Tag Archives: holiday gifts

In Praise of Scroogenomics

Scroogenomics

Yes, I fully realize I’m a bit of a killjoy, posting a review about a book called Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays

And yes, I fully realize the irony that a good many Eleventh Stack readers might very well be out doing the exact thing that economist Joel Waldfogel cautions against, instead of reading my brilliant review of this intriguing book.

To that I say, bah humbug.  Because really, it is high time that someone tells it like it is in regards to holiday gift giving.  It isn’t a secret that every year we spend way too much on gifts people don’t want, don’t need and would never buy for themselves.

Walk through a major department store in December. The aisles are blocked not just with panicked shoppers but also with tables covered with “gift items.” In the aisles near the men’s clothing department, you’ll find lots of golf-themed knickknacks — mugs festooned with golf balls, golf club mittens, brass tees, and so on. Would anyone buy this stuff for him-or-herself?  Does anybody want it? I’ll hazard a “no” on both counts. But it’s there every year, along with singing fish — and it sells — because of a confluence of reasons that together make a perfect storm for wasteful giving (6).

According to Waldfogel, we spent $66 billion dollars on this type of crap during the 2007 holiday season (and that was eight years ago!). He breaks down how he came up with this $66 billion dollar figure in great detail, including examining the retail sales for November, December and January. You’ll just have to read the book for those calculations, while trusting me that his math makes much more sense than mine ever could.

Where the wastefulness comes in is with an economic term called “deadweight loss,” which describes “losses to one person that are not offset by gains to someone else.”   The way I understand this is if you buy me a sweater for $75, that same sweater might only be worth $25 to me.  (Or, in other words, if I was to purchase said sweater for myself, $25 would be the maximum amount I would personally spend.)  Hence, the “deadweight loss” is $50.  That’s the wastefulness aspect of the holidays and when you multiply this by billions of crappy cheesy sweaters and stupid singing fish, then you’re talking some big bucks being wasted.

I think this is a concept that most of us kind of already knew, but seeing these numbers tossed around is sobering.  It makes me want to never buy another thing again, for any holiday.

One might think that the solution is to give gift cards, which is logical and reflects the increase in gift card sales in recent years.  But Waldfogel states that even gift cards (while a better alternative to yet another FORE THE BEST UNCLE! golf mug) have some negatives.  They expire.  They get lost.  Sometimes they are for stores that the recipient isn’t interested in.

Waldfogel presents (heh … pun not intended) his theories in great detail, with many supporting facts.  Scroogenomics is more wonkish than whimsy, and since I’m not a mathematician (despite sometimes playing one in my day job here at the Library) some of the number-crunching made my eyes glaze over a bit.  Waldfogel calculates and compares the United States’ holiday spending with that of other countries and with the amount spent in decades past, as a way of stating that this over-consumption of gift-buying isn’t new. It’s a valid argument and one that makes much sense.

(And cents.)

Although Scroogenomics has a bit more highfalutin math than I was expecting, I still enjoyed this book, which I borrowed from the library (naturally).  It’s an eye-opening read jam-packed with information and facts that would likely appeal to fans of Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell (which I am.). It’s the epitome of efficient (it’s about the size of my palm) which makes for a fast (and sobering) read.

Bah humbug.

~ Melissa F., who hasn’t bought a single holiday gift yet and is more inspired than ever to procrastinate on her shopping.

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It’s Time to (Fake it Till You) Make it!

I love crafting. I mean, I can’t actually knit or sew, and my competence level with most wood-working tools is spotty at best, but give me some glitter and glue and I can spend hours in a daze, making a mess and sticking things to cardboard. Most level surfaces in my house are filled with random half used but never put away craft supplies from me; I promise my husband just loves it. On a positive note it has encouraged my daughter’s creativity. She loves to ‘do crafts with you mummy’; typically that means she wants to use all the glue and all the glitter on one piece of foam, but who am I to stifle her creative process? Although it kills me to see literal mounds of the good stuff, Martha Stewart  glitter, under the table or in a house plant but…creative process, right?

