My house is a wreck. The sink is full of dishes. I’m not entirely sure I have any clean underwear,* but I don’t plan on finding out today because I don’t have time for frivolous things like taking a shower and changing clothes.
In case you can’t tell, the holidays have hit us square in the face. Merry Christmas and Happy Holy Hell I Have How Many Days Left to Shop?!
Yeah, that would be one day, in case you are counting. From the high frenzy on twitter, I’d say lots of you are counting. Also? Panicking just a bit about last minute gifts as though you’ve been caught naked on your front porch while your better-prepared older brother looks on. Ahem.
With that in mind, I wanted to share what we did for gifts this year because with one Christmas down already, our choice has worked out well and saved us a lot of stress. It also resulted in a lot of “Us, too!” when I mentioned our plan on twitter.
In our family, we have four Christmases. One with my family , one with Maguire’s family, one with just us, and then Santa comes. That’s a lot of Christmas, particularly when you are short of funds, time, and energy.
This year, I decided that my most valuable gift to give is energy. That meant going light on price and heavy on thought. I aimed to maintain one goal:
Give with meaning.
Broken down, it was really simple: We don’t have a lot of money right now, but we wanted to thank those that helped us make it through 2009. We wanted to acknowledge the value of family, the only thing that matters in the long run.
So? We gave photos.
Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds corny and it elicits a “How vain of you!” snarky response from my younger brother every time I give him a framed photo as his present, but it just works.
Look, I can bargain shop with the best of them. I know how to spot a $50 home decor item at TJ Maxx for $7.99 from across a sea of frazzled last-minute-shopping heads. But at the end of the day, it’s still just a piece of something that could end up in a garage sale five years from now. Not that I don’t love gorgeous somethings that could end up in a garage sale, but this year’s needs felt different to me.
For whatever reason, stuff feels more like stuff this year.
I want to surround myself with reminders of how full my life is in ways that can’t be mortgaged or repossessed or laden with an interest rate.
Come to find out, so does everyone else in our family.
In lieu of the fancy and frivolous, I spent hours selecting and editing photos of our family taken throughout the year. I chose funny or emotional photos, nothing too staged or gorgeous. Definitely nothing that resembled:
To highlight the photo, the real gift, I bought incredibly simple choices, mostly black wooden frames with very subtle detail. This works out well on the “light of pocket” front. In fact, I found a ton of great choices at Michael’s arts and crafts store, which has desktop frames for 40% off right now and wall collages for 50% off. (found this on my own, by the way; Michael’s didn’t pay me to share this with you)
The key being a framed photo. We all say we’ll frame photos ourselves and never get around to it. In fact, I’ve noticed that for a lot of us, the only framed photos we have around the house are ones that have been given, already framed.
For approximately $10 total per gift, I was able to give thoughtful gifts my family will love all year.
We had Christmas with my family this Sunday. We did give everyone a little something that wasn’t emblazoned with our smug mugs, but one thing never failed: The most emotional responses were to the framed photos. By far.
My snarky little brother? When he opened his frame, he said, “How vain of you!” right on cue. But then?
“No seriously, the only pictures I have in my apartment are the ones you give me. My friends always ask about them.
I love ‘em way more than that crappy abalone obelisk you gave me 5 years ago that was supposed to bring me money and power.”
I expect to see that $50 obelisk on a garage sale any day. It should be powerful enough by now to bring him approximately 50 cents.
PS- Rereading this quickly written post, I realize that I: 1) failed to spell out that the point is not to be embarrassed by giving family photos as gifts and 2) said it was a good last minute gift AND that I spent hours editing photos. Okay, so don't be embarrassed, because family photos make particularly poignant gifts during a recession AND you don't have to spend hours editing photos. I'm just really picky and also bad at making choices so I printed out 99 times more photos than I used. The end. Happy last minute!
*The irony of the “no clean laundry” is not lost on me and I promise to tell you all about how our work with Tide Loads of Hope went once the holidays have released their vice-like grip of glitter and glow.
