Category: gift

Against Wedding Registries

It’s the year of weddings in my world: five (six?) different celebrations over the next four months. I’m fortunate that all of them are within driving distance, and two are actually local. I am lucky to have such dear friends who are honoring me with an invitation to a milestone event in their lives.

But I have more than a twinge of cynicism about all the money and gift-giving and hoopla of the wedding industry. In 2012, when the average wedding cost was $27,427, the median was $18,086. In 2011, when the average was $27,021, the median was $16,886. I mean, even a below average’ wedding of $15,000 is a TON of money. As one writer aptly noted, “The couple spent the equivalent of a down payment on a Lexus for one day’s worth of partying.” (In contrast, this awesome piece from A Practical Wedding summarizes my feelings).

And what’s a celebratory union without presents?! There’s an engagement party, a bachelorette party, a bridal shower, a lingerie shower, and of course the wedding itself. Despite lengthy registries, none of the couples who will be tying the knot NEED anything. They all cohabitate, several jointly own homes/pets and/or cars. They successfully cook using existing knives and grills, take trips out of town, own matching sheets and towels, have health insurance, and generally purchase their own goodies and services.They’re successful, educated, independent adults.

So what do I buy them? Do I really need to purchase a $350 Caphlone pan to send them my love and best wishes? A new grill — even though I know the current one works because I’ve eaten burgers made on it? A bag of tea votives they could pick up at IKEA for $25? It feels like I’m just buying them stuff they already own. Or, I’m buying them something that they just don’t want to buy themselves.

The phrase, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ isn’t just an outdated 1960’s adage. We own a lot of STUFF, and even when we donate it to charity, it leaves a mark. I’m not an eco-green maniac but it’s hard to ignore pieces like Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry. Here’s how a Slate author phrased it:

We could have registered and asked our friends to buy upgraded pots and pans for ourselves. But we didn’t. After all, if we really wanted fancier stuff, we could have just spent less on the wedding and more on housewares. Wedding presents for modern cohabitating adults with established households are in the pure realm of deadweight loss—you’re buying things for people that they haven’t bought for themselves because they think they’re overpriced.”

Ranting and idealism and heavy sighing aside, gift giving isn’t going away — not for birthdays, holidays or weddings. Tradition demands it and social norms uphold it. And let’s be honest – getting presents is fun! But there are a few creative alternatives to registering for a set of bamboo sheets:

1. Local Registry. It’s only available in New Hampshire at the moment, but I see this catching on and spreading like wildfire: NearbyRegistry.com. “Find gifts from your favorite local shops, service providers, and nonprofits.” Sometimes the best painting is from a local artist and not a box store. (Full disclosure: I own a giant framed photo from Crate & Barrel and love it.)

2. Experiences RegistryWed & Wish. Register for an experience. As one couple who used it noted, “We were already living together and we didn’t need more stuff …The honeymoon experiences [our friends and family] gifted us were incredible! We got a bicycle ride in Kyoto, a picnic in a cherry blossom spot, a bottle of champagne in a Ryokan, and Shiatsu foot massage.” Ding ding! And it’s got a cute site: here’s a sample registry.

3. Gift Rocket. It’s a website to buy online gift cards to anywhere. The recipient chooses how to receive the money — a prepaid debit card, direct into a bank account, via Paypal or check. Yes, it’s a glorified way to send cash but at least you’re giving something useful.

Easy DIY Cinnamon Ornaments

The promised result
The promised result

I’m fortunate to have several friends with toddlers who enjoy crafting. The daughter of an art teacher, I get a kick out of helping kids use their hands to create something original and full of pride. I remember how much fun it was to paint a ceramic in elementary school then proudly present the mottled heart box to dad for Father’s Day, and to get sticky fingers and glitter everywhere making glitter pinecones for holiday presents.

Using Pinterest as an inspiration and thinking about kid-friendliness, I rustled up the materials for DIY cinnamon ornaments.  Crafting doesn’t have to be expensive, and simpler is better — (I mean, do you remember my failed DIY Tin Lantern?) So I figured it doesn’t get much easier than a two-ingredient recipe from McCormick for cinnamon ornaments.

Before you endeavor on this little baked craft adventure, a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Toddlers like to eat things that look like cookie dough. Toddler review: “It tastes fpatsey.” Me: “Fartsy? It tastes like farts?!” Mother Translation: “He says it tastes spicy.” Ah.
  • One batch made about 12 ornaments. The attention span of these lovely 3.5 year old kids was about one ornament per child. I got an extra 30 seconds if we drew the letter of their first name.
  • These are not fix ‘n forget items. They bake for 2.5 hours.
  • Use the plastic wrap as stated and roll the dough 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. I made some too thin that they were brittle and snapped.
  • The holes you make for stringing through ribbon will shrink. Use a big straw, or 2 holes next to each other.
  • Unlike sugar cookies, if you put these on the cookie sheet with a crack in the dough, the crack will not fuse. Keep the dough wet-ish by adding more applesauce.
  • Accustomed to decorating sugar cookies, I found the plain surfaces dull and attempted to add some decorations via toothpick drawings. You should pass on this. Plain is perfect.
  • Find cookie cutters before you start. Unless you like circles from glasses in various shapes, in which case, make sure you have very clean edges.

