Tag Archives: holidays

Stocking stuffer ideas for tweens & teens

When it comes to Christmas, the catalogs and store shelves are filled with fun ideas for the younger crowd. But what about when kids get older? Toys are generally not as exciting, and the gift options become fewer and more expensive. This doesn’t exactly make it easy for Santa’s helpers to know what to put in a teen’s stocking…

In our house, stockings are just as exciting as the bigger gifts – even in the teenage years. But what the kids don’t realize is that I struggle with what to fill them with every year! So this year I enlisted the help of a few Facebook friends, and together we came up with this list of items that teens and tweens might love.

P.S. Feel free to add to this list in the comments!

Stocking stuffer ideas for tweens & teens:
– Silly socks
– nail polish or lip gloss
– candy, gum, mints, etc.
– retro toy from Cost Plus
– magazine
– book
– earrings, bangles, etc.
– pen and journal
– lotions and bath soaps
– travel games
– card games
– cell phone accessories
– earbuds

Gift card ideas
– gas
– coffee
– smoothies
– fast food
– movies
– restaurant
– clothing

IOU ideas
– night out sans siblings
– night with later curfew
– night off from chores
– activity of their choice

50 things for your teenager’s Easter basket

When you think of Easter baskets, you probably think of young toddlers running out to see what the Easter Bunny has left for them. You may have visions of tiny toys and plastic eggs filled with jellybeans. There’s magic in those grass filled baskets, and it’s not wasted on toddlers who will marvel at every single surprise they discover Easter morning.

But what about the teenagers?

When I was growing up, my mom made it a point to never take away the magic we felt at holidays when we were younger. Well into our adult years, we received a stocking full of small gifts at Christmas, a bunch of pink and red covered chocolate treats at Valentine’s Day, and an Easter basket full of trinkets and goodies at Easter. And now in my own house, I am continuing the tradition.

Thing is, however, it is much more difficult to find fun things to give teens at Easter when the majority of seasonal treats are geared towards kids under the age of 10. This year is even harder as we work to steer clear of all things sugary – i.e. anything that is traditional to give at Easter.

So with a little help from other parents and some searching on my own, I have put together my own list of things, edible and not, a teenager might want to discover in their basket Easter morning.

Happy Easter!

1. CDs
2. DVDs
3. Gift cards to their favorite store
4. Nostalgic kid toys (wind-up cars, Lego men, yoyos)
5. Pez dispenser
6. Gum
7. Themed baskets (nail spa, music list, hair, etc)
8. Movie tickets
9. Family coupons (for a later curfew, get out of chores free, etc)
10. Gas card
11. Nail polish
12. Lip gloss
13. Magazine (cars, beauty, or whatever their interest)
14. Poster of their favorite actor/band
15. iTunes gift card
16. Sunglasses
17. Perfume or cologne
18. Toothbrush
19. Water bottle
20. Travel coffee mug
21. Book
22. Phone accessories
23. Ear buds
24. Comic book
25. Disposable camera
26. Hair accessories
27. Flip flops
28. Beach towel
29. Sketch pad
30. Journal
31. Socks
32. Gel pens
33. Smelly pens
34. Glitter glue
35. Sharpies
36. Kite
37. Small package of cookies
38. Snapple
39. Crackers
40. Subway gift card
41. Keychain
42. Hat
43. Chapstick
44. Lotion
45. Flower seeds
46. Video game
47. Jewelry
48. Wallet
49. Purse
50. Dollar coins

What else?

Does the Easter Bunny still visit your teenager? What kind of treats do they give your teen?

Gift ideas for the broke at heart

IOU Santa

About this time every year, I can be found juggling a half-done gift list, trying to figure out how I can finish shopping for everyone on that list from the dwindling funds in my bank account. Regardless of how carefully I plan financially for this time of year, it always seems like it’s never enough.

With Christmas less than two weeks away, this is about the point when I start hyperventilating.

