Two weeks have passed since my last blog entry. Not from lack of material, but rather I have been struggling to focus my ideas. One thought gives way to a host of other avenues and an hour later I am in a place with no real explanation as to how I arrived there. The holidays have me in a serious tizzy. Even now I have a million things I could and want to write, but they are all getting tangled in the proverbial tinsel.
I read an article called “The Gimme Guide” by Penelope Green this morning in The New York Times. It caused me to reflect on my past years of gift giving (and receiving) and realize how I have come full circle.
I was taught from a very early age that it is “the thought that counts” when giving any manner of gift. Simply sneaking out of the house before my parents would wake just to leave letters for them to find later in the day in our mailbox thrilled me! But as I grew older, the focus somehow became increasingly about the gift itself and how impressive it would be to not only the recipient but to the recipient’s friends, family, etc. I felt the pressure to prove myself, to impress and win favor, with the gifts I gave. Suddenly the holidays became much more stressful than I ever remembered them being in the past. Shopping became a chore. Even wrapping the gifts became a project.
When I went off to college, I found myself collecting soda cans in lecture halls for the bottle deposit money to pay for things. Gone were the days of living at home where everything was provided gratis. Gift giving became a “bare bones” challenge. And I found myself falling back on what my parents taught me — its the thought that counts. Having barely enough money to pay the rent one year, let alone purchase gifts at Christmastime, I looked around the apartment for inspiration. Having found my “escape” in baking when I was very young, I always had the basics in my pantry for those stressful moments that called out for creaming, beating and blending. That year I made a few batches of fudge which I divided between the people on my holiday gift list. Much to my relief, no one seemed to miss the store bought gifts with fancy names as they raved about their tiny handmade treats. The following year (and not a nickel wealthier), I added a couple more varieties of fudge and also tried my hand at an assortment of old fashioned stained glass candy.
The years following my college graduation brought me more financial security and, once again, that feeling of “needing” store bought gifts worth “x” amount of dollars to fully express myself. However, I continued my college tradition of creating sweet treats for the recipients on my gift list, too. What began as five simple pounds of fudge divided into dozens of packages in college evolved into thousands of cookies, bars, crumbles, brownies and whoopie pies, that were lovingly packed into boxes, tins and shopping bags, for delivery to friends and family here and across the nation.
I didn’t see it then, but it makes me smile today to reflect on the years and realize that the recipients that really knew me appreciated my handmade sweets much more than any department store package because they knew that was a gift that truly came from the heart.
So, not that I want to spoil the surprise, but there will be no department store gifts this year. Everyone on my list will be receiving a little something sweet from the kitchen…wrapped in a whole lot of love.