“Todo começo é involuntário.” (All beginnings are involuntary) ~ Fernando Pessao

  

December Snow, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones  

“I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed.” ~ Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet 

Cold and rainy here today. No snow. Of course there is no snow. But if feels like it should be snowing. At least that’s what my inner voice is saying. Snow . . . snow . . . snow . . .

University of Alaska Campus, November 2009 by Janson Jones

We haven’t had a good snow in this area for years, which is probably best since everything comes to a complete standstill even with a light dusting. These people don’t know how to drive in the rain, let alone the snow.  And ice? Just stay home. It’s safer.  

Corey and I are talking about trying to make a trip to Ohio for a few days around Christmas. With any luck, it will be snowing, and maybe I can get some good photographs. For some reason, I feel most creative as far as my photography when there is snow. Maybe it’s because I’m really a black and white person as far as my own color palette. I mean, on those quizzes when it asks what your favorite color is, I answer black. On rare occasions I’ll pick red or purple, but mostly, it’s just black.  

I don’t have anything against color, I just happen to like black—black boots, black purses, black pants, black leather jackets. And then there are those 10 or so white sweaters that I have in my closet in various stages of comfort wearability. The oldest is probably from the early 90’s, and it is wonderfully comfortable.  

I know. You are probably thinking that I need to get out more, but even when I left the house on a regular basis, it was mostly black, with some red thrown in and occasionally shades of purple and lavender.  

So shooting pictures in the snow is very rewarding for me. I do have to admit, though, that I haven’t figured out how to set my digital camera to take black and white photographs, so I usually just take out the color in Photoshop.  Not my first choice, but it works. Years ago I had wanted to put a dark room in my house so that I could develop my own black and white film. As with most things, never got around to it, which is just as well since I shoot almost exclusively in digital now.  

“My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing: it should inhibit me from even beginning.” ~ Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet   

White House Image of President Greeting Salahis

On the national front Tiger Woods is doing a mea culpa. Those White House gate-crashers, the Salahis, are still firmly holding to their story that they had invitations (sure, you did), and in Orange County, California, thieves broke into a warehouse and stole food and goods that had been collected for the needy. Robbing Salvation Army kettles, stealing donations—can’t these people pick their targets better? Not that anyone deserves to be robbed, but robbing from those who can least afford it?  Bah . . .  

Don’t ask me how I feel about President Obama’s speech in which he declares that he will be sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.  I am of very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I mean, Bin Laden was in Afghanistan in the first place. That’s where the war should have been fought, not in Iraq. Perhaps if the previous administration and Darth Cheney had been more focused, there would be no need to send anyone anywhere. I mean, 30,000 troops is a lot of people. A lot. And the proclamation that withdrawal will begin in mid 2011 is ludicrous. There is not way to know that in advance. Another open-ended incursion into another country—not the best news, to say the very least.     

And on a final note, I read a disturbing story about a 13-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide because of sexting bullying. Apparently, this young, impressionable girl sent a topless photo of herself to a boy that she liked. Okay. That’s the first problem. The fact that kids, teenagers, young people can take sexually-explicit photographs of themselves and each other with their phones and not be mature enough to realize the long-reaching implications is truly bothersome (the article cites a poll in which 20 percent of teens admit to sending sexually explicit photographs of themselves over cell phones).  Someone else intercepted the photo while using the boy’s phone, and that person spread the picture throughout the girl’s school and even to nearby high schools. Soon after, classmates began a campaign of fierce harassment, calling the girl a slut and a whore when she walked the school halls.  

What dismays me the most about this story is that at 13, girls are in the midst of one of the most confusing times of their lives. Hormones. Emotions. Body image. Peer pressure. It doesn’t matter what kind of home life these kids have, adolescence is adolescence, which is to say, it’s one of the most tumultuous, stressful, suckiest times of a person’s life. The girl did not tell her family about the bullying, and eventually, it became so bad that she felt that she couldn’t go on, and she hung herself in her bedroom where her mother found her.  

