Giving thoughtful gifts

The Art of Giving

“For it is in the giving that we receive.”-  Francis of Assisi

It is the season of giving and Francis of Assisi was right – it’s better to give than to receive. Just watch a child’s face on Christmas morning or see the look in your spouse’s eyes and you quickly realize how much fun it is to give a gift. It isn’t always easy finding the right present for some people, so you are not alone in the often frustrating, stressful practices of choosing gifts. But if you let go of convention it can become a wonderful experience for both you and the recipient. It’s a testament to your personal growth when you spend more time and thought making others happy than on thinking about what you’ll get.

Gift-giving practices vary around the world. For instance, in China, giving a clock is bad luck. In Russia, you should bring bouquets with an uneven number of flowers – even numbers are for funerals. If you want to make a Swede happy, liquor is a favorite gift. In some places, the color of the wrapping paper carries meaning and in many countries people give gifts for the New Year.

Here in the United States, the practices of gift giving are a bit more straight-forward (though a vacuum cleaner for your wife may not go over well.) So why the struggle? Probably because we want to get it right, we want to make the other person happy, and we want to experience the lift that comes when someone appreciates our efforts.

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving” – Mother Theresa

While the route to achieving great personal growth centers around evolving to a more mature and meaningful approach to life, the same can be said about giving. It’s no longer about making a show, or competing with others.  One of the most  powerful, advanced emotions is love, so if you come from a place of love when you give, then you can’t go wrong. It honestly doesn’t matter how much you spend or where you get your gift. As cliche as it may sound, it truly is the thought that counts.

Focus on the gifts that express the kind of love you have for that person. This could mean getting them something they truly want, even if it’s not what you would have chosen. It could mean wrapping them in the things that make them feel safe, nurtured, or appreciated, like food, homemade crafts, or comfort items.The practice of giving food is a common one across the globe. Whether it’s homemade treats, locally- crafted gourmet food baskets, or even restaurant gift cards, the gift of food expresses love. While the food itself may not last, the experience of sharing a meal is a universal expression of camaraderie.

Photos and memory items also make touching gifts. You may give a long-forgotten old photo in a frame, a photo book of the newest family members, or pass on a collection of love notes bound and presented to the person who wrote them years ago. Whatever the choice, reaching out and touching hearts can go a long way this gift-giving season.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

Presents given to our family and friends represent one type of giving. Consider also giving your time to a lonely acquaintance, or making a donation to a loved-one’s favorite charity. The true art of giving is best achieved when you share with those who truly need.

While the latest gadgets will break and the toys, games, and other goods may soon lose their lustre, gifts that come from the heart will last. They evoke memories, make new ones, or touch a place in the recipient long after the holiday season ends. Gift giving is an art, but it is a skill that anyone can master.



Shop local at locally owned businesses

Shopping Locally – A Gift to Yourself and the Community

Often we  tend to think of convenience before other factors, especially when it comes to shopping or dining in our community. Big box stores provide the one-stop opportunity. While there are occasions when visiting one of these stores may be necessary, there are many reasons to support locally owned and operated businesses.According to the Small Business Administration, only about one-half of new establishments survive 5 years or more. Motivation to patronize a small local shop could be that we don’t want to see anyone fail. I believe, however, that in this age of “connected disconnection”, people search for ways to feel a real sense of community.

You could dash into a large, impersonal store to pick up most of what’s on your list and it would certainly save you time. But think about what you’d get from visiting smaller, locally- owned stores. There’s a personal boost that is accompanied by a financial boost to your area.

  • Smaller, locally owned and operated businesses help strengthen the local economy. Money that is spent there is returned when profits stay in your community.

  • The “mom and pop” stores tend to give back quite a bit to the area as well by donating a portion of sales to local charities, schools, or organizations.

  • Having small, locally- owned shops gives your area much more character. The look and feel of these businesses tend to be more unique, making the shopping and dining experience more interesting.

  • Local businesses tend to be viewed as more trustworthy. Word of mouth is powerful, and if someone has personal experience with a business owner as part of or outside of their work, it can go a long way towards creating a good reputation in business. It can also work the other way around. Knowing several small business owners, I can honestly say they are far more interested in providing a positive experience to their customers.

  • Environmental impact is a substantial concern today. Locally owned and operated businesses typically have less impact on the environment because they often stock, or use, local products and ingredients that don’t have to be shipped from across the country.

  • Product selection in small, family-owned shops tends to cater to the specific local population.

If solid, trustworthy business practices, environmental benefits, and the desire to invest in the financial well-being of the community aren’t the only thing that matters to you, there is another very good reason to take advantage of shopping locally owned and operated stores and restaurants. The personal experience you get when you stroll into a small shop can make you a true believer. The absence of the hustle-bustle and cold, generic reception will start your experience off on a positive note. Being able to take time to talk with someone about the products makes you a more educated consumer. Feeling welcome and valued as a customer will prompt you to return.

Whether you need to purchase a last-minute present for the holidays, or you need a bite to eat while doing your shopping, visit a locally owned and operated business and give yourself, and the community, the gift of support.