The one thing I have sworn not to do is dread the holidays. I’ve come close, this year probably being the hardest as I face the reality of paying off the bills from our recent wedding while simultaneously preparing for the most expensive holiday of the year.

It just seems like such a waste to be overcome with feelings of negativity when buying presents for others. It defeats the purpose behind the holidays when you get someone a gift out of obligation and dread instead of because you were thinking of them when you happened across the perfect gift.

So this past month I’ve been racking my brain for creative ideas, trying to find items that cost a lot less money but still tell the recipient just how much they mean to me.

One of my favorite ideas was inspired by one of my co-workers. She is digging deep into her treasure trove of recipes and putting together a mini cookbook for her brother. In exchange, her brother promised to build her raised garden beds in her backyard in the spring, utilizing his construction skills to save her time and money with his talents. I love this idea of gifting presents of service, because it can translate to just about anything and is easy for friends to give to one another. Single parents would probably love the gift of free babysitting. Those who know their way around cars can give free oil changes or headlight and windshield wiper replacements. And I don’t know anyone who would turn away a free day of cleaning or the promise of a fully cooked dinner.

People who are ruled by their right brain have a bit of an advantage in this department of creative gift giving. Regardless of how cool all of the season’s expensive gadgets and toys are, nothing holds as much meaning as the gift that was made specifically for the person it’s given to.

If you’re a writer, compose a poem and place it in a pretty frame. Artists can give presents of their artwork. Create collages that have a personal touch, filled with everything from photos to 3-D items like pieces from nature (think fall leaves, a pine cone or acorn), buttons, or fabric. Put together a collection of recipes, like my co-worker did, binding them with a decorative cover.

If you know how to sew, make something everyone can use like potholders or decorative throw pillows. You can even collect a few interesting beads and put together eclectic earrings or a unique bracelet that no one else can buy in a store.

For kids, be clear that just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean they’re bound to get everything on their list. It’s actually better if they don’t. First off, most kids will receive gifts from their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. Let that take some of the pressure off you. But beyond that, it’s better to set the precedent while they’re young that on Christmas morning they’ll receive only a few of the items they asked for instead of all of them. It’s likely that once all the presents are opened, they’ll be so focused on what they have that they’ll forget about what they didn’t get.

And of course, it’s also important to teach kids the art of giving. It’s never too early to help kids give gifts to other family members, allowing them to feel what it’s like when the other person opens a gift they picked out just for them.

Other gift ideas can be theme related. Give a “Cozy Night In” by stitching an edge on a pretty piece of fleece to create a blanket, and include a favorite book. Offer the gift of a favorite memory by framing a photo of you and the recipient, and then include a note about what why this day was so special. Send the kids on a treasure hunt for their gift by giving them a map that leads to different clues that lead to their present. Or, if a bunch of your friends or family members are in the same financial bind you are, host a gift exchange party where everyone brings one unmarked gift to trade.

Some inexpensive gifts I found:

Life of pi purseLife of Pi Coin Purse:  Cost Plus is doing this massive marketing promotion for the movie of Life of Pi, which I don’t really mind because I just read the book (and LOVED it), and plan on seeing the movie before it leaves theaters.  Plus, it fits into their worldly theme with all of the Indian saris, clothing, jewelry, and other such items.  My favorite is this mirrored coin purse in orange (it comes in fuchsia too) for only $12.99.  I almost bought myself one, before I remembered that I was buying gifts for other people and not for me.  But who knows, maybe Santa will buy this for me…  Also, Cost Plus has deals of the day going on every day, so you’ll want to sign up for their email list or check their site regularly to find some great gifts for a lot less.  www.worldmarket.com

MrsMeyers_OrangeClove_ScentedCandle_webLMrs. Meyers Holiday Candle Tin:  Candles are always a nice touch for stocking stuffers or a gift for a friend.  This particular candle is in a fresh pine scent, or (my favorite) an orange clove scent.  When lit, it fills the room with that fragrance and sets a lovely mood.  The soy-based candle not only smells delicious, it comes in a reusable can.  Plus, it’s part of the Mrs. Meyers line of all natural products, which is always a good thing.  It runs for about $3.99, and can be found at Target or Whole Foods.  More info at www.mrsmeyers.com.