Teenage Girls With Cell Phones

So many things wrong with this situation: the lack of privacy as a result of cell phones with cameras, the lack of good judgment on the part of those involved, the cruelty with which teenagers and children treat each other, never realizing just how horribly words and actions can affect a boy or girl who is already feeling isolated, or confused, or sad. It just makes me ache inside for this girl’s family and friends, and it makes me want to throttle the bullies, which, I know, is not the best reaction.  

“But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender.” ~ Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet 

I speak from experience when I say that teenage girls are most vicious when it comes to other teenage girls. I think that the jealousy hormone ratchets out of control with the onset of puberty. These young girls are so starved for attention, even the wrong kind, that idle gossip can soon turn to slander which can then escalate into bullying. Teenage boys, because they have pretty much one main focus, will easily become caught up in these campaigns. No one wins.  

The gossip-mongers learn that being vocal gets them noticed. Their friends don’t want to seem unsupportive, so they join in. The victims, not having endured workforce mongering and backstabbing, are totally unprepared for the onslaught. If you don’t believe that middle schools are hotbeds of jungle socialization, then you are living with your head in the sand.  

Is this solely a family problem? No, because no amount of good parenting can prepare a child for the ferocity of what can go on in school, any school, from one day to the next. Is this a school problem? No, but yes. Teachers and administrators aren’t responsible for peer pressure and psychological factors; however, that being said, they should be responsible for alerting parents and guardians to potential problems when they are aware of them, which in this case, they did not. Is this a societal problem? Yes, absolutely.  

I know. I’m beating that long-deceased horse carcass again, but it would be a lie to say that children aren’t socialized by countless factors from a very young age to fit in, to be pretty or handsome, to get invited to the right birthday parties in pre-school. It starts that soon.  

I know that there is actually no one right answer to this problem. I also know that access to technology is not always a good thing. Witness the number of adults who have made sex videos only to have them surface after the breakup of a relationship that was supposed to last forever.  If grown-ups don’t have enough sense not to do these kinds of things, how can we expect impressionable youth to know better?  

“I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit.” ~ Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet   

I’ve worked myself into a lather, so perhaps this would be a good stopping point. Or perhaps, I should go back to boycotting the news. Whatever.  

Other than those tidbits, not a whole lot else going on. Everyone has retreated to the comfort of their own niches: Corey is on the computer in the dining room; Eamonn is sleeping in his room, and Brett is in his room, probably watching television. I’m sitting here in a white sweater and jeans, Christmas socks on my feet, and snowmen earrings on my lobes.  

Admittedly, it was hard motivating myself to write this post. I played a bit of spider solitaire and then sat here looking at the screen. Turned on one of my playlists and hoped that music would inspire me, but truthfully, it didn’t. So I thought that I’d just ramble for a bit and call it a day, but once I got started, the steamroller took over. Weird how that happens.  

More later. Peace.  

K. D. Lang’s “Barefoot”  

  

                                                                                                                                     

Lyrics to Barefoot  

When the sun goes down here
And darkness falls
The blanket of winter
Leaves no light at all
  

You search for shelter
To calm the storm
Shaking with an instinct
Just to stay warm
  

Chorus:
But I’d walk through the snow barefoot
If you’d open up your door
I’d walk through the snow barefoot
  

You hear the howling
Of dogs and wind
Stirring up the secrets
That are frozen within
  

The ice will haunt you
It lays so deep
Locking up inside you
The dreams that you keep

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I sit and watch the years go by . . .

Picture Collage

Eamonn and Kelsie, Norview H.S. Senior Prom 2009 

“It is the evening of the day” ~ “As Tears Go By,” by The Rolling Stones

Eamonn 1995
Eamonn Four Years Old

Tonight, my eldest son is going to his senior prom. He is taking his girlfriend of six months, Kelsie. May I just pause here for a moment and tell you how old this makes me feel?

In my eyes, Eamonn is still a young boy in grade school, sweet-looking and acting, except for when he is acting mischievous. He and his brother Brett are best of friends, and everyone gets along; in particular, Eamonn and I get along wonderfully. He still believes in me and hasn’t reached the point at which I become stupid and out of touch.

Would that I could bottle that period of time, and dab a bit of its essence on my wrists whenever he is acting like a complete and total jackass, in other words, like a teenager on the precipice of manhood.

