I did not leave the house today.
After a warm and relaxed combined Thanksgiving with our friends Courtney and John, the kind of meal where every dish is stellar and you leave, hugging folks on the way out who you met for the first time on the way in, waking up at the ass-crack of dawn this morning to jostle and shove people out of the way just so I can buy STUFF seems like a total slap in the face to everything I said I was thankful for yesterday.
At the same time, while today is Buy Nothing Day in our household, I do not want to sound like a holier-than-thou hypocrite. I like things—gifts, presents, trinkets, baubles, tokens of affection. I love to give and receive jewelry (ahem, anyone notice the bday bling courtesy of my sweet spouse?), mix CDs, spa gift certificates, kitchen accessories, homemade goodies, books, sweet-smelling soaps, etc. There’s something very satisfying about presenting someone with a gift you know they will enjoy but might not have bought for themselves.
What I have a problem with is buying for buying’s sake—this idea that, at the holidays, we have to buy a gift for everyone in our life. Because we feel obligated to? Because the economy needs stimulating? Because it’s what we’ve always done?
Many people are starting to buck this tradition, turning instead to gift-raffles, family name-draws, charitable donations, or homemade presents. I feel lucky that my family, friends, & co-workers aren’t caught up in the gift parade; if we see something we think someone else will like, we buy it for them. Barring that, we bring each other specialties from our respective kitchens, write thoughtful cards, spend time in each other’s houses laughing, and don’t worry too much about the “balance sheet” of friendship.
As I look around my house today and see my two favorite women in the world, my mother and Jill, this sweet dog Dolly in my lap, and two sassy cats sleeping on the bed, I know there’s not a thing in the world that I need, but there might be a few things that I want…I just have to make sure I am mindful of the difference.
THE BLUE JEAN GOURMET GUIDE TO MONEY WELL-SPENT
Start here. Stop here, too, if you can:
Heifer International–Heifer works to end poverty and hunger by gifting animals to families in needy communities around the globe. Every animal, be it a water buffalo or hive of bees, can both feed its recipient family and be used as a potential source of income. Heifer’s holistic approach includes integrating local customs, respecting the dignity of recipients, & requiring that every family “pass the gift” when their animal reproduces.
Wounded Warrior Project–The WWP seeks to honor and empower severely wounded servicemen and women, many of whom often tragically slip through society’s cracks when returning from active duty. Given the nature of the ongoing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more young men and women are face disability and mental trauma, sorry repayment for the invaluable service they have provided.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres–This international organization works in over sixty countries to assist men, women, & children whose lives are threatened due to violence, neglect, or catastrophe. Winner of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, MSF is full of stories that break my heart and make me think twice before I open my mouth to complain.
Water.org–Sobering facts: 3.5 million people die each year from water-related disease; An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a developing country slum uses in a whole day. Donate to Water.org and help build wells, sewer systems, and sanitary drinking lines for the one billion people world-wide who don’t have access to safe water now.
CARE–My father gave consistently to CARE his whole life, because he particularly respected the way they work with women to fight global poverty. CARE believes that by equipping women with the proper resources, they then have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. More and more studies and reports back this hypothesis up.
This list of more traditional gifts is far from definitive and certainly biased in light of my own preferences and the preferences of those I tend to buy gifts for. Please do leave any suggestions of your own in the comments!
INSPIRATION = customized stationery or thank-you notes (I’m partial to this purveyor), a bold, beautiful scarf from your local museum gift shop, a J. Crew gift certificate, a case of her favorite wine, a set of luxurious-thread-count sheets, first-edition or signed copy of a book that’s been important to her.
Melissa Borrell Jewelry–Distinctive and finely crafted, Melissa’s jewelry is sold in design shops and museum stores across the country. She’s a hometown (Houston) artist, so I’m extra excited to share her work with you.
Victoria’s Secret Pajamas–Satin pajamas were a gift from Jill a few years ago and I am still in love with them. Too frivolous for me to have bought for myself, I feel so luxurious, indulgent, & movie-star-like when I wear them.
INSPIRATION = a nice bottle of Scotch, a sturdy, waterproof watch with some gleam to it, vintage vinyl, a well-crafted pocket knife, Apple store gift certificate, first-edition or signed copy of a book that’s been important to him.
Ray-Ban Aviator Sunglasses–Why mess with a classic? A good pair of sunglasses can do a lot for one’s swagger.
iDesign Dock with Power Speakers–Reasonable price, sleek design, badass sound. Works for iPhone or iPod.
INSPIRATION = high-end candles, an unusually shaped vase, magazine subscription befitting her interests, pre-filled photo frame, cashmere sweater, a copy of the children’s book she read to you over and over again with an inscription from you on the cover page.
Reusable Shopping Bag–I received one of the Reisenthal Mini-Maxi Bags as a teacher gift a few years ago and have been buying them myself as gifts ever since. Perfect stocking stuffers, they work well for groceries or gym clothes, beach bag or yoga-mat-carrier.
Quilted Jacket–My mom bought herself one of these L.L. Bean Jackets in Cranberry Red and loves it! It’s quite easy to guess jacket size, but if you get it wrong, L.L. Bean has a very forgiving return policy & excellent customer service.
INSPIRATION = a grill or grill accessories, food-or-wine-of-the-month club, magazine subscription befitting his interests, pre-loaded ipod, expensive & silky dress socks, a copy of the children’s book he read to you over and over again with an inscription from you on the cover page.
Jerky of the Month Club—This one really doesn’t need an explanation. At the very least, this gift is least likely to be duplicated by a sibling or relative.