flashlightsFinger flashlights:  I came across these in a pricey catalog, and was instantly enthralled with them.  But I couldn’t fathom spending as much money as they were asking on these tiny gadgets.  So I did a little sleuthing and found a box of them over at Amazon.com for less than $8.  The kids will love having light wars with each other, sneaking in a little bit of midnight reading, and just being cool with a bunch of flashlights strapped to their fingers.

hand tattooHand tattoos:  A picture is worth a thousand words.  And these are pictures ON YOUR HAND!  These are awesome!  They come in either 2 sets of 8 animal or monster tattoos each (!), and can be found at UncommonGoods.com for only $12

Oriental Trading Company:  This website was a godsend when it came to planning a wedding.  And for parents with young kids, it can be a godsend for you too.  They have so many arts & crafts ideas, as well as perfect little gifts for the stocking, it’s ridiculous.  Peruse their website and you’ll see what I mean.  www.orientaltrading.com.

st jude bearGive back to charity:  There are countless charities that need our help all year long, but especially at Christmas when giving is in the front of people’s minds.  One of these charities is through Kmart, who is collecting funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital through December 29.  They’re making it easy to donate by giving an option at checkout to add $1, $5, or $10 to your bill at checkout, funds that will go directly to St. Jude’s.  Further giving can be accomplished by purchasing a St. Jude bear ornament for $5 each, of which Kmart will donate $1 for each ornament sold.  kmart.com

What are some of your gift shortcuts when times are tight?

Holiday Letter 2011

Dear friends and family,

This has been a whirlwind of a year, and I can’t believe we’ve actually reached the end! So much has happened in 2011, making this one of my favorite years yet.

Earlier this year, DQ became a girl. It’s true. She traded in her tomboy looks for more feminine clothing and a bit of make-up. But not to worry, the skater shoes will never leave my pretty daughter’s feet. And I had a bit of a girl revolution myself, making a new step to nurture my female friendships instead of focusing solely on being a mom.

I also had to come to grips with the fact that my daughter is changing as she grows older – and that’s not such a bad thing.  While we’ve always been close, and I suspect we always will, this year I finally had to accept that some walls are ok to be in place between a mother and her teenage daughter.

As for the Taz, we actually survived the dreaded 4th grade Mission Project.  Ever have to do one of those?  Let’s just say I never thought I’d have a need to paint cardboard with sand-infused white paint, or ever have to unstick myself from so much hot glue.  Wait, whose project was it?

This year, the Taz also got to spend a ton more time on the pitcher’s mound.  It was incredible to see my son show his true talent and maturity in baseball, even if it still meant his forgetful nature never truly left…

Having done the single mom thing for so long, I learned the importance of asking for help. Of course, that single mom adventure came to a close when Mr. W asked our little family to move in with him in the spring, transforming us from a family of three to a family of five. The sudden changes, however, caused a little bit of strife – particularly with DQ. Middle school was already tough enough, as middle school usually is. However, a lesson from my own childhood taught me that a cup of coffee can go a really long ways.

This year I became friends with my thighs, finding beauty in my imperfections. I also discovered that imperfection could be beautiful in love as Mr. W and I got used to moving around each other in our newly blended home.

In October, all of our lives changed with one tiny question….. Mr. W asked me to marry him! We were on cloud nine….until we had to break it to the kids. Needless to say, they just didn’t take it that well. Fortunately, a family vacation gave us a chance to get used to the idea while also working at blending as a family. It’s been an uphill battle ever since, including a family adventure of picking out our first tree together as a family.

2011 holds so many wonderful memories, and 2012 has much to look forward to. Thank you for coming along with me on our adventures as they unfold.  Your comments, advice, and friendship have meant more than I can tell you!

Here’s to another New Year!

Crissi and family

Happy holidays!