 “I sit and watch the children play”

Eamonn 1st & Brett Kindergarten
First Day of School (Eamonn 1st grade & Brett Kindergarten)

But that is not possible. Time passes. Your children grow into teenagers, then into young adults, then into adults. You hope with every fiber of your being that at some point, the lessons that you have tried to teach them and the codes by which you live will kick in and that they will become honorable people, caring people, people who realize that life is more than what is within their small circles of being.

All that you can do is hope, that and try to take comfort in knowing that you have offered the best of your wisdom. But if we are to be completely honest as parents, we must also acknowledge that we have shown them many of the disappointments that life has to offer: a failed marriage, a short temper, an absorption in work. You have shown them these things even though you never intended to do so.

And the world has shown them more than you ever wanted them to know: wars, intolerance, bigotry, racism, sexism, warped views of the roles that men and women can actually play.  If you have been careful, you have tried to balance those images with how you would hope they move into adulthood: more tolerant of others, less disparaging of people who are not exactly what you want them to be, more aware of how much they need to participate in their families, more willing to treat their significant others equally and with respect.

At some point, you realize when they are growing up that you have absolutely no control over certain external forces: the things they see and hear at school, what they choose to do when they are away from you, how they treat their friends, boyfriends, girlfriends. And most especially, how responsible they are in their choices about alcohol, drugs, and sex.

“Smiling faces I can see”

I know that Eamonn has tremendous respect for his stepfather. He loves and admires Corey, which I hope will translate into a desire to emulate the kind of man that Corey is.

makemie woods spotlight
Summer Camp: Eamonn top row, Brett Below

Nevertheless, Eamonn has still not forgiven me for divorcing his dad. He has said it more than once, and always, he says that divorce is the most selfish thing that a parent can do. Even though Eamonn still blames me for the divorce, he always follows those hurtful comments with a statement that he is glad that Corey came into our lives.

I have tried to explain to Eamonn that one of the main reasons that I asked his father for a temporary separation was so that we could get some distance between us in order to reassess what was important. In my eyes, that was our family. I did not want our children to be raised in an atmosphere that was continuously clouded with arguments and accusations.

So I asked his father for a separation. At the time, I never wanted it to be permanent, nor did I want our relationship to end in divorce. I never dreamed that his father would fall in love with someone within two months of leaving us. I never anticipated that he would be so angry at me that he would never consider coming back home. But that is how things played out between us.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. I was no longer walking around on egg shells. The children were no longer subjected to a hostile atmosphere.

“My riches can’t buy everything; I want to hear the children sing”

Brotherly_Love
Brett & Eamonn Ready for Combat (unfortunately)

Certainly, it was very hard being the single parent of three children and working full time. Things did not always go smoothly. But I promised myself that I would not be one of those women who brought a series of men in and out of the house, leaving the children feeling confused and alienated. The end result was that I didn’t date anyone; truth be told, I wasn’t all that interested in dating anyone.  I went out on Friday nights with some friends, but I was always home before 9. I was very content spending one night a week out with my friends.

I was trying desperately to be a good role model, and I know in my heart that I did the right thing when it came to getting involved or dating. Then I met Corey. Neither of us were looking for a relationship, which is why we were able to talk so openly to one another. There were absolutely no expectations, especially on my part because of the age difference.

But a funny thing happened along the way: we fell in love. I introduced Corey to my children gradually. By the time Corey and I got married, there was already an incredibly strong bond between the five of us.

“It is the evening of the day . . . I sit and watch the children play” 

I Am Just Too Pleased With MyselfCorey had a lot of learning to do about parenting, but he adapted and learned, and managed to open my eyes along the way. We all adapted and grew to be a fairly close family. I know that I complain at times about Eamonn, but the reality is that he’s a teenager, and I’m his mother, and the two things don’t always mesh very well. But we love each other. There is never any doubt of that.

 Thankfully, my sons have had a remarkable role model in their stepfather, and a good idea of what it means to have a positive, loving relationship. Corey and I have a big argument about four times a year. When we argue, we try to keep it private, and we do not call each other names, especially in front of the boys, which is so different from how it used to be with my former spouse.