Classic Leather Jacket–This sleek zip-up may not be your dad’s style, but bombers and motorcycle jackets are also to be found. Remember, it’s our job to help our dads be stylish. Don’t fall down on your duty!
For the Foodie:
INSPIRATION = really nice stemware, quirky tea towels, a gift package of your favorite locally-produced goodies, a stack of cookbooks, a set of nesting mixing bowls, fancy salt, a stunning platter.
White Truffle Oil–D’Artagnan is the place to find gourmet goodies, but if you need a sure-to-please gift, try this truffle oil. Packs an incredible flavor and can be used in dozens of applications, from risotto to pasta.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese–Jess of the beautiful blog Sweet Amandine turned me onto these folks and I’m so glad she did. You can order their Cheese of the Month or buy a la carte from such goodies as their “World’s Best” Mac and Cheese Kit or 6th Anniversary Collection.
For the Bookworm:
Of course, taste in books is highly personal, but here are some old & new BJG favorites. Each title links to a description.
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)–I took this book home one weekend and couldn’t put it down. I then passed it along to Jill, Sonya, Courtney, John, all of whom had similar responses. Even better? Catching Fire, the sequel, is just as good.
Beastly (Alex Flinn)–Every one of my students who have read this modern re-telling of the classic story of Beauty and the Beast has loved it, and you can feel good about gifting it because the messaging is solid. A movie based on the book is scheduled to be released next year, so get them to read the book first!
the dead and the gone (Susan Beth Pfeffer)–Another riveting, intense piece of young adult fiction that translates easily to adult readers. I’d especially recommend this one for young men or reluctant readers.
Willful Creatures: Stories (Aimee Bender)–One of my all-time favorites, this collection of stories is astonishingly creative and moving.
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)–My favorite book club read of 2008. Highly inventive, blooming with verve.
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife (David Eagleman)–Devoured this in a few afternoons. Perfect bedside-table book because you can pick it up here and there without missing a beat.
Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children (Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman)–Jill ordered this after we read these authors’ Newsweek cover article, Is Your Baby Racist? Urgent arguments, substantive research, approachable tone.
Losing Mum & Pup (Christopher Buckley)–A fugue of a book from a square-jawed author. Incredibly touching, especially as someone who has experienced the loss of a parent myself.
Color: A Natural History of the Palette (Victoria Finlay)–I bought this book at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift shop and read it on the plane home. It’s a stunning account of where color comes from, with travel vignettes I still recall vividly.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan)–This book has become somewhat ubiquitous, but for good reason. If you haven’t read it yet, do. A book must be powerful if it convinced Jill to buy organic dairy!
For the Pet/Pet-Owner:
INSPIRATION = goodies from Doctors Foster & Smith, handmade wool sweater from Chilly Dog Sweaters, a new collar or leash from Swanky Pet.
Homemade BJG Dog Treats—as featured a few months ago, these Peanut Butter Treats have never met a dog who didn’t wolf them down!
Furminator—The most incredible pet brush I have ever experienced, with both dog and cat incarnations. It seriously changed the quality of life for this multi-pet household! Worth every penny.
For New Babies/Expectant Parents:
INSPIRATION = restaurant gift certificate to the couple’s favorite restaurant, a “coupon book” for future babysitting, body butter & other bath goodies to pamper the pregnant , classic children’s books to build the baby’s library, a diaper bag with a sense of style.
Urban Tots—All kinds of cuteness available here, but I’m especially fond of the Fruits & Veggies onesies, with colorful silk-screened designs and clever slogans: 100% Organic (broccoli), Ripe (banana), Squeezable (orange). Packaged adorably in green paper berry crates.
Urban Smalls—because every baby needs a vinyl-backed bib that says “MUSH: IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER.” Other fun baby hats, pants, onesies, & shirts are also available.
For the Kiddos:
INSPIRATION = a Kiva credit, allowing them to finance microloans to entrepreneurs worldwide, movie gift card, gardening gear to help mom & dad, a purse or wallet for that grownup sensation.
Ugly Dolls—So ugly they’re cute. Even big kids like them!
The Lightning Thief series–Conceived by author Rick Riordan, these novels draw upon ancient Greek mythology to imagine a world where the gods and goddesses of Olympus are alive and well (and living at the top of the Empire State Building). A great choice for kids from 8-14.
Duross & Langel—I fell in love with this haven of thoughtfully made bath-and-body goodies on a recent trip to Philadelphia and came away with adorable shark-shaped soaps for my godsons, Moroccan Cedar shower gel for Dave, hand-repair salve for my mom, and dermabrasion face cream for Jill.
Lake Champlain Chocolates–Yeah, I’m kinda obsessed with these people. They’re a small-batch operation with excellent customer service (Once I placed a big birthday order for a friend using the wrong address. Needless to say, it didn’t reach her, but even when I realized my mistake and offered to pay again, they sent a duplicate order to the right address free of charge). Everything they make is delicious, but allow me to recommend Vermont Country Gift Basket, Hot Chocolate Sampler, & Organic Holiday Truffles.
BUILT NY—These are the folks responsible for the good-looking neoprene protective coverings you’ve been seeing everywhere. From laptop sleeves to lunch boxes, you could (literally) have everyone covered with one order.
& last but not least…
Your local bookstore—If you’re not sure where to find an independent, locally-owned-and-operated bookstore in your town, consult this list. Then plan to spend a good hour or two browsing and setting aside goodies for the ones you love, knowing that the staff will be much more likely to actually help than at a big-box store. Though a local bookstore’s inventory will be smaller, keep in mind that they can almost always order a particular title for you at no extra charge.