Good Gifts, Charlie Brown

Gift Giving 101

The Best Guide for Gift-giving This Year

Between the Christmas Basket Toy Drive and the upcoming Christmas festivities, there was a good deal of talk about gift-giving (and getting) in our house. It was time to take matters into hand and offer a gift-giving lesson as part of our school day. Sitting at the dining table, I got out the flimsy Target dollar section whiteboard and blue dry erase marker and printed the words, “Good Gifts Charlie Brown.”

In our home, gifts may be purchased, made, or given from what one already owns, but all these options must meet particular criteria to be a good gift. Note, this lecture was given to a six, eight and ten-year-old.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Criteria #1: a good gift is not broken.

Mainly applicable when regifting something from around the house or an item you’ve loved. You may not mind the chip in the dish, the snag in the blanket, the missing doll foot, the crack in the toy teapot, but unless this is a hot collector item and you know the recipient has a yen for it, skip any pieces that are broken.

Criteria #2: a good gift is complete.

Sugar bowls without creamers, a nearly complete Lego set (unless your thing is giving bags of miscellaneous pieces, this one is flexible), a crocheted project you just did not feel like finishing (even if you call it a blanket for a doll). The gift should be whole and complete, whatever that means for its given category.

Criteria #3: a good gift is (mostly) recognizable.

It is okay if as your recipient pulls out item after item from the gift box if you exclaim out of unbridled excitement, “it’s a bedding set!” or if you need to explain how something works, but if your recipient could end up with a face expression implying “what do I do with this?” your gift may need some work. It is okay to introduce someone to something new, but the less recognizable the more uncomfortable the recipient may be in attempting to show gratitude.

Criteria #4: a good gift is a thoughtful gift.

The best gifts are ones that are selected by asking oneself what does the recipient (1) want, (2) use, or (3) need? We should not choose gifts based on what we want, but what we think will best please the recipient.

How do we know what the person will want, my son asked, or more accurately, complained, “but I don’t know what Ace likes…”

How do we know what a person will like? We ask what does this person do, use or say?

How does he spend his time? How did you pass the time when you were last together? In what projects have you seen him engaged? What toys did you two play with (in the case of Ace)? Knowing all this, what’s something you could buy? Legos!

What do we see Grandma doing? Baking! What does she use? Cookie sheets! Cookie cutters! Baking things! What should we buy her? Baking things!

Planning to make something instead of buying something? Excellent! The effort that goes into homemade items shows great thought. But just because I can make white linen pillowcases doesn’t mean that Farmer Tom wants a set. Thoughtfulness wins over the effort in this case.

And lastly, Criteria #5: a good gift does not empty the bank account.

If I want to buy a flask for Farmer Tom, Legos for Ace and cookie cutters for Grandma and after picking all my items I find that they will cost $30 and I have $20, I need to pick something else. There isn’t more money. I should not purchase on credit hoping I can work it off pulling branches for my parents.

If I add up all the items and they cost $30 and I have $30, great! Hold it, it should not empty the bank.

I should decrease my budget of what I can spend so I am prepared in the case of future emergencies (like an opportunity to buy a cookie when we are out shopping). Plan your budget ahead of time and adjust the gift-giving plan accordingly.

I hope this tutorial has been helpful, either in your own gift-giving or prepping the smaller ones among you for the future.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Shopping Local

I’m proud of the way we shopped local and DIY for Christmas. Gift giving is one my languages. Here is how it went this year.



How to Style Your Brand – had to buy from Amazon because it’s not sold other places, which means she’s is an author with a smaller brand. I’m proud to support that.

Felt ball slingshot – I saw this first from Magnolia Market in their magazine. Local, in a sense that they are not Target or Walmart or Amazon, but still, the Gaines’ are taking over the world. I found this slingshot at my local favorite, Vintage Market, which hosts a variety of vendors who upcycle, sell antiques and newly made products in the latest and most awesome fashions (rustic and whimsical). At $14.95, the price was comparable to others I have seen. I bought form the maker and when I hesitated about the color, she arranged for me to get the orange I so desired from her a week later.