This time of year brings about tons of emotions and levels of feeling in what is supposed to be a joyous time of year. For some of us, we’re scrambling just to get it all done. For others, we’re sitting back comfortably and enjoying the holidays. Some of you are enjoying your first exciting holiday with a tiny new member of your family, and some of you are just trying to survive your first dreaded holiday with an empty nest.

I wish each and every one of you a wonderful holiday season filled with love, and remembrance as to what this season is all about. When everything is said and done, it’s not about the presents or how much money you’ve spent. It’s about the people you call friends and family, and a time to focus on all there is to be grateful for. Friends, we are all truly blessed.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings, and love to you all!

Crissi Dillon

Money saving tips for gift giving

On the SantaRosaMom.com forums, a question was asked regarding what the normal amount is for gift giving at the holidays.  Is it $50 per child?  Is it $500?  More?  The answer varies for each family.

I feel so fortunate that we are able to afford gifts this year for the kids to open on Christmas morning.  But there’ve been some years when I saved all year long and still had barely enough to make Christmas special.  Or so I thought.  It seems some of our poorest years were actually our most special as more meaning was put behind family and all we are blessed with rather than what we received off our Christmas lists.

With the economy the way it is, I know there are plenty of families in tight spots as the holidays loom.  It can make the season of giving seem pretty unfriendly.  But there are ways to get around this. Here are six ideas to help you save a few dollars and ensure a very merry holiday season.

1. Go small
My sisters and I would usually tear through the larger gifts at Christmas, but truly savor the ones placed in our stockings.  These were gifts that we never asked for, but took the most thought because our parents picked them out just for us.  Years later, we still look forward to our stocking gifts most of all.  I’ll never forget our very loud reaction the one year my mother insinuated we might be too old for this tradition.  As a result, I’m in my 30’s and still receive a stocking full of fun trinkets that include everything from decorative socks to wind-up toys.  My suggestion is to buy one big gift, or even just rely on relatives for the big gifts, and focus on the stocking.

2. Utilize Craigslist
One of the moms on the forums suggested this avenue as a way to save money, and what she has done herself in years when pennies needed to be pinched.  Some of those larger items your child wants can actually be bought in good second-hand condition without having to pay full retail price.  I’ve seen Power Wheels for $150 or less, toys for under $20, videos and DVDs, bikes, play kitchens, games, and more.  You can even find some quality clothes online from kids who have outgrown them faster than they can wear them out.  Why pay tons of money on something that is still new to them?

3. Skip the baby gifts
Truth be told, babies have no idea what day it is or even what they want for the holidays.  They aren’t even old enough to unwrap presents.  So why spend a fortune on gifts for them on a retail-driven holiday?  Use this time to purchase anything you actually need for your baby – like onesies, clothes, bottles, baby food or even just diapers – and let the relatives spoil your child rotten.  Trust me, it does not make you a bad parent, it makes you a smart one.

4. Toy swap
I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find other families who are looking to save a few pennies this season.  So why not trade toys?  Have your child gather up all their toys they don’t need anymore and host a toy swap party with a few of your mom friends.  You’ll rid yourself of all those toys you’re tired of looking at, and gain some new-to-your-child presents that cost nothing more than a little effort.

5. Make your gifts
Show off your baking skills and save a few dollars by baking cookies, bread, or something else equally delicious for your friends and family this year.  Need some ideas?  Check out some of these submissions for BiteClub’s Cookie Contest with some delicious tried and true recipes by locals all over Sonoma County.  Or get crafty and create a unique one-of-a-kind gift for those you love.  They won’t have anything like it, and they’ll appreciate the thought and care you took to create something just for them.