With any luck, the boys, especially Eamonn, will remember these things once he has a family of his own or even when he gets into a serious relationship. He will remember what it means to be an equal partner in a relationship. He will remember how sometimes, one person in the relationship has to do more of the care-taking. But I hope that the thing that he remembers most once he is grown is how important it is to say I love you often, even when you are angry or upset, and to mean it; and also, to love the members in your family openly, with hugs and kisses and a genuine pat on the back for a job well done.

“Doin’ things I used to do . . . They think are new.  I sit and watch as tears go by.” 

In the meantime, I’ll sit here tonight and remember how handsome he looked as he got into the car with his girlfriend. I will wish fervently that he remembers his promise to me to act responsibly, and that he and all of his friends make it home safely.

Eamonn in Papa's hat close up
Eamonn at 1 Wearing His Papa's Hat

No matter how old your children get, you never stop worrying about them, even when they are making you feel as old as dirt.

He probably does not realize it yet, but tonight marks the ending of one chapter in his life and beginning of a new one. He will be graduating in a few short weeks, and he will have to make some life choices. I will be here to help him if he will let me, but I realize that in the end, they must be his choices, even if they are not the ones I would have him make.

Nothing says that I have to let go of all of the pictures in my memory of Eamonn as he has grown through the years, from the moment that I first saw him, to his school pictures in grade school, to his first serious girlfriend, and now, in this closing chapter on high school.

I have always felt so fortunate to have had Eamonn as he came along a few years after we lost Caitlin, and with his arrival, I was finally able to open my heart again, not just to him, but to everyone who mattered to me. Eamonn taught me how to take chances again, and nothing that happens, nothing in the world will ever diminish the importance of Eamonn being my saving grace.

Just as his sister before him and his brother after him, I will have to let Eamonn go at some point, but that does not mean that I will ever love him less than with all of my being.

More later. Peace.

“Insanity is hereditary—you get it from your kids.” ~ Sam Levenson

"Bathe in me mother and child" by Warwick Goble

“Bathe in me mother and child,” by Warwick Goble

 

“Well, everybody hurts, sometimes” ~ From “Everybody Hurts” by REM

“Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him.” ~ Dr. Henker

Migraine Brain
Migraine Brain

I’ve been wiped out for over 24 hours now with a killer migraine. I had to stop taking my migraine prevention medicine cold turkey (instead of the usual method of backing down gradually) because I had developed a rash on my upper body that had blisters. I know—too much information, but I just wanted to explain my absence. I actually spent most of today lying on the bed in the fetal position with cold packs on my head. Even walking into the brighter living room and kitchen caused me pain. Just have to say how much this sucks in case you couldn’t tell how not happy I am.

Mother’s Day is in two days, and I’m also feeling sorry for myself about this. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with eldest son. This time it’s my daughter. She’s been getting progressively aloof in the last four months. Corey and I have been trying to figure out what’s going on. But when I ask her about it, she says that nothing is wrong. This is kind of her normal reaction when confronted: denial.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Stock Photo of Two Little Girls, Sisters Or Friends, Sitting OnI should say that Alexis has always gone through these phases. I remember when she was in school, she and her best friend would suddenly not be speaking, and when I would ask what was wrong, Alexis would say “nothing.” I mean, she and her best friend would be like sisters one day, and then a complete rift would arise the next day. I always found that odd, but I knew that it was none of my business.

I’m not even sure that she realizes that she does this, but she did the same thing at the beginning of last year. She just began to withdraw from our lives, and when I asked about it, she assured me that nothing was wrong. And just as suddenly as she withdrew, she was back, and everything was fine.

This time, her displeasure seems to be aimed at Corey, but we aren’t sure why. Their relationship has been close ever since Corey and I got married, and when her boyfriend got a new job that causes him to be out of town sometimes, it has always been Corey who she calls when she needs something: clogged toilet . . . mouse in a trap . . .  broken coffee table  . . . whatever. Corey would drop everything to help her, even if he was in the middle of something here.

Now, she doesn’t call him at all. He has tried to find out what is wrong, as have I, but the only response we get is that nothing is wrong. She’s busy. I’ve had the same thing happen to me, so I can empathize with what Corey is feeling: frustrated from the lack of information and the ways in which his attempts at reconciliation have been ignored.