**Be sure to click on the old photo above for the source at Awkward Family Photos and see how not to stage your holiday photos this year.
My husband loves to read autobiographies of entrepreneurs like Richard Branson. Stories of how today’s successful innovators first found inspiration, what they had to overcome, how they failed and failed and failed before finally finding success. And often how they proceeded to fail again but knew to keep moving forward.
Yet, when we stumble and fall, he sometimes becomes more discouraged than expected. Often, it’s just his way of unloading some grief, but I always take his pain to heart and try to fix it. I’m a man like that and sometimes don’t know how to just listen and not fix.
When we hit particularly rough patches that begin to wear us down, I tell Maguire that this struggle is just a chapter in the greater autobiography of our lives. This challenge is the rising action before the climax of our novel. Without this hurdle, we would never be moved to find the stepping stones that will raise us to the next level.
These hard days of Broke Young Family are a chapter in the book our lives’. One chapter. We will make it to the climax.
We remind each other of that when times get tough, when money runs out, when it simply seems like we can’t bear any more burden. It lets us step back and look at our lives from a broader view. It gives us hope and helps us keep moving forward.
This Christmas, we are very nearly out of money. Hospital bills are piled in front of me (love you, Olive-at-archive-reading-age, you were 100% worth it and Mommy is just a little tired in 2009), December’s utility bills have yet to be paid, we’re behind by half a payment on student loans (loans which outweigh our mortgage, thank you), and no Christmas gifts have been purchased, yet.
I sort of want to cry a little.
But I know. I know that ten five years from now (how hopeful am I willing to be here, huh?) , we’ll look back at these hard days of Broke Young Family and remember them fondly. We’ll remember them as simpler times and miss the baby fat of our youth and our young.
I know that things will get better. I have hope and I believe.
I believe in us.
This holiday season, I am returning to a place of what surely seemed like lost hope to me, once upon a time, and I’m paying it forward. Because I do have hope and I also believe in the power of giving, particularly when you have nothing left to give.
Tide Loads of Hope is returning to New Orleans this weekend, no new natural disaster in sight, and delivering free laundry services to families in need. This time, I’m going with them, getting my hands dirty (or is it clean?) with Deb on the Rocks and Mishelle of Secret Agent Mama, thanks to an insightful sponsorship that I’m proud to acknowledge.
Join the Loads of Hope for the Holidays carnival, hosted by Blog Nosh Magazine (for which I am founder and editor-in-chief) and sponsored by Tide Loads of Hope, and spread your own personal message of hope. The stories we are receiving so far are stunning in their intimacy, heartening in their humor, and inspiring in their hope. We would be honored for you to add your voice to this resounding chorus of talent.
Lend your voices now, then participate live during a two day event in New Orleans, Sunday and Monday, December 13 and 14, (with a special surprise event on Saturday to be announced soon!) as we tweet stories of resilience from laundry recipients and volunteers on the ground. Follow along on twitter via #loadsofhope and be sure to follow @TideLoadsofHope.
More importantly, engage with us and tweet back your own messages of hope, helping us show the residents of the Gulf Coast that their voices are still heard and their stories still remembered. The Loads of Hope truck just completed a stop in Atlanta, GA, and will be on their way to Louisville, KY, so help us spread the word and reach out to families in need of a break.
Help us show them that this time of heart wrenching blows to pride and confidence is a vital chapter in the story of their lives. But only one chapter. So much beauty is yet to unfold in the pages ahead. Our character development has just begun.
From failing, you learn. From success… not so much.
When you join the carnival with your messages of hope, be sure to invite your own readers to participate in this online event by linking to the chocolate-covered center of the carnival at Blog Nosh Magazine. You are invited to grab any of the Tide Loads of Hope graphics you see there and here, including the tee shirt badge below (linked to http://tideloadsofhope.com), as all proceeds from sales of Tide Vintage Tees support the truck and keep it on the road, ready to help when disaster strikes nationwide.
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