Mittens – not handmade but also from Vintage Market. When I support sellers there, I support their crafts and the owner of the shop, whose parents ran a shop of a different color before her.


Garden wall art – from Vintage at the Yard, a monthly market with local vendors junking it up. I picked up some army guys on the same visit. Oh, the treasure hunting!


Brownies – my mom is a phenomenal baker and in lieu of payment accepts donations to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We ordered several dozens of brownies to take to hospital staff.


DIY crafts – Dresser from Craigslist, reinvented using chalk paint from Vintage Market to become an armoire for dress-up clothes.

Wall art – Puffins, downloaded from Unsplash and developed at Costco (maybe $4). Frame from Selective Antiques ($2), mat board from Hobby Lobby (Christian-owned business, $7), glass from Home Depot ($5). I do the framing myself

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Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Beeswax and honey products– as of this writing, I have not actually made the candles, but I was thrilled to purchase and encourage my mother’s purchase of local honey, wax, beard balm and lotion bar from Shaffer Apiaries, a family business. This woman has an eye for design. Their displays and packaging are beautiful. Buying from the maker means better costs, she explained, when we marveled at 32oz jars of local honey for only $12 (if you are spending less than that at the store there is a good chance it is not pure honey). My plan is to buy vintage glass from local thrift or antique shops to turn into unique candle gifts.

We make other gifts for people: photo books, wind chimes, letter art, gift baskets with homemade bread and paintings.

I do not know who they survey when the news reports families spend an average of $1000 on gifts for Christmas. We spend a lot (not nearly that much), but it is joyful, not obligatory and Christmas comes but once a year. There were some other store-bought items, to complement the kids’ request to Santa for roller skates.

Not everyone enjoys gift giving. For us, it is a way of expressing gratitude and sharing joy and friendship with others. It is not about the dollar amount or the number of gifts, but the thought and time that goes into. Because of that, I am proud to shop locally. Those are the gifts that give in all directions. As I read on Facebook, when a small business owner makes a sale, they do a little happy dance in their hearts. We know the feeling.

Merry Christmas!

Weekend Links 11.11.17

Let’s start by dipping into heavy today:

So grateful for this deeper look at grief by Verily.

Here is a novena to St. Louis Martin Novena: For depression, anxiety and mental disorders. Beautiful.

Fr. Dwight LONGENECKER considers what invisible forces (be it mental illness, meaninglessness or demonic influence) may have motivated the killers in two recent massacres. We ask that question in the face of senseless violence. I do keep turning in my mind Viktor Frankl’s psychological approach, that finding meaning in what we do is the answer to everything. Fr. Longenecker writes, “If this is the case, then the natural causes are exacerbated by a worldview and philosophy that is nihilistic. If these men had no religion and no belief in an afterlife, then there was no hell to pay and no heaven to win. If that is the case, and after death there is nothing, then human life is expendable.”

This is on my mind as we travel next week, “How to protect yourself during a mass shooting.” Barricade or run, do not hide and stay there. “Talking about these attacks can be difficult and heart-wrenching. But we can’t avoid preparing ourselves just because the topic is disturbing.” One of the survivors of the Las Vegas attack knew his exit route ahead of time, not because he anticipated a shooter, but because he is trained to consider what to do in an emergency, look for a route out, in case of any type of emergency, such as a fire or medical. We can be prepared without being paranoid.

And then go light:

Thank you to all Veterans for your service! I was privileged to cover the dedication of the Veterans Memorial Wall in Hughson yesterday for the Hughson Chronicle.

I think this list is really good. These are the basics for the kitchen, yet we’re drawn into to buy sets of things, which has stuff we do not need, and then we must replace the one or two items from the set we used regularly. Thinking about my kitchen, I think we are getting close to replacement time for some items. Not listed on the website, we have been very happy with Ikea items for the kitchen.

In preparation for the Beatification mass, Fr. David Preuss, OFM Cap. sent this out to the email list:

Dear Fr. Solanus Devotee,

We realize that not everyone was able to secure tickets to the November 18Beatification. We hope you can join us in spirit by watching (or streaming) the Beatification Mass. Broadcast details follow. Please note that the Mass Program will be posted online on this page:

The program will be posted online shortly before the Mass begins. (Please do not request a copy of the program. It will be available online.)

