Friday, October 21, 2011

A Gift for the Whole Family

Sometimes it's just easier to do one big thing.  Friday Shopping Secrets understands this, and would like to offer some suggestions.  Just remember that little ones like something to open now; I'll be appending ideas for those who cannot experience delay of gratification.  Never fear, denizens, I've got you covered.

I'm a big proponent of experiences over products.  I remember holiday hikes more than what gifts were presented when the Cuters were 8 and 10.  The infamous Christmas of '96 is notable for the absence of appropriate batteries and the crushing misery which followed.  I suppose this counts as an experience; the feelings are certainly more memorable than the actual toy itself.  At least for me.

For several years we instituted a walk through the open space between turkey and dessert on Thanksgiving.  We'd pass neighbors and friends and smile through the introductions of nieces and grandparents and sons-in-law-to-be and then we'd move on, each group self contained yet interconnected.  It reminded TBG and me of similar walks through his parents' suburban neighborhood with his dad by our side.  He never said much, but his pleasure in our company was palpable.  In retrospect, I'm sure he appreciated those early evening strolls much more than the sweater vests and long sleeved polo shirts we sent him as tangible expressions of our love.

Actually, I know that is true.  After his death, we found years of those gifts in his drawers, still folded and pinned and tagged.  Never worn, because he was frugal and wouldn't unpack a new item until its predecessor had begun to fray.  The man had the same pair of shoes for 25 years; shoe trees were his secret.  He was happiest when his family was close and safe.  He lived for the experiences.  It's a lesson we've taken to heart.

So, my first suggestion is Get Up and Move.  Tell the family that walking around the block is their gift to you. In everything except a blizzard this shouldn't be an issue, no one cares how many layers or how silly or how far... it's the experience.  Be sure to take pictures and throw snowballs and ooh and ahhh at the neighbors' decorations.  Drag little ones on sleds or in wagons or on shoulders when they get tired, but walk further, or in a different direction, or out on one side of the street and back on the other - just so that it's special.

I'm smiling just thinking about how much fun you'll have.

Family vacations are another good option.  If your crew can do as modern brides and grooms do, the travel part of the holiday can be postponed to the summer months.  That leaves you months and months for planning and plotting and preparing and excitement.  If funds are tight, it gives you more time to save.  And if kids learn to put off their happiness until it can be shared with others who love them, all the better.  I've never been one to let a teaching opportunity pass me by.

Cornell Adult University is where I'll send you first.  Ithaca, New York, centrally isolated and nearly impossible to arrive at in any but the most convoluted manner, is a summer haven of greenery, water sports, wine tasting and intellectual stimulation.  Once you get there you don't need a vehicle; the Cornell campus is easily walkable.  Should you want to venture off campus, someone in your class will be able to give you a ride.  It's that kind of a vacation.  There are 4 weeks of offerings for adults (the 2012 schedule is not yet available) and age segregated programs for the kids.  Children share a room with a sibling or a new friend, depending on their age, your choice, and the program they choose.  Counselors are with the kids from 8am til 11:15pm; you pass on campus and in the dining hall like happy ships in the night.  Breakfasts are family affairs, so you get to catch up on all the fun that everyone is having.

Looking for something less organized?  How about a multi-family house rental along the coast?  TBG's cousins invited us to spend a week with them at Sunset Beach, North Carolina,  when our children were all very small.  We pulled shorts on over swimsuits when we needed to dress up, grilled dinner outside every night, and played cards and Monopoly til the wee hours with the wee ones taking their turns just like the grown ups.  We were spending no more money on vacation than we would have at home - everyone has to eat, after all.  We shared the cost of the rental which, for a week's stay, was much less expensive than hotel rooms would have been.... and it was a much nicer space.  No one seems to mind sharing a room with 3 sets of bunk beds when you've been playing with your roommates all day long.  By the time their heads hit the pillows they were out for the count.  The ocean is free.... and tiring.

Need an adventure closer to home?  How about leaving a local map and a marker under the tree for everyone who can fit into your car.  Each recipient chooses a location and everyone else agrees to go with a good attitude and a smile.  The Cuters and I did this when we first moved to Marin; bookstores and pet shops and small museums gave us adventures, map lessons, and time well spent together.

Still at a loss?  How about the beach in winter?  The playground with snow?  The fishing pier without fishermen?  Take an August outing and transplant it to the winter months and laugh at yourselves as you scrape the snowflakes off the picnic tables.  I guarantee that the memory will last longer than the Alaska Barbie you buy for your 8 year old.


  1. We are getting ready to go to Walt Disney World at the end of November and we go every other year. My girls know this is their birthday present and they look forward to it. I agree experiences are much better gifts.

    Don't get me started on the NC shore. It's my all-time favorite place to vacation. We do the big house rental with several of our friends and I love vacationing this way. It's so relaxing and a lot less stress. Whenever I ask hubby if he wants to go someplace new, he says, "No, I want to go to the OBX".

    Thanks for today's shopping tip. Have a great weekend.

    Megan xxx

  2. I totally agree. My husband, niece and I are planning a tour of NYCs underground through the manholes. And I'm looking forward to taking my grandchildren to a cave in VA.

  3. Hey y'all. Listen to mom on this one :). In particular I remember a hike in Tennessee valley when I was 8 and had just landed chin first off my bike. Freshly stitched, we hiked the valley all morning with our Whittled by Daddoooooooooo walking sticks and it's one of my most treasured holiday memories.

  4. BIG believer in doing things rather than buying stuff. I too remember the experiences more so than the products. Besides, you don't have to wrap an adventure on the beach, just shake the sand out of your shoes.

  5. Our family: Amazing food, cooking together, maybe a little wine, lots of laughter. No gifts except for the wee ones.... it is such a happier time for all. And I will admit, I'm a little smug when I say to my co-workers, "Holiday shopping? Nah, don't do it, so I'm done!"

  6. Great blog! My husband and I are thinking about planning some fun family activities as a getaway present for the whole family for Christmas. Always a good idea instead of buying everyone something individually that will just end up right in the back of the closet! Thanks for the great post.


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