“Young girl…violins…center of her own attention” ~ “Daughter,” by Pearl Jam

mary-cassatt-summertime
"Summertime," by Mary Cassatt

As far as friendships are concerned, Alexis is actually a lot like her father and eldest brother in believing in the idea that the whole world revolves around them. Don’t get me wrong. Alexis is a wonderful, generous friend. Always there to help her friends when they need it, and most of the time, always there for her family. Her father was like that; if one of his friends called and asked him to help chop down a tree, he was there. In the meantime, things around the house that needed repairing were never attended to.

Friendships for all three of them are very important. I, too, believe that friends are important, that if a friend needs me, I should be there. However, the big difference is that I put family first. This inability to put family first was a big bone of contention between my ex and myself. It was also what caused Alexis to leave home after she graduated. She was absolutely clueless or perhaps indifferent as to how her actions were adversely affecting her family. We finally had to draw a line, and she chose to leave.

“If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.” ~ Bette Davis

edmond-francois-aman-jean-portrait-of-a-young-woman
"Portrait of a Young Woman," by Francois Edmond

I remember so many sleepless nights during that period, worrying about whether or not she was alive and safe. I wanted to call the police but didn’t. Instead, I would sometimes drive through the neighborhood to see if her car was parked by one of her friends’ houses. In that way, I knew where she was and could take some small comfort in the knowledge that she had found some place to stay.

Oddly enough, our reconciliation occurred on a Mother’s Day when I came home to find a card from her and a long letter apologizing for her behavior. I called her immediately and asked her to come home, and she did. From that point, things were very good, until she began to go into these phases of isolation again.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything.  You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage.” ~ Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986

mary-cassatt-young-woman-reading
"Young Woman Reading," by Mary Cassatt (detail)

When you are a parent, it’s so hard to know if you are making the right choices, if you have made the right choices, if you could have done something differently that might have resulted in a better outcome. I have learned that parenting is one of those on-the-job training situations. You can never be fully prepared, no matter how many books and articles you read. 

There is no other job in the world that can make you feel so completely insufficient and that can cause so much self-doubt. It is a job filled with regret over words spoken in anger and frustration and actions taken in an attempt to reign in unruly offspring. Parenting can make you feel completely unqualified, whether you are raising sons or daughters or both.

“To understand your parents’ love you must raise children yourself.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Mother With Children Klimt
"Mother with Children," by Gustave Klimt

And then there is the “mother curse” that comes back to haunt you: “I hope you grow up and have children exactly like you.” And you do. Your children may not be exactly like you, but they test you in the same ways that you tested your own parents. They push the boundaries and break your heart just as you did the same to your own mother and father. In this way, history does repeat itself.

A friend of mine, in responding to my recent post on Eamonn, had this wonderful analogy: “Raising a teenager is like nailing Jello to the wall.” Oh how true. Except that I would change the word teenager to children, because no mater how young or old they are, your children still retain that ability to make you feel as if you are somehow wanting, unfit, and unreasonable, even when you are certain that you are not.

“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.” ~ David Bly

pablo-picasso-mother-and-child
"Mother and Chld," by Pablo Picasso

In my heart, I have no doubts that Alexis loves me and loves her family. I also know that the very aspects of her personality that grate on me so much are those aspects that are similar to my own disposition: her moodiness, her mercurial swings, her absolute fierceness in her devotion to her friends. So I do keep these things in mind.

Another thing that I know is that I still have the ability to hurt my own mother and she me, even when we don’t intend to do so, which only shows that regardless of age, the relationships between mothers and daughters are fraught with landmines.

The risk diminishes with age and maturity as both parties reach a point at which they understand each other more than they don’t understand each other. But the need to step carefully never completely goes away.

So in the end, I will wait out this current estrangement, try to be patient, knowing that this pulling away is a necessary part of her growing up. And I will try to remind myself not to be hurt, even when I am . . . in spite of the fact that my daughter, who lives in the same city as I, mailed my mother’s day card.

More later. Peace.

