t need to go wild at Christmas buying for the extended family.  At Thanksgiving dinner we pull names for the gift giving, so with one name and a $30 limit Christmas shopping finally becomes sane.

If I had to guess, I would estimate that half of my family Christmas budget goes toward the stockings hung by the chimney with care.  It’s the gift that gives back as I sneak Gummies and chocolate Santas when my kids aren’t looking.  My mom used to wrap individual pieces of her homemade fudge and put it in our stockings.  It was a favorite because it meant that none of us would miss out on that special treat if someone beat us to the Christmas cookie tin.  Creativity came in when money was an object.

My blogging friend Nancy Mueller, who writes about all the wonderful places she travels, recently told her readers about a gift we all could give that would cost so little of our time and money but make a huge difference in a child’s life.  For only $10 we could give the gift of libraries to children living in places where such things are usually just a fantasy.  So check out Nancy’s post here about donating to the cause through Passports with a Purpose.  Consider making an extra donation in the name of a family member or friend.

Although I’m talking about the price of Christmas, it’s not expensive presents that stick with me year after year.  No, the things I remember about the season are priceless.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, all of us squeezing into Granny’s apartment on Christmas Eve.  Waking up one year to find that my mom had sewn a complete wardrobe for my favorite Pepper doll.  Eagerly waiting in the hallway with my sisters each Christmas morning until Dad had his coffee and was ready to face the chaos of the Grand Unwrapping.  How warm and inviting Mom always made the house look each December.  When I dream of Christmases past I realize that many of the best gifts I’ve received throughout my life really were free or cost practically nothing.

Here are just a few:

-- A daughter who shares my birthday – that’s a gift that keeps on giving

-- A love of reading from my Dad – I’ll have that gift until the day I die

-- No argument from my parents when I wanted to go away to college – my sisters all stayed in town, so I knew what it meant when Mom and Dad gave their baby girl their blessing to leave home and never tried to persuade me otherwise

-- Two teenagers willing to spend a Mother’s Day one year walking around the Missouri Botanical Garden, pretending to like the flowers

-- My Granny’s powder in Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev – Granny always gave lacy underwear or pajamas or beautiful blouses for Christmas.  She’d sprinkle her body powder in the box and I’d hate the day when I had to wash the clothes because I knew I’d lose that smell.  One Christmas when I was a teenager, I insisted on that book and jumped for joy when, unwrapping the present, I smelled her powder between the pages.  The best part about this gift is that even forty years later I can still smell her when I pick up the book.

-- A husband who puts up with me after almost 30 years – this is a gift from the Universe

I know they’re not as glamorous as an HD flat screen television snatched from the hands of another shopper at a Black Friday sale.  And I have to admit I enjoy the fully loaded e-reader I found under the tree.  One year, though, perhaps I’ll challenge myself to do an entire Christmas without stepping into a single retail store (that includes online shopping). Dust bunny collages anyone?   But mostly I think I’ll just keep looking for ways to give of my gifts throughout the year.  That’s truly priceless.  What do you think?

What has been your favorite gift for any occasion that cost nothing or next to nothing but meant the world?  Please share it with us in the comments box.  And don’t forget to check out the link (above) for Passports With a Purpose donations.

Yes, I actually wore this homemade Christmas pin in days past.  It's now a bit fragile.
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I was planning on sending all of my readers something unique and wildly extravagant to put under their Christmas trees.  Unfortunately, I’m running low on wrapping paper, and the line at the post office is horrifically long, so I think I’ll simplify things a little.  My gift to you this holiday season is a wonderful recipe passed on to me from my friend, Martine, in Paris.  ‘Tis the season for soup, and this one is easy as well as incredibly healthy.  It would be great to serve with a Christmas feast or to make after an exhausting day of shopping.  Add a splash of pimento or a dash of paprika and you’ll have a festive Christmas in a bowl.

Soupe de Courgettes (Zucchini Soup) -- serves 4-6
- 2-3 zucchinis (about 35 oz or 1 kg total)
- Chicken stock for cooking the zucchinis (homemade, in a carton, or made with water and 2-3 bouillon cubes to just cover the vegetables in the pot)
- 1 onion, diced (white or yellow)
- 2-3 servings of Laughing Cow cheese (Vache Qui Rit; it comes in a round, flat box with the cheese wrapped in individual triangles)
- Salt and pepper

Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes in oil in a 3-quart pot until slightly brown.  Chop the zucchini into small chunks.  Add them to the pot and add water or stock to just cover them.  Add bouillon now if using regular water.  Heat to boiling and then simmer 30 minutes or until tender.  When cooked, purée the mixture.  Then add the cheese and mix or purée again until smooth.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Handy Hint:  If you click here, you’ll see that Mme. Monica uses an immersion blender.  I’ve recently purchased one and it is a miracle worker when it comes to mixing and blending.  If you get it with the whipping and chopping attachments you may never again need any of those bulky countertop kitchen machines.  It’s not too late to add to your Christmas list.


Ruth Hartman Berge said...

I agree with you that the most wonderful Christmas presents are often those that don't sit under a tree or that come from the heart. For years when my grandmother was growing elderly, she would box up linens for her granddaughters and great-granddaughter. I have some of her handworked pillowcases and towels. The pillow cases still have a faint smell that reminds me of every time I slept at Granny and Granddad's house as a child. Priceless.

samantha stacia said...

Great poat! I see you see the glass half full too at Christmas and don't mind all the shopping but also value the little things the most like I do! My happiest memories are of my stockings and what they would be filled with more than the gifts under the tree-if only my grandparents knew that they would have saved so much money! lol

Laura@Catharsis said...

I think that pin is absolutely adorable, and your wearing it makes my heart smile. My favorite Christmas memories are also of priceless treasures, mostly in the form of time spent with family no longer on this Earth with us. I have the greatest childhood memories of opening presents at my house and traveling to my maternal grandmother's house for a day of extended family love. She is no longer with us, but every Christmas, I try to honor those fond memories by making new ones with my children. And we've decided not to go extravagant with our young kids. They are as happy with stickers and coloring books as they would be with something expensive, so stickers and coloring books it is! And upon reading your recipe, I squealed to my husband that I found a new dish for us to try. He immediately knew that meant I'd found a new thing for him to cook. :) Can't wait to try it!

Julie Farrar said...

If he's going to be cooking it, Laura, then get him one of those great immersion blenders as a Christmas present. He deserves it.

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