This time of year is especially great for us economically stunted, wanna-be crafters, a special sub-category of crafters who love to look at websites and magazines and think “I could totally do that on my budget” before accidentally burning our house down with a forgotten, rogue glue gun. This is when I get to pull out all the stops… no holding back… use all the glitter… making gifts for my family and friends. With the last decade’s resurgence in crafting there are lots of great books coming out at all levels for the crafter in you! This is a chance to wow your friends and family this season with special items made from the heart, and on a budget!

bookcover1I always look at the beautiful jewelry at craft shows and bazaars and think “I could make that”, quickly followed by the realization that it wouldn’t actually look like something someone would want to wear if I made it. With Junk-Box Jewelry you see step-by-step EASY TO FOLLOW instructions on how to make awesome pieces with vintage flair. This is a great book for someone who always wanted to make cool jewelry but could never quite figure it out.

There are lots of great felt projects out there nowadays, from flower pins to fuzzy friends for your kids; just check it out on bookcover2Pinterest if you don’t believe me. Two great books, Felties  (which comes in Zombie form too) bookcover3and Happy Stitch, gave me a ton of ideas that I turned into little friends for my daughter, magnets for friends, and tree ornaments for family members. If you have a basic knowledge of sewing, just the mechanics but not even practical experience, then these books can help you create cool little friends that you your kids will love to play with.

Adventures in Pompom Land seemed like one of those craft books that was just. asking. too. much. of me at first. But then the West End bookcover4teen librarian, Miss Annica,  had a pompom making program and I was hooked. Suddenly the adorable little animals in the book were totally within my reach. So don’t be discouraged by the intense instructions in the front of the book; just wrap some yarn around your hand and start without all of the special tools the author talks about, because even she points out that those tools are great for the more advanced pompom fluff maker, but that you can accomplish a lot just with your hands, scissors and yarn.

Last, but certainly not least, Mod Podge Rocks! A great book that shows off all the different kinds of mod podge that exists and some nifty little projects you can do with that wonderfully versatile glue. This book is fun to look at because it gives you starting points so that your imagination can run wild in all different sticky and glittery directions.

–Natalie

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Make it yourself.

Since some of my beliefs have, shall we say, diverged somewhat from those of my upbringing, holidays with the family can be a little tense sometimes. My approach as a teenager was to try my hardest to undermine the tyranny of oppressive and irritating traditions like carols and December cable TV staples. As it turned out, though, mocking the capitalist subtext of Miracle on 34th Street didn’t actually make it any more fun for me to watch.

Dolce the cat sitting on Santa's lap

No kids for your greeting cards? No problem!

Since my charming adolescence, I’ve developed a more productive approach to thriving during the holidays. Instead of sabotaging everyone’s sacred rituals with sarcasm, I find inclusive ways to honor parts of the season I find meaningful. Lecture on the evils of slaughterhouses at the table? No. Bring a vegetarian dish everyone can enjoy? Much better. Bombard Grandma with child-free politics when she asks about great-grandchildren? Bad idea. Send greeting cards with my cat sitting on Santa’s lap instead? Perfect! (Okay, that was actually my sister, and its wisdom is debatable, but it’s still the better option.)

One of the most difficult cultural demands to resist this time of year is gift-giving. I appreciate the symbolism of showing my affection in the form of presents, but I don’t want to buy into the Black Friday frenzy of diamonds, electronics, toys and tools. Instead, I’ve come up with gifts I can make for people that they’ll enjoy. I get to be creative, and they get a gift they’ll use. Making gifts takes a little more planning than a mad dash to the mall, but the result is often more meaningful, because I spent time thinking about the recipient and crafting them something special. Here are some of the gifts I’ve made or plan to make, with some handy books and guides.

  • Mp3 Player/Cell Phone/eReader SnuggieThe big-ass book of crafts / by Mark Montano ; photographs by Auxy Espinoza.

Almost everyone carries some kind of electronic device. Make someone a little winter coat protector for theirs! These can be knitted, sewn or crocheted in any size. For examples, see The Big-Ass Book of Crafts.