“Most people do not consider dawn to be an attractive experience – unless they are still up.” ~ Ellen Goodman

woman-sleeping-by-sandor-liezen-mayer-1867 

 “Woman Sleeping” by Sándor Liezen-Mayer (1867)

“The worse thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s 5 a.m. Do you know where your good night’s sleep has gone?

sleeping-on-keyboardOkay, so it’s been one of those nights. I fell asleep relatively early for me, around 12:30, but then I woke up around 1:30 and haven’t been able to recapture the bliss of a good night’s sleep since. I finally decided at 5:30 to get up and make myself some tea and begin my day by reading some regular blogs. I also thought that if I went ahead and began today’s post that I might be able to lull myself to sleep with the rhythmic sound of the keyboard.

What I did achieve was waking up Corey around 5:45 who wanted to know what I was doing. Nothing. Go back to sleep. And he promptly did.

I hate nights like these. I dose for a few minutes, then toss and turn, but never manage to get into REM. I listened to the sound of the fan, the sound of the toads, the sound of the birds. I let the dogs out twice (they were very confused as they normally only go out once around 3 a.m.). The reality is that I haven’t actually slept through the night since Alexis was born, but I do know how to stumble out to the dining room to let the dogs out (Shakes initiates it) and then still go back to sleep.

Not this morning, though. There was no sleep for this woman. Of course, that didn’t keep Shakes from curling into my side and snoring loudly.

When I let the dogs out, it was lovely outside: cool air, the sounds of nearby birdsong drifting in. Of course, it’s supposed to get up to 91° today. With any luck, I’ll be able to sleep later this morning for little while at least.

I read a post on Maureen’s blog (White Orchid), and she’s getting snow. Of course, she’s in Australia, so her seasons are the opposite of our seasons. With 91° expected here, I think that I might actually enjoy some snow. It’s like I said, we just don’t get much of a spring, which is unfortunate because I love spring.

“For the economy I want workers and consumers to have control over their own economic lives. I want everyone to have fair conditions that fully utilize their talents and potentials.” ~ Michael Albert 

golden-books-tugboat
Classic Golden Book: Scuffy the Tugboat

That would be a nice change for him, for all of us, actually.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself (ourselves?). Corey is being cautious as ever. Can’t say that I blame him though.

“With the changing economy, no one has lifetime employment. But community college provide lifetime employability.”  ~ Barack Obama

After all of my anticipation yesterday, I was too tired to watch Law & Order Criminal Intent. Good thing that it’s recorded. I had never planned to watch it live. I prefer to watch the recorded show so that I can speed through all of the commercials. In particular, all of the car commercials.

It seems that every car company in existence is offering incredible deals, which really bites when you need a car but cannot possibly purchase one. I was just reading that used car prices are down by about 17 percent, 9 percent since January of this year (Consumer Price Index). New car prices have dropped about 3 percent. Great for consumers, bad for car companies.

In fact, the article was discussing those things that have gotten cheaper versus those items that have gotten more expensive since last year. The price drops are pretty predictable: homes, cars, electronics, airfares, alternative energy, toys, and clothing. Prices are on the rise for food, medical care, prescription drugs, college tuition, gasoline, garbage collection (huh?), and beer (too funny) (http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/SaveMoney/7-things-getting-cheaper-7-that-are-not.aspx?Gt1=33009?slide-number=1).

So let me get this straight. The things that we really need (except for beer) are getting more expensive. The things that we might like to have but don’t need to survive are getting less expensive. Makes perfect sense.

“Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great, if it is given with affection.” ~ Pindar

Now I have to take exception with another article that I read on MSN Money: “Gift Cards Are Not Gifts,” in which  the contention is that giving someone a gift card is a faux pas because gift cards are not truly gifts . I believe that this statement can be both true and false.(http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/FindDealsOnline/GiftCardsAreNotGifts.aspx)

rack-of-gift-cardsFor example, someone who doesn’t have a clue about shopping and doesn’t particularly care about personalizing usually relies on gift cards. This can be seen as being lazy, or it can be viewed as better than nothing, particularly when you know that the card came from one of those all-purpose gift card racks at a convenience store.

“Hey look. One-stop shopping, and I can get my beer, too.”

