This summer, I picked up a couple of items that I felt great about buying. One was a pair of leather shoes, and the other was a set of bunk beds for my son (who is still currently in a crib). Both were essentially impulse purchases that I had no direct intention of buying that day, but neither were accompanied by that sinking dread feeling of having spent money hastily or thoughtlessly.
How did I pull that off? I have three little kids, live in a moderately expensive city, and our family job titles over the past 5 years have been student/stay-at-home-parent/entrepreneur. How did I have the money to drop $300 on a bed without pre-planning for it? How do I shop well for great value items with longevity and feel confident & satisfied with my purchase? Here, I present humbly, are my three steps for shopping without buyer’s remorse.
Last Mother’s Day, my sister gave me a copy of Jenny Rosenstrach’s cookbook/memoir/ode-to-“family dinner” Dinner: A Love Story. Based on her blog of the same name, DALS wrestles through the joys & trials of prioritizing a daily meal together as a family.
The book chronicles Jenny’s journey from the early days of her own family – she & her husband working long hours in NYC publishing, then counter-culturally coming home and still cooking dinner – through the punishing years of toddler pickiness, on to the glory days: what she calls “the years the angels began to sing” (i.e. school aged children). Throughout her tales of working and then baby-ing and, the trickiest, working and baby-ing, there are recipes. Oh, there are recipes!
Ever since receiving it, DALS has been a mainstay of my cooking arsenal. I dole out copies whenever I have occasion to, and sing Jenny’s (or Andy – her husband’s) praises when I sit down to yet another reliably delicious meal.
Dinner: A Love Story is a fabulous gift to give to any mom, any aspiring cook, anyone who likes good writing, anyone who enjoys a good laugh… ANYONE! Pick up a copy at your local bookstore if there is a mom you’d like to treat this week.
Another idea in our meaningful gift guide is to cook your Mom a meal. Here are two recipes from Jenny’s original DALS book that you can make for Mom this weekend.
When I began working on our Meaningful Gift Guide for Moms, I knew that I needed to include a section on books.
She always has a stack of books on her bedside and one or two on the go. Her book club has been meeting for nearly 40 years. And her insistence that a great joy of life is that she will never, ever run out of great books to read – well, it has completely inspired me with a passionate love of reading.
Inspired, we’ve compiled a guide of even more ideas, practical tips, & specific goods, all sparked by the idea of a “meaningful” gift – specifically, with moms in mind (and plenty of time for Mother's Day!).
Simple! Just take it.
No bribes. No emails in exchange. Just free. For everyone.
Since dignify began, I've heard a lot from daughters, moms, sisters, & best friends about how happy they were to find such a “meaningful gift”. As I’ve blogged about shopping “good”, I’ve heard even more on this concept.
There seems to be a real demand in our overstuffed culture for more and less: more of what is thoughtful, meaningful, and lasting; less of what is fleeting, excessive, and wasteful.
Anyhow, more on that fabulous gift guide in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, I am now always on the lookout for products, experiences, and ideas that make for great, meaningful gifts.
Gelato Academy?! Say, wha??!!!??
Now, I may have an unreasonable love for frozen treats (cravings in my 3 pregnancies were primarily popsicles, ice cream, & slurpees, respectively), but as far as experiences go, I feel like this should rank highly on anyone’s wish list:
Sooo, I love a good deal. I really do. When Amazon first began gaining traction, it was my greatest delight to find something I wanted on Amazon for a fraction of the price that I could find it elsewhere.
Then, I read about them being the Walmart of the internet: not much concern for anything (or anyone) but the profit statement. I heard about the Hachette debacle. I read that in the UK, Amazon uses a tax evasion practice that enables them to pay less than 0.1% in taxes. And, as my husband was helping to promote & sell a water-purification product, I learned first-hand about Amazon’s aggressively predatory pricing. That is, they constantly scour the internet marketplace for other stores selling the same products, and inch their prices a little bit lower, and lower, and lower. Amazon can still thrive as a business, even with very low margins (selling for just a tiny bit more than the price for which they bought it), because their volume of sales is so high. Small businesses cannot.
It was time. The discounts could no longer sweet talk me. I needed to break up with “the Web’s biggest bully”.
I had mostly been borrowing books from the library, buying used, and shopping for other items at more traditional stores (I can buy running shoes from a local running store – who knew?!). But I’ve always got my eyes open for alternatives to Amazon.
