Monday, February 27, 2012

Lady Bountiful

Many years ago, I prepared holiday gift baskets for a few colleagues at work. I had enjoyed several recipes as the Fall holiday season progressed and kept adding another recipe to the list for the baskets. Of course, the old family recipe for Banana Nut Bread was at the top so each basket held a small loaf. Chocolate cream cheese mini-cupcakes was another item that made its way on to the list, just below oatmeal-raisin bars, chocolate chip cookies, fudge, and peanut brittle. I was single and didn’t have many occasions that required baking or candy-making so I enjoyed every stir and sift as much as wrapping each item, then watching the basket overflow.

One colleague acknowledged the generosity and cried, “Lady Bountiful builds a great gift basket!” Thereafter I have striven to amp up both quantity and theme for gift baskets. One year I built a basket around the theme of almonds after I learned that in legend, the almond represents love and hope. Inside were small bottles of homemade almond liqueur, almond cookies, almond butter, and Jordan almonds. Last year, I remembered the nursery rhyme describing little girls as Sugar and Spice and built a basket combining sweet and spicy with jalapeño carrot cakes, chipotle peach jam, Datil-paper spiced black pepper, and dark chocolate flavored with chiles.

Each year I vow that I will give fewer items and spend less, but like most New Year’s resolutions, I never sustain that vow, especially for my daughter. I have always been Lady Bountiful for her--although my intentions were never to spoil. My intentions were to offer a gift for the whole child: intellect and her heart, the physical and emotional selves.

To that end, I gave toys or games, something to stop and play instead of just ripping and tearing gifts open, one after another. We would finish an entire game of Clue while dinner simmered and presents shone in the lights of the tree.

At least one book was wrapped under the tree, something to match her age or declared interests. Other must-haves on the list were pajamas to open the night before, another ornament to add to a collection that she would carry away with her into her own home, a music box to enchant, paint or canvas to cultivate her artistic talents, another to focus her analytical mind, something to stretch her athletic abilities, and something cute to wear. Most important of all was the gift that a person would never buy for himself, something surprising and amazing.

See the problem? Excess. Excessive. Overly indulgent. Over the top, and very difficult to stop once begun.

Recently, while offering another piece of unsolicited advice, a very bad habit of mine, I recommended that my daughter reign in gift-giving when her own first child arrives in early summer. She had already thought of that herself and will limit gifts to something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read plus an ornament to add to a collection for her own child’s holiday tree.

Very sensible, don’t you think? And a perfect example of advice my mother often spoke: do as I say, not as I do (a wonderful little excuse for hypocrisy, but I’ll save that for another day).