Getting a gift card from a significant other: big no-no. Reeks of ‘I asked someone to pick this up for me because I just didn’t want to take the time to put any thought into a special present for you.’ Can you imagine being presented with a gift card to a jewelry store instead of the jewelry? Ooh. Not good. Kind of like getting a toaster on Mother’s Day.

And let’s face it. What is a five-year-old going to do with a gift card? Get her a talking book so that she can learn to appreciate books from an early age.

However, I honestly believe that there are several situations in which buying a gift card for someone is better than buying a gift. Big example: teenagers. Try buying a shirt for a teenager. Chances are very good that unless said teenager was with you during purchase, the t-shirt will never be worn. You will receive a half-hearted thanks, and the t-shirt will be consigned to the never going to wear pile.

Buying a gift card for a teenager is truly akin to giving him or her money, but the gift card is more responsible. Money will be frittered away in the late-night drive through at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, but a gift card to a store that you know they like and can use is a different story. And trust me, a gift card from a favorite store will get you a big smile and a sincere thank you. If nothing else, a gift card from Target is multi-purpose: consider make-up, cd’s, dvd’s, doo-dads for the car . . . you get the picture.

Another instance when a gift card would be a good idea is you have an elderly person for whom you are buying. Consider a gift card to a grocery store or a gift certificate to a cleaning service or a service that does yard work or washes windows. Elderly relatives do not want another vase, nor do they really need a box of chocolates because chances are they are on some kind of regimented diet. But I advise the gift card to the grocery store with a caveat: offer to drive them. Then you can unload the groceries, and the gift card becomes more personal.

Another person who will appreciate a gift card is a bibliophile like myself. Personally, I would much rather have a gift card to Barnes & Noble than just about anything else from people who do not know me well. With that little piece of plastic in my hand, I can go to the bargain book shelves and peruse for hours, or I can purchase that new title that I’ve been anticipating.

A particularly good gift card for someone who is starting out in the workforce is a gas gift card. Chances are good that this person has not factored in the cost of commuting yet and will be surprised when the gas gauge begins to drift towards E faster than usual.

A good gift card for a co-worker is one for a restaurant that you know he or she likes, or, as in my case, to Starbucks. One year a sales rep gave me a gift card to Starbucks, and she made me happy for a week. If she had given me a box of imported cookies or chocolate, I would have felt compelled to share them and to eat them.

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think, though, that that pretty much exhausts the justifiable situations for giving a gift card. In situations with immediate family members, I take a lot of time and care in selecting presents that are personalized. Sometimes I’ll buy a frame and insert one of my better photographs. My mother-in-law has received a few of these, and she really likes them.

Other good personalized presents include favorite things like gourmet hot chocolate mix for Eamonn, who can’t get enough of the stuff in the winter. Or socks, yes socks, for Brett, who seems to eat them because they disappear so fast. All of my children look forward to their package of new underwear and socks at Christmas. Go figure.

But really, it’s the presents that are made or bought with the heart that count the most. The first year that Corey and I were together, I made him a decorated journal. I used to do this for special occasions for people. I take a big blank journal, and then I paste in pictures that I have collected out of magazines, postcards, cards, quotes that I have typed, photographs—things that remind me of that person.

cigar-boxWhenever I come across an interesting-looking picture in a magazine, I’ll cut it out for future books, and I usually store my pictures in old cigar boxes, or if those are overflowing, I find larger decorated boxes, especially for the larger pictures. I have a lot of images from my collages stored in these boxes as well.

It’s actually a pretty labor intensive project, but it is so rewarding once I have finished it and given it to the person for whom I have made it.  I made one for my therapist when she had her first child. I made one for Alexis when she graduated from high school. I plan to make one each for Eamonn and Brett for their graduations. Presents such as these finished books cannot be found in any store, and, I hope, they reflect all of the love that I feel for that person. 

The bitter irony of this is that I began making my decorated books years before scrap booking was a verb in the lexicon of arts and crafts. My therapist asked me if I thought that there was money to be made in such an endeavor, and I told her that I didn’t really think so since the decorated journals were so personalized. Well, we all know how wrong I was about that. I could have been on the forefront of a new wave. Oh well. It’s really just as well. I probably couldn’t handle all of the fame.

On that note, more later. Peace.