Cue the trumpet fanfare: only last week, I was DELIGHTED to discover Better World Books.
Two weeks ago, I posted this video about the reality of sex work in Bangladesh. Reactions to something heavy & sad like this can be varied: one key response being discouragement.
Plainly: yes. Of course this is true.
How can I make a difference in the face of big problems? We can be tempted to stick our heads in the sand, because otherwise the scale of issues becomes all too overwhelming.
There is also an undercurrent in our culture that says it must be “all or nothing.” Anything in between is slapped with the greatest of insults: hypocrisy. Words without actions are meaningless, and even worse: an action that in any way betrays your words is crucible!
I obviously don’t think well-intentioned people should be puffed up with big talk and no action (raising awareness, anyone?). But, I also disagree with such a simplified reaction. In reality, we live in constant tensions!
So,how can we move from overwhelmed to empowered?
Seasonal consumerism gets a bad rap, and never more than with Valentine’s Day! It’s gaudy, it’s excessive, it’s unnecessary… What can I say? By and large, I agree.
Are gifts altogether bad? Does a tangible, physical item have to fall under the ethically-minded, wannabe-minimalist’s (that’s me, btw) no-no list of “stuff”?
Here’s my problem. I don’t like “stuff” (or “junk”), but I do like gifts. I like giving them, and I like receiving them.
I love donation gifts like a chicken or goat or school supplies; I also think “experience gifts” or other alternatives are also brilliant! But, I also like to wrap a thoughtful gift, place it in someone’s hands, and see them handle it, use it, & enjoy it.
I asked some friends, customers, & followers about meaningful gifts they’ve received in the past from a mate/love-of-their-life/partner-in-crime. Here is a list of some faves:
One of my favourite and longest jobs was at the old green mermaid, located in a busy office tower in downtown Calgary. The shifts were early (I am an early riser, so, no trouble there), the store was busy, and the clientele were largely regulars. As a social extrovert, it was a perfect part-time job for me while I was in university.
A side effect of this particular role was seeing people around the city and recognizing them by their drink. Tall drip (ha!). Triple Venti Latte. Grande Nonfat Hazelnut Steamed Milk, aka “Tough Guy Special” (TGS on the cup). I would see them at a Flames game, or out for dinner, in the lobby of The Christmas Carol or at the park by the river; I saw those drinks walking around everywhere!
I remember at one point looking across the room at my church and seeing a man whom I recognized. Tall dark. Sometimes a bran muffin. He wasn’t chatty, but without fail, he came in every day for that coffee.
A few weeks later, on a Sunday morning, I was in the lobby at a booth chatting about volunteering when up walks Tall Dark. I start chatting him up with the familiarity of old acquaintances, until I realized that he was looking back at me as if he had NEVER SEEN ME IN HIS LIFE!
I tell this story because in our shopping culture, and especially at this time of year, it is easy to forget about the humanity of the people behind the cash register.
Party season is in full swing, but what truly makes a great event?
There’s Martha and her ruler-spaced candlesticks; Epicurious & Williams-Sonoma (& the rest of the internet) offering festive recipes and drink pairings; Pinterest has an unending supply of décor ideas; but in the end, what makes for a holiday event that stands out in the surging sea of parties, gatherings, & get-togethers?
I’ve enlisted help from the best & most prolific hostess I know to offer her thoughts on the what and the how (and a little bit of the why) of being a great host.
Carolyn & Peter love hosting people and have built their life (and their home) to suit. Their house has been the locale for numerous birthdays, dinner parties, farewells, welcomes, retirements, and, during this month, their annual Sunday evening celebrations of Advent.
After attending a number of these events, I can say without hesitation that a party at their house is always a good time!
But it’s not just the food (which is delicious) and it’s not just the company (which is delightful). They have a way of hosting people whereby the guest feels so very, well, hosted! People feel cared for and appreciated. You get a sense, as a guest, that while a lot of work has passed to pull it off, they’re just thrilled you are there to enjoy it.
Once, as we left from a birthday party, my husband said, “That party was for Carolyn’s birthday, but it really felt more like a celebration of their friends. They showed us a good time!”
(C: I know that you’re reading this, and that you’re thoroughly embarrassed. Noted.)
I asked Carolyn to share in her own words how they host people in this way, and some tips & tricks for how they pull it all off with a large crowd. Read & learn! [I’ve got my notepad ready…]