For the record, these turned out mostly fine. Not awesome, and also not bad for a first attempt. All’s well that ends well. Definitely worth an easy $8 and some crafting. And I think my mom will like a homemade present from one of her little girls.

The actual results
The actual results

10 Gifts for that Hard-to-Shop-for Man in Your Life

It’s the time of the year when I take stock of who’s on my holiday list: who gets a gift, a gift and a card, just a card, or merely a passing wish for a warm holiday season. Which brings me to the task of shopping, and the hardest folks to shop for – men. Ya gotta balance  interesting, playful, practical, humorous — things that speak to their inner geek or a treat they wouldn’t get themselves.

Women, we’re easy. There’s a standard repertoire of gifts that make us happy: champagne, a spa pedicure, dinner out where we can dress up a bit, new bubble bath, smelly candles, nice picture frames with photos of loved ones included, gourmet cheeses and dark chocolate, a relaxing massage, a hand-written letter, a clean house, tickets to a show or movie we like…you know the drill.

These 10 gift ideas are aimed more at the Brother-Spouse-Significant other audience than Grandpa Joe, but to each family, their own. I present 10 unique finds to get you started shopping:

1. Bacon Necktie: $19 from Amazon. The world of bacon accessories is astounding: bacon bandaids, bacon candy, pork books, bacon cuff links. You name your bacon product and you can find it. For the men in your life who wear ties with some disdain, this  noose, er, necktie, may lift their spirits.

2. Hans Solo Frozen in Carbonite iphone Case: $17 on Etsy. C’mon, this is classic Star Wars. How cool is it to have Harrison Ford’s face of pain on the back of your phone?! This will get you bonus points. If your guy is into Star Wars, this lightsaber corncob holder is pretty kick-ass too.

3. Mustache Bandaids: $10 on Bezerk. It is Movember after all, when men grow out their facial hair to raise funds  that support prostate cancer and testicular cancer initiatives. If you’re nixing the facial hair, there’s always the option of a beard hat. Especially if you live somewhere really, really cold.

4.  Of-the-Month ClubPrices vary – From Of the Month Club. There’s something for everyone: mustard, beer, hot sauce  wine, nuts, bagel, flowers, fruit…Not convinced? Here’s an interesting article on the rise of specialized of-the-month-clubs. The best part of these clubs is the joy of a package each month!

5.  Ninja Knife Magnets: $18 from Cool Material Shop. My family is big on stocking stuffers, and these would fit perfectly– both in the stocking and in the category of stocking stuffer.  They’re not big enough to wrap but area a little humorous something that makes for a conversation starter.

6.  Star Trek Pizza Cutter: $30 from Space.com Store. In elementary school my sister and I raced home from school to catch the 3.30 pm episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed by Duck Tales. With the return of Star Trek via lovely Chris Pine, a new generation (ha!) will come to appreciate the Enterprise. Okay, so maybe I just really want this.

7.  Gun and Target Alarm Clock$23 on Amazon. Few people enjoy being roused from their slumber. BUT, wouldn’t he find it a bit easier if getting up involved shooting a target? With settings from one shot to five (easy to hard), this could also improve his reflexes in case of a zombie apocalypse. Just sayin’ – we watch a lot of Walking Dead in my house.

8.  Craft Beer Home Brew Kit$50 from RedEnvelope. I actually bought a beer making kit for my dad, and he enjoyed making, tasting, and naming his brews. I enjoyed sampling. I’ve tasted beer brewed at home from guys aged 23-65 years old. My dad’s Knights of Columbus group has an annual taste off, and plenty of my peers pick it up as a hobby. Heck, DC Brau’s was started by two guys brewing in their basements and now it’s a thriving business!

9. A Book from GQ’s Best of List: Prices vary, list from GQ. Sometimes the men in my life enjoy the books I read, but usually our tastes for pleasure reading are quite different. Rather than giving them YOUR favorite book, take a tip from the GQ guys. Their Best of 2011 list published last December list includes 21 options, and I presume a 2012 edition will emerge soon.  You also can’t possibly go wrong with purchasing everyone you know a copy of  World War Z  by Max Brooks.

10.  Mini Guitar Cast Iron Skillet: $16 from Lodge.
A cast iron skillet is a gift for life. Why not spice up cornbread and muffins by adding a touch of the arts to his cooking? Forget Le Creuset; the Lodge has a variety of other skillet, cooking, baking and grilling items – including those in bright colors – and they’re less expensive.