6. Holiday Service
Just this morning, my son and I sat at the stoplight on our way to school.  On the sidewalk was the old homeless man and his dog we see almost every single day.  Outside, it was colder than freezing.  Judging by the early hour they were standing there, they’d probably spent the night in this cold.  “Should we give him something?” my son asked, and I nodded as I handed him a couple dollars.  We pulled up to him and opened the window, and my son handed him the money.  “Happy holidays,” the man said.  “Rusty and I thank you.”  As we drove away, my son told me how warm he felt inside from this small gesture.  Imagine how wonderful a gift that would be for your child – to feel what it’s like to give to someone less fortunate than them.  Give them the gift of a warm heart by adopting someone from the Giving Tree, offering time serving food at a shelter, donating food or clothing, or even just visiting some forgotten souls at the convalescent hospital.  Trust me, this may just end up being their favorite gift of the season.

What have you done in the past (or are doing now) to save money on holiday gifts?

Best gifts for teens

The most difficult group of people to buy gifts for? Teens. They’ve moved beyond the latest Elmo toys and those cute outfits we love to see them in, and have now developed a taste in style that is as separate from ours as they can get. Needless to say, this makes gift buying for them extremely difficult. Having several teens on my own gift-giving list this year (and knowing firsthand how horrendous the teen gift-buying experience can be), I’ve compiled a smorgasbord of items that your teen may actually crack a smile over….and utter something more than their usual grunt.

1. Video Games
These are a terribly personal gift, and it’s best if you know what titles your teen is asking for before buying, as well as what the games are about if you’re concerned about content. But if you’re looking to surprise your teen, here are a few titles topping the lists this year (with help from our game blogger, Eric Wittmershaus).
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” – A massive, open-world role-playing game full of magic, elves and dragons.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” – Cutthroat mulitplayer that puts players in the role of various manly men fighting World War III against a Russia run by a group of ultranationalist terrorists
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” – The latest, and possibly greatest, chapter of the Zelda series that has Link tormented by dreams, and scouring the dreamy world of Skyloft for his princess Zelda.
“L.A. Noire” – Detective story set in a stunning re-creation of post-World War II Los Angeles.
“FIFA 12” – Sports gamers will appreciate the improvements in this latest version of the soccer game that features improved gameplay, competitive scenarios, and more.
For more video game titles, check out Eric’s blog at gamewit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

2. iGifts
The iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone are topping the lists for technology this year, according to a Nielson survey. And truthfully, you can’t go wrong with these gifts. Not only do the offer tons of uses beyond just listening to music or scouring the internet, they offer plenty of other gift ideas to go with them – accessories, headphones, protective covers, iTunes gift cards… Your whole family will be set on what to get your teen. Thank you Steve Jobs.

3. eReaders
Teens still enjoy a good book, but eReaders give them the ease of being able to dive into a novel without lugging around something bulky and heavy. Those who enjoy reading several titles at once will especially love the ease a good eReader gives them. Topping the charts is the Kindle 3, followed closely by the Nook Simple Touch Reader. The eReader we recommend with the best memory options (though low battery life) would be the Nook Tablet.

4. Clothing
Tread lightly if you plan on buying your teen fashions. Many teens have a very specific (read: picky) sense of style, and will turn their nose up at most of the things you deem “cute”. If you don’t have a specific sense of what your teen likes to wear, it’s best just to take your kid pre-shopping and let them pick out what you’ll be wrapping up in terms of clothing. Or, just keep the receipts for a few inevitable returns.

5. Livescribe Pulse Smartpen
Possibly the coolest thing this self-described geek has ever seen, it’s a way to make note taking easier. The pen records audio and handwritten notes to make studying and organization so much easier. Drool…. Buy it at Amazon

6. Polaroid 300 Instant Camera
Sure, now everything is digital. But what about the retro coolness of the Polaroid camera? Photo buffs will go gaga over the vintage aspect of shaking out their instant photo for a new spin on picture taking. Comes in black and red at HSN.com.