Eat healthy this holiday season

Find a New Bliss Point – Eat Healthy This Holiday Season

It’s the time of year when parties and family gatherings are at a fever pitch. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, the holiday season packs on the fun but also packs on the pounds. So why is it that people feel compelled to binge on unhealthy food this time of year? It may be to acknowledge that the days are special by doing something different. It could also be the notion that this is the time of year to “gift” yourself with a little something extra. Whatever the motivation to overeat, it is possible to thoroughly enjoy the festivities while consuming foods made from healthy ingredients without sacrificing taste.

 Consider this – the average American will consume close to eight thousand calories on Christmas day. Add to that the parties where it’s easy to take in thousands of calories in food and beverages in one evening, and soon you’re looking at a true case of overdoing it. So why do we want to eat so poorly?

The Cravings

There is a physiological reason we crave certain foods, particularly those that are high in sugar, fat or salt. Most of us have experienced the craving for one or more of these ingredients. Companies that manufacture food actually measure the satisfaction of their foods based on something called the “bliss point”. It’s the specific amount, or combination of these ingredients, that generates the most pleasure when consumed. Until that bliss point is reached, people will continue to eat foods that contain these ingredients.

 Combinations of certain flavors such as salty and sweet or crunchy and creamy can achieve the ultimate in satisfaction. The texture, chemical interaction, and base ingredients can all work to sabotage your desire to be healthy. It’s a challenge, but you can find a way to fight the urges to achieve that bliss-point through food.

Bring a Healthy Dish

How do you combat the assault of the fatty, sugary, salty treats that will be spread out in front of you at every turn over the holidays? Know what you’re eating. The best way to know what you’re consuming is to either make it yourself or purchase it from an establishment that routinely offers healthy, local food that isn’t loaded with sugar or fat. Most party hosts would be grateful if guests contribute to the food offerings. If you bring a dish, make it a healthy one that you can eat if there are no better options.

 Many appetizers and canapes don’t seem highly caloric, though they can be. Because they aren’t filling people tend to consume several. Prepare a dish made from healthy ingredients but with plenty of flavor. Generous use of seasonings and spices can take the place of the flavor provided by the fat or sugar content in many foods. Consider the texture and flavor combinations above and come up with a dish that will satisfy certain cravings in a healthier way.

Give Up the Guilt

Often people overeat at parties because they don’t want the hostess to feel bad that no one is eating. When someone goes to the trouble of preparing food for guests, we wouldn’t feel right about there being a lot of leftovers, or for them to feel that no one was enjoying the food. So, the solution is to gobble up more than we intended in order to make a show of support.

No one’s feelings will be hurt if you sample a few items and then compliment the chef on their spread. Find your holiday bliss in the company of friends, the sound of the music and laughter, and the beauty of what’s around you.

You may feel the best way to celebrate the holidays is to indulge, just this once, in caloric, sugar-laden foods. Consider this however, will you be celebrating after you’ve overeaten and feel guilty about what you’ve done? Allow moderation and healthy choices to be the gift you give yourself. Celebrate by remembering the reason for the party.





Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights

Bright Lights Any City – Experience the Wonder of Holiday Displays

I would like to be a kid again, especially during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice to experience the wonder of the season with all  that excitement? As adults we race around town to purchase gifts and prepare for guests, but what if you could recapture the sense of awe you had as a child or at least put the stress aside and simply enjoy the moment? A tour of a local holiday lighting display can do just that!

Last holiday season I took a tour of the “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights” display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I was reluctant at first but turned out to be one of the best holiday experiences of my life.  A self-guided tour, the Botanical Garden display sprawled across 30 acres of nature’s beauty. Enhanced by sparkling lights, the grounds were transformed into a tastefully designed exhibit that brought a sense of awe and wonder.

It’s hard to describe the sensation of nature mixed with radiant lights and perfectly selected musical accompaniment. It wasn’t the synchronized holiday music some people create in their yards but lovely classical or jazz tunes that suited the scene, or strolling carollers that made you want to sing along. As we meandered through the transformed gardens, I had the sensation that I too was being transformed. Amazed by the spectacle, it was as if I was in a dream – each luminescent display growing more wondrous than the last. I felt like a kid again, as mesmerized as my son at the joyous colors and twinkling  lights.

I noticed that others around us were feeling something special too, the comments I heard around me and the smiles people gave me indicated that this community was bonding as if we’d discovered a secret too good not to share. As we sipped hot chocolate and wandered the grounds, it struck me that something so simply beautiful can do more to put you in the holiday spirit than almost anything else. It was no longer about the shopping, the stress, the pressure to create our own extravaganza, this was a moment to soak in the feeling of being a kid again.

While “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights” is a unique program years in the making, there is likely something similar in your community to explore. It may be a driving tour of light scenes, or a local attraction breathtakingly lit. Whatever the scenario, take a chance and marvel at something as simple as holiday lights. If you do, your holiday season will be bright.


Written by: Brenda Homrich  – Brenda grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and currently works there as a content writer.

Image: Butchart Gardens Holiday Light display.


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