The Beatification Mass will be televised and live streamed. If in Detroit, CTND will be broadcasting as will WDIV on its digital sub-channel MeTV (Channel 4.3 over-the-air) and on ClickOnDetroit. It will also be carried on Ave Maria Radio.

For those outside of Detroit, EWTN will be broadcasting or you can view the live stream from the Fr. Solanus Guild website here:

It will also be livestreamed via Father Solanus Casey Facebook page:

Weekend Links 9.2.17

Eleven endnotes to enlighten your off-time.

‘Tis the Season:

It’s my favorite time of year! Time to watch the marketing frenzy, time to be told in order to celebrate we must spend, time to see American resent that retail worker must work on Thanksgiving but do not shed a tear over movie theater staff or police officers, time for Christian get up in arms about the commercialism of Christmas while they themselves go to just one mass on Christmas and deck their halls with Pottery Barn. Where is the medieval spirit?

  1. For those of us who delight in material gift giving (damn Love Languages) check out what you can buy from religious orders before you shop at Target.
  2. Halloween products are out at the Dollar Tree and Raley’s. In the spirit of the holiday creep, enjoy this article defining another animal symbol. Your way through Medieval art and Halloween decor.

Now, the less light-hearted…

On or against religion:

Wikipedia defines iconoclasm as “the social belief in the importance of the destruction of usually religious icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons.”

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the doctrine, practice, or attitude of an iconoclast.” So helpful, iconoclast is defined as

  • a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration

  • a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions

  1. New Advent’s Catholic encyclopedia will tell you the history of iconoclastic persecutions in the Catholic Church. If salvation history teaches us anything about how things connect in time, it is worth understanding the history of iconoclasm from new Pharoah’s obliterating the images of their predecessors, to religious persecution to this modern political ideological warfare. Who are the victims in each case?
  2. Lately, we see symbols associated with racism or sexism being toppled in public parks, and even, less dramatically, in Catholic schools.

Some symbols should go, I agree. But rational thought is required to determine which ones. Teach required to demonstrate the value of others. Why we have a Harvest Goddess in Turlock but the Ten Commandments removed defies understanding. Some times I think our society is more comfortable with pagan images because they do not believe in them, whereas their heart strings tug with guilt at Christian symbols they wish to dismiss.

3. We have a tendency to reduce people to symbols. Thus the boy who wore the gray becomes a symbol of racism. If racism must be overcome, symbols honor racism must be destroyed. Along with that, we blot out our history and dishonor those who were just doing their best. We close our ears at hearing the other person’s story. This modern iconoclasm is disturbing to behold.


On earth:

  1. We are praying for the people in Texas and this devastating hurricane. With each tragedy, thanks to social media (which is not obsessed with Trump like mainstream media), we can hear stories of heroism. Here is one such story in the water with a Catholic priest doing his duty. Mothers do not stop mothering, priests do not stop the sacraments. This Catholic priest fulfills the call during Hurricane Harvey. Beautiful!
  2. Other stories in the past of heroes doing heroic things. Heroes are not defined by vocation or gender. This article tells the story of a group of nuns giving their lives to save children.
  3. I had hoped to find a collection of photos from the eclipse like this. Amazing!

On Relationships

  1. When people argue they will not have more children because they desire to give a greater share of resources to the one or two children they have, I wonder if they are thinking of the big picture? What happens when the parents are aging and the care falls on one grown child’s shoulders? What else is this child missing out that other generations may have taken for granted? (These thoughts circle around those who chose, not those for whom there has not been a choice). This article in praise of cousins would be great except modern mobility spreads families to greater distances. If the greatest generation has a greater number of kids, then their children have the trendy number (1-3), and then generation X doesn’t marry or marries but has no children, you end up with no cousins at all.
  2. This piece sums up my experience of how I need to relate deeply to people or not at all. Growing up, I never knew there were so many other deep women in the world. I am finding them these days thanks to the internet and a great blogging/podcast community.
  3. Lastly, be patient! It is hard but think of intentional waiting as training muscles, to prepare you for the things we cannot control.