Still strapped for ideas? Here are a few more:

Preppy teens:
Hair accessories
Perfume or cologne
Locker accessories
Leather-bound journal

Sporty teens:
Carrying bags
Team wear
Athletic shoes
Heart monitor
MP3 player
Snow Goggle Camera

Geektastic teens:
Portable speakers
Eclectic alarm clocks
Gaming Chair
Gadget charging station
Laptop messenger bag
Gaming accessories

New Driver:
Personalized license plate
License plate cover
Fun bumper stickers
Antenna characters
Floor mats
Seat covers
Car speakers

Teen Room decor:
Lava lamp
Room fridge
Glow in the dark decals
Random art
Wall clock
Artistic lamp

And more:
Subscription to online streaming site like Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, or Spotify.
Retro style record players
Artist carrying case
Origami kit
Karaoke machine

Teen Stocking stuffers:
Personalized luggage tags
Uniquely styled USB Flash Drives
Room freshener
Fingerless gloves

Picking out a live tree

With all this talk about Christmas Tree farms suffering this season, I thought I’d share my own story of picking out a tree.

When I had lived on my own, I’d succumbed to the plastic tree, saving money with a $20 midget tree we used year after year.  Every time we took it out of the box, the limbs looked a little worse for wear.  But with a little bending and prodding, as well as some strategically placed ornaments, it passed as an acceptable Charlie Brown tree.  When the pre-lit lights started burning out, I compensated by throwing a few more strands over it.  But when we moved into Mr. W’s house, I gratefully placed the tree on the curb to offer to any passerby who wished to become its owner.

But I admit it.  I liked the plastic tree.  It was less hassle.  I already owned it.  There was no pine needle mess, or stray spider nest to hatch in my home.  And while it drooped a little more each year, I was willing to pretend it looked like a real tree.  Sort of.  Needless to say, when we started our holiday planning, I talked up the artificial tree to Mr. W so well that he was sold on it as well.  We started looking through the ads for a quality tree at the right price.

“Wait.  What?” Mr. W’s son asked, suddenly tuning into our conversation.  At 16 years old, it had seemed he’d outgrown the Christmas Tree farm tradition the two of them had held for years.  Previous years, they had always visited the farm to choose a tree they deemed perfect, enjoy a cup of apple cider, and then pick an ornament to hang on the tree before heading home.  But, as most teens are wont to do, it appeared he’d grown bored with the idea.  Even when we’d initially told him of our plans to choose an artificial tree, he barely registered a reaction.  But sitting at the dinner table with us as we discussed buying our fake tree, he took a sudden note of interest.  And my own two kids chimed in as well, voicing their opposition to buying a fake tree.

“But think of the environment,” I squeaked, to which I was quickly overruled by better arguments to my defense.  Trees sold in parking lots would be cut down whether we bought them or not.  Disposing of an artificial tree is worse for the environment than disposing of a real tree.  So is creating one.  It’s good for our local farms.  The kids rattled off reason after reason as to why we should be buying a real tree instead of a fake tree until even I couldn’t help but admit Christmas just isn’t Christmas until the house is filled with the scent of pine.

So Sunday, we took off for Liberty Christmas Tree Farm at 241 Liberty Rd in Petaluma.

Here’s our day, in photos:

First thing you need when you go to chop down your own tree is a sturdy cart and a good saw.  

You also need a sturdy kid to pull the sturdy cart.  Thankfully, we brought the Taz.

Looking for a tree can be a really tiring experience.  I think we saw at least 10 “perfect” trees we were forced to abandon because one of us decided it just wasn’t perfect enough.  This brings me to the next reason why it’s important to bring the kids – child labor.

Ahhh….  That’s better.

When choosing a tree, it’s good to remember that the smaller the trunk, the easier it is to bring down.  Of course, this one got vetoed by the kids.  I don’t know why they got a vote, though.  It’s not like they were cutting it down….

Great job on pulling that cart, Taz.

Oh yeah, we did make the kids cut it down.  After all, that’s why they came, right?

Finally, a tree we could all agree on!

If you take anything from our goofy story, take this – if the tree farm you go to offers to shake out your tree, TAKE THEM UP ON IT.  This not only loosens any dead needles, it also makes sure all living creatures burns off a little fat, kind of like those belted shaking machines from the 80’s.  Oh, and it encourages them to vacate the premises, as well as any nests they may have laid within the branches.  Trust me.  I have lived through a Christmas of baby spiders. It wasn’t pretty.