  • T-shirt Quilt Generation T : beyond fashion : 120 new ways to transform a T-shirt / Megan Nicolay.

What’s cozier than a t-shirt? A whole blanket made of cozy t-shirts heartwarmingly stitched by someone who loves you! The Generation T series includes crafts for those handy with a sewing machine and those who can’t thread a needle.  The t-shirt quilt project is in Generation T: Beyond Fashion: 120 New Ways to Transform a T-shirt.

  • Personalized Recipe Book

Take advantage of the library’s enormous cookbook collection by selecting recipes for a personalized recipe box. Just pick out a handful of appetizing recipes, copy them onto notecards and put them in a decorated box.

  • Calendar

A calendar is a gift that’s useful all year, and it’s easy to customize the artwork. You can make a collage for every month, or choose photos from all of the Kodak moments on your friends’ Facebook pages. Lots of websites and copy shops also offer inexpensive packages to turn photos into calendars.

  • JewelryMaking mixed media art charms & jewelry : keepsakes, swappables, trinkets / Peggy Krzyzewski & Christine Hansen.

Pasta necklaces probably won’t fly unless you’re under the age of 10, but there are lots of lovely jewelry-making techniques accessible to a range of skill levels. You can also craft a handmade jewelry holder out of some screen and a picture frame.

  • Survival Kit 101 things you should know about 2012 : Countdown to Armageddon...or a better world? / 2011.

Does your cousin think 2012 is the year the world ends? Put her at ease with the gift of a cute little survival kit made from an Altoids tin. Who knows? It might even come in handy for holiday survival.

Not to cue an orchestral rendition of “Silver Bells” or anything, but taking time to honor the people we love is meaningful and powerful no matter what our spirituality or politics are. I hope you find ways to enjoy this hectic month with the people you care about in rewarding, fulfilling and fun ways!

-Renée

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CLP LAUNCHES NEW PREPAID LATE FEE CARD

Those pesky late fees! No matter how we all try, occasionally the timely return of that library book just doesn’t happen. Suddenly there’s an overdue fee (or two) on your account. Or perhaps you have a friend or child who seems to periodically accrue just enough fees to block his account. It’s frustrating for him, for you, and for the library staff when you can’t visit us and borrow the things you want or use the computer. So what is a savvy library-lover to do?

Introducing….The CLP Prepaid Late Fee Gift Card!

  • Hanukkah gift?
  • Holiday stocking stuffer?
  • Secret Santa?
  • Upcoming birthday?
  • Favorite teacher?
  • Straight-A student reward?

 The uses are endless! Give the gift of reading and take away the worry of late fees.

A Sample Card

Here’s how it works:

  • Purchase a Gift Card for $10 at the Customer Services desk.
  • Give to a friend, loved one, or use yourself.
  • When you accumulate late fees at the library, simply have your card “punched” to cover your fee!

Take note:

  • Each punch is worth $1.00. Buy $10 and get $1 “free”!
  • The card is only good towards late fees—sorry, but lost items must be paid for.
  • No cash value/refunds—fees must be paid to the nearest dollar.
  • Good only at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations.
  • No expiration and lost cards are the responsibility of the purchaser.

Of course we hope that you’ll return our items on time (and borrow more) but we also understand that life can get busy. Your fees help the library in many ways so when you pay them, know that they go towards all the things you value—our collections, our staff, keeping locations open, doing programs. Every little bit helps. Before you get a late fee, here are a few things to remember:

  • Save your due date receipt and make sure you know which items are due when. Don’t be fooled by one week items.
  • Monitor your account online.
  • Know the rules for renewals—no bestsellers or 6-hour DVDs, don’t wait until it’s overdue, and no renewals if someone else has a hold on it.

When the late fee happens, we hope that you’ll pay it cheerfully and know it goes to support something you love.  We know you’ll lend us support in whatever ways you can—and the new Prepaid Late Fee card will help others you care about to enjoy the library, too!

