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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homespun Holidays: Birthdays

Ah, birthdays! As children, we often anticipate a fantastic party. The part of the birthday that we focused on the most, however, were the presents, right? When we get older, we often feel a desire to revisit the wonderful fun of our childhood birthday parties at the same time we rebel against the idea of getting older. From age 2 to 92, there are a few simple rules to keep in mind with birthday presents:
  • The gift is from you to the recipient. Don't hesitate to put your unique twist on it.
  • The best gifts truly are from the heart.
  • Gifts that are practical as well as fun/beautiful will always be well received.
In the case of a young child, the birthday gift that is heavily focused upon the practical is not going to be enjoyed immediately. It may even provoke some anger. Gifts that are toys or related to the currently popular trend for the age group can draw the ire of parents. Gift giving to children can be a fine line to walk, but success is not entirely impossible!

If the child has a favorite activity, it is possible to incorporate this into the gift. For example, my eldest child loves trucks. He has enough toy trucks in the living room that walking from one side to the other can be potentially lethal in the middle of the night if they're not all put away at the end of the day. His birthday is coming up and there is a very real need to have a better method of putting his toys away.
A little glue, a few magazines, and a range of different sized shoe boxes are all that is needed to make an excellent gift for him in the course of an afternoon. Cut out pictures of cars and trucks, as well as construction related signs, to fix on the boxes and you have a fantastic storage solution. It also makes for a bright and colorful addition to his room. With a few pages of paper, a hole punch, more car pictures, glue, and some string, it's possible to make a flip book of cars to slip into one of the boxes.

Now, this may sound to be a fine gift for a toddler, but older children may be offended by this simplistic gift. The same creativity applied to a slightly more sophisticated version brings the gift into the school age realm. An old tool box that has been cleaned up, primed, and repainted in the child's favorite color can make an excellent place to store school supplies, craft materials, or the odds and ends that are treasured possessions of the child in question. A large piece of plywood can be transformed into a place to hang hats and sweaters, even as it is continuing the theme of the child's favorite interests.

My eldest neice loves the color pink and has started learning to cook. She is one of the infamously fickle 'tweens' who are nearly impossible to shop for. Here, it's good to encourage the learning of a life long skill (cooking) even as we acknowledge her tastes. Cutting out and sewing an apron from an old flat sheet is simply a start. Taking the fabric and tie-dying it adds dimension to it. This can then be further enhanced with iron-on embellishments, fabric paints, or sewing on interesting buttons. The excess fabric from the sheet, dyed to match the apron, can then be used to cover an inexpensive note book which will be a cooking journal.

The concept of a matched set of cooking gear is one that can be applied for teens and adults. The same can be said for gardening or similar activities. In this case, the apron and journal set could possibly be expanded to include matching hot mitts or hot pads by cutting out and sewing the excess fabric around some batting or an old towel cut to size. When the person's interests fall outside of the home or simply can not be accommodated in such a simple fashion, the challenge then turns to finding something that connects you to them.

I believe the best example that I can think of to solving this dilemma can be found in the gift that my husband gave his mother for her birthday this year. It was the gift of his time. My husband volunteered to help her with her gardening this summer. His mother is an avid gardener with arthritic knees. To say the least, she was delighted by the offer and next month will be putting him to work planting a rosebush. This type of gift is perhaps one of the best to give when viewed in the light of the economy.

Giving your time and effort doesn't just have to be in the way of giving your friends and family free labor. It can also reach into frivolous and silly things. I had given one of my nieces the gift of my being her personal storyteller for a month. It taxed my imagination to come up with a month's worth of stories about pigs, but it is something that she deeply appreciated. The trick in giving the gift of your time is to make sure it is done in a way that you can carry out the commitment. Scheduling and knowing your limitations is always important.

Most of all, however, taking the opportunity to tell the birthday person how much you love and celebrate them is vital. While you may feel that taking your 96 year old grandmother out for ice cream on Sunday afternoon is the most foolish gift you could give and that it should have been that fantastic massaging chair that was well outside of your price range, I assure you that your grandmother will be happier with spending time with you. Birthdays are about celebrating the person and expressing your good wishes for the up coming year.

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