Finally, a cold day of hunting for the perfect tree deserves a cup of hot apple cider.  Yum!

And now our house smells absolutely wonderful.  🙂  And yes, we do use a Care Bear to top our tree.  What?

Liberty Tree Farm is located at 241 Liberty Rd in Petaluma.  They sell all of their trees at one price, regardless of size.  Monterey Pines and Sierra Redwoods are $42.99, Douglas Firs are $49.99.   They offer tree shaking and netting for an additional $3 each.  Their apple cider is free, and they sell ornaments on site.  They’re open from 9am to 5pm every weekend.  Contact them at 490-6011, or visit their website at libertychristmastreefarm.com.

Anyone else buying from a farm this year?

FIVE ways to avoid the gimmies during the holidays

My son was recently looking at the calendar, counting out the days we had left until Christmas.

“I just can’t wait for it to get here!” he exclaimed.  At the same time, I was going over the mental list I had going on repeat, listing every single item I need to buy now that we are officially in the holiday season. I paused in my checklist and turned to him.

“Really? What are you going to get ME?” I asked him. He took on a deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Uh…” he stammered, quickly switching the subject to something else.

It’s only natural that kids focus most on the “getting” than the “giving” in the holiday seasons. Let’s face it, the holidays are geared around the younger generation with the ongoing commercials of must-have toys and the giant catalogs of goodies from the big box stores in every Sunday paper, as well as all the loudest and brightest merchandise at their eye level in the stores.

Kids want, want, want. And what do we do? Give, give give.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not bad parents for supplying our kids with the things they wish for. And kids are not bad for constantly wanting more no matter how much they have. Regardless of how downhill our economy is, we’re fortunate to be able to offer our kids more than we probably had growing up, and definitely more than many in other economic scenarios. However, we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t also use this time to instill in our kids a virtue of gratitude – especially as the holidays approach. Here are FIVE tips I have to encourage a spirit of thanks in your household – shifting the focus from receiving to giving – starting with this holiday season.

1. Model Gratitude
Just as important as it is for our kids to say “please” and “thank you” for everything they ask for and receive, they should be hearing it from us – their parents. Modeling the behavior we wish our kids to follow speaks much louder than any verbal instruction we could give them, and is an important key in teaching gratitude. Whether big or small, never fail to offer heartfelt thanks for anything that is given to you. Thank the waiter for their service when you go out to eat.  Thank the barista when you grab a cup of coffee.  And be sure to offer your child at least one sincere “thank you” per day, being specific about what they did and how it made you feel. You’ll not only teach HOW to say thank you, you will also be encouraging kind acts from everyone in the family as they feel more appreciated.

2. Grateful Lists
Create time out of each day for the whole family to gather together (dinnertime, for example), and take turns to list three things each person is grateful for that day. Hot chocolate. Warm blankets. Smiles from friends. A favorite stuffed animal. A kind word from a teacher. Doing well on a test. Focusing on all the good things in life every single day serves as a reminder about how fortunate everyone in your family really is. Plus, it may even invite more good things to come your way.

3. Donate.
Whether your time, your belongings, or your money, giving to those in need should be a habit for every family. There are always those in worse situations who could benefit from the kindness of what you have to give. Encourage your child’s help when going through clothes and toys to give away, taking time to discuss who might receive them and how it might help them or make them feel when they receive them. Choose a heart from one of Volunteer Now’s Giving Trees (see volunteernow.org for locations) and have your child help choose and wrap the gift. You can even bring the whole family for an evening of bagging food at the Redwood Empire Food Bank (see refb.org for available times).

4. Thank you notes
It was required of us when we were kids, and it should be required of our kids as well. For every gift a child receives, they should write a note to the person who gives it them. How involved these notes are depends on the age of the child and their concept of understanding. But eventually, a kid should write a note that offers three things – an offering of thanks for the gift, how they will be able to use that gift, and why they appreciate the person who gave it to them.

