Are you tired of seeing pictures of more food to be preserved? I think for the first year ever I am still quite enthusiastic about finding things to do with what is in my garden. The squirrel instinct has kicked in and I am clearly preparing for a long, hard winter.
But most of this isn't even from my garden. We had Easter Sunday lunch with friends, who are about to go on holiday, and after the traditional Easter egg hunt we were all sent into the vegie garden to pick everything that is left. I came home with more greengages, cherry tomatoes galore, and a bunch of feijoas, which are destined, you guessed it, for the dryer. Sour-sweet and delicious sliced in rounds and dried, they make an exotic addition to winter muesli. And that reminds me, there is a feijoa tree in a local park which I must go and investigate for foraging purposes..
This time of year is birthday season at our house and in the extended family. Now, I knew that when I started Not Buying New Stuff, that gifts would be the hardest. Mainly because forward planning is just not my thing. It takes some prior thought to find the right thing for that special person in an op-shop or antique store or craft market, and then there is, heaven help us, the option of making things myself, which takes massive forward planning, plus skills and imagination. Aaargh!
Judith Levine in her year of Not Buying It, also found gift-giving very tricky. In analysing the social politics of gifting she concluded that The Gift indicates a sacrifice of something that we value, to show that we value the person we are gifting to. In our society we value money more than anything, so expensive gifts indicate a) the amount that we value the receiver of the gift, but also b) the status of our own place in the wealth hierarchy.
Of course, time is also a valuable commodity in our society, so gifts that have had a lot of time put into them are also often valued, especially if skill and taste and expensive materials are added, such as all the beautiful things we saw at the local craft fair we went to last weekend..
So I have been thinking about all these things as the birthday season has been coming up. In our extended family we are not ostentatious gift-buyers, thankfully. The gift is definitely a symbol - I love you and care about you, and appreciate you, here is a little something which represents that fact - this is the subtext to our family giving. So I have never felt the need to go overboard with gifts. However, in my usual haphazard way I generally remember a week beforehand that I need to buy a birthday present, and race around the shops like a crazy person with a half-hour to spare hunting for the 'perfect' gift, then I get the children to wrap it and make a birthday card, and then it sits on the hall table for three weeks because posting it is apparently impossible. The same goes for children's birthday presents, except usually I manage to at least give them their presents on the actual day..
This last few weeks have been more than normally busy and a bunch of family birthdays took me by surprise. Luckily we did spend a Saturday morning at a local craft fair recently, which was fabulous, and we bought a few presents there, but Posy and I had to spend an afternoon in town last week, running around the shops as usual, buying last minute gifts, and also locally made Easter bunnies and bilbies. Actually, despite my shopping-phobia, we did have fun. We stuck to local businesses and the Oxfam Fair Trade Gift Shop, and what we bought was well-made and useful for the people we were buying for, and hardly anything was Made in China, BUT this still isn't the gift-giving experience I wanted in my new simple life of living with less. It also doesn't feel particularly respectful or meaningful to the people I love and who I am giving gifts to.
Here are some examples of the meaningful type of gifts I am aspiring to:
For Christmas my mum gave me a heap of granny squares she had crocheted for the afghan rug I am (slowly) making, and she added some balls of beautiful Australian alpaca wool, you know, just in case I make some more squares myself soon...
For her birthday my mum gave The Girl a dish which had belonged to my grandmother, along with a note explaining where it was from, and what Grandma had used it for.
A friend of mine gave his wife a cake every month for a year - he ordered the cakes from another friend of ours who is a fabulous baker.
Last year a friend knitted me a cowl from lovely soft angora wool left over from a another project she had knitted.
A couple of years ago, for Christmas, The Girl made an origami flower ball for me out of pages from an old book.
It's one of my favourite presents, ever.
Another one of my favourites is the little decorated box Posy gave me for Mother's Day last year. She filled it with plastic jewels, and I can exchange each jewel for a cup of tea, lovingly made by her and brought to me, generally in bed on a weekend morning. She may be regretting filling the box quite so full..
A couple of weeks ago I put out a call for help for good gifts that don't involve Buying New Stuff, and I had a lot of votes for giving experiences. I really like that idea, but most experience gifts are now outside my budget range. I am now the person who gives humble gifts.
Somewhere, recently on the internet, I was reading a blog written by a young man. He had written a post featuring his bucket list, and it included the intention - Give humble gifts. That thought has been going around and around in my head - although unfortunately I can't remember where I found it.
Humble gifts. It is a hard thing to do. Humble gifts reflect on the giver... but just think about the pressure lifted from our lives, wallets and the planet if we could happily give and receive humble gifts. One woman on a forum that I read recently said that she gave her home made jam as gifts. Just jam. That's it. To everyone. She hoped everyone liked jam...
I love gifts of jam. Another friend gave me home made chutney for my birthday last year. I loved that. I tried to have a gift-free birthday party last year, but everyone, everyone brought a gift anyway. This year I might get people to bring food for the party, so maybe they will feel better about not bringing a present then.
Because here is the thing. We can love each other and appreciate each other without exchanging Stuff. We all have enough already. I don't know about you, but I already have all the doodads I will ever need. But I can always use another jar of jam. Or chutney. So last time a friend had a birthday, I gave her jam. It felt awkward because usually I buy her a nice doodad from a lovely and tasteful doodad shop. This year, home made plum jam, and plum pancake syrup. Maybe next year limoncello.
So this is me in the centre of my Swamp of Doubt about being a social outcast, having idealistic intentions to make gifts meaningful, but realistically falling back on jam. Which is meaningful in a small way. And at least not Made in China, and mercifully not ever requiring dusting..
And what was lovely about our Easter garden bonanza, is knowing that I have friends who share my values - that food is precious, especially food we have grown ourselves, and that gifts of cherry tomatoes, feijoas and greengages from a friend's garden are significant, meaningful and wonderfully useful all at once..