5. Just say no.
It’s one of the hardest words, but possibly the most important. Don’t succumb to giving your child everything they ask for, or fulfilling all their requests on their gift lists. Let them have the opportunity to earn the things they want by themselves. This teaches them the value of a dollar, as well as appreciating the effort put into each gift they do receive. And it is also a way to be kinder to your pocketbook.

What are some ways you help your kids focus more on giving during the holiday season?

The Richest Christmas

This year will be our fourth out on our own. But it seems like it was only a couple months ago that we were making the jump from a single family living with my parents, gaining our bearings after the divorce. Back then, it seemed so fresh and so new. And while we’ve gotten used to this space we call our own, the novelty of having our own home wearing off, I still find times that I marvel that we’re still surviving on our own.

Four Christmases ago, I think I felt the richest I had felt in a long time. In the corner of our living room was the Charlie Brown Christmas tree we had bought on sale at Kmart, the pre-lit branches of the artificial tree decorated with some ornaments we had bought, but mostly with ones we had made. To us, it was gorgeous. Underneath, the boxes of wrapped presents grew slowly, but surely. It was never a large amount, but it was proof that we could create our own Christmas. I admit that we had a little help from some generous souls. One family we were close to handed me a couple large bills to ensure that I could buy gifts for the kids. And another family opened up their trailer so that I could find some toys to give to my kids, and any other kids I knew who were in need. I filled my car, the blessings overflowing as I shared one family’s generosity with several families I knew who were hurting that year. I think my kids would have been happy with one gift from me, but thanks to all the help from those around, they ran downstairs to see our little pile of gifts grow to a mountain of presents they never had expected.

It was this little Christmas that reminded me of another Christmas years earlier, when the kids’ father and I were still married. It had been a really hard year for us that year. We had suffered a major hardship, and weren’t handling it well. We were ending that year out of work, out of money, and out of hope. But our innocent children knew no better. To them, every day was a reason to be happy. And despite the meagerness of our surroundings, they wouldn’t believe otherwise – that there was any reason why they should feel sorry for themselves. And on Christmas morning, my three year old daughter woke up to the gifts I had laid out the night before – humble trinkets and small toys I had found here and there for a grand total of $30 – and she turned her wide eyes up to me.

“I didn’t think we were going to get gifts this year!” And it took all I had not to burst into tears.

She knew she hadn’t been bad. She knew that, by Santa’s rules, she would be on the “good list” – just as deserving of presents as any other child. But it was suddenly brought to my attention that she knew more than we gave her credit for – that things were tight, and that we were going without at times to make ends meet. And she knew that would affect gifts that year. And yet, that was ok, because there was still so much to enjoy about the year.

In the years past, the kids and I have focused on different things to make our holiday season special. We take a night out to travel the town, in search of a house with the best Christmas lights and holiday display. We bake cookies, several batches at a time, to give out to family and friends, filling our kitchen with the heavenly smells of gingersnaps and our mouths with the decadent taste of snickerdoodles. Some years we catch a showing of the Nutcracker ballet, our personal favorite being the one that the Sebastopol Ballet puts on each year. Soup has become a winter tradition, warming our insides while the winter rages on outside. Every year there is at least one winter drive up to the snow.  And we regularly snuggle up on the couch to take in a movie, pulling out all our holiday favorites. And in these times, I do believe this is the best present of all – the memories we are making every holiday season.

The holidays aren’t just about giving gifts. They aren’t just about finding that number one toy of the year, or buying that expensive video game. It’s not about how many boxes are under the tree, or how much in debt the holiday list put you this year. Sure, kids want presents. But what are they going to remember? The time that was spent with them over the season – the traditions that were instilled in them that they will one day be passing on to their own family.

This year, don’t forget the gift of your time.

As for us, I’m thankful for each and every year we have lived on our own as a small family unit. This will be our final year doing this – next year Mr. W and I are combining our households, mixing our families and creating an all new and exciting adventure together. But for four years, we did it on our own, and had some of the richest Christmases we have ever experienced.