– Beth

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‘Tis time for toys!

I am happy to say that I have managed to simplify my holidays to the point that I buy gifts for only two children each year.  On the other hand, I manage to complicate those purchases so much that you’d think I was making an offering to the King of Siam.  Nonetheless, I like my complications, since they involve research.  I usually rely heavily on the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, which gives me recommendations by age group.  If that doesn’t seem to pan out for me, I might try the Toy of the Year Awards, which offers more general categories.  Beyond that, when I’m starting to get a little desperate, I go for either nostalgia or homemade, or both. 

For some reason, I started heading toward homemade nostalgia early this year, and in my travels, found these precious items in our collection:

Toys for Your Delight

Toys for whose delight? Yours!

Toys for Fun and How to Make Them

Any of these look familiar?

Choosing Toys for Children

I think this is one my parents must have used.

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Recognize any of these?

A cuddly elephant

A Sit 'n' Spin

This is a hootenanny.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
You can find a variety of instructions, with a range of difficulty:

Cradle

Easy

Hootenanny Instructions

How badly do you want that hootenanny?


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After all that “research,” I think I may just fall back on the old and timeless gift of books. So I’m off to the Children’s Department, my favorite source of recommendations in that arena.

-Kaarin

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‘Tis the [baking] season

My colleague Irene‘s most recent post, ‘Tis the [crafting] season, reminded me of my long abandoned first and only knitting project. My goal this year is to give gifts I’ve made, and the idea of hand knit gifts appeals. Should I buy a new pair of needles and begin again? The First Floor offers a program twice a month called Carnegie Knits and Reads, where I could practice the art of knitting. But the gift giving season is near, and I’d likely be frustrated if I began a project now.

Instead I’ll rely on a skill I’ve been practicing since I stood on a chair to reach the kitchen counter, and that’s baking. Pies, cakes, and cookies make wonderful gifts, though cookies are easiest to wrap. Besides being homemade, these goodies meet another of my goals for gifts this year. They’re consumable. Cookies can answer the question, “What can I give the person who has everything?” (Or the person who declares “no gifts!”) As one terrific baker and cookbook author puts it, “There isn’t a gift that is more appreciated than a home-baked one.”

cakebibleThat author is Rose Levy Beranbaum. She penned two of my favorite, most frequently consulted cookbooks: The Cake Bible, and Rose’s Christmas Cookies.

Her first best seller, The Cake Bible, was published in 1988. Offering unusual combinations of ingredients (such as chocolate chiffon cake made with walnut oil), the recipes are detailed and meticulous. The book’s highly organized layout would meet the exacting standards of any librarian. According to the New York Times review titled “A Cake Wizard Brings Out a Book of Magic,” “Another long-term goal of Mrs. Beranbaum’s was to make cakes and desserts less sweet, trying to lower the amount of sugar without ruining the recipe.” Don’t think this collection is for dieters, though. Ms. Beranbaum says, “You don’t have a dessert to improve your blood chemistry.” She knows her baking chemistry. At New York University she spent seven years at night school, studying food science and culinary arts, and earned a B.S. and M.A. What she achieves in The Cake Bible is an ideal balance of art and science, resulting in cakes both delicious, beautiful, and foolproof.

rosesxmascookies

When it was issued in 1990, I bought a copy of Rose’s Christmas Cookies, delighted that this title follows the same organizational scheme as The Cake Bible, and yields equally yummy results. I’ll consult Rose’s Christmas Cookies this year to bake a variety of cookie gifts, focusing on the chapters “Cookies for Giving” and “Cookies for Sending.” (For your friend whose family includes a dog, bake a batch of bone cookies from Rose’s Christmas Cookies, page 78.)

While preparing this post, I discovered Ms. Beranbaum’s blog. Her post, “Why ‘Real’ Baking”, explains why baking from scratch is preferable to using a mix, and includes reassuring tips for beginning bakers.

The blog’s content is serious, the tone lighthearted: “i’m jewish, i write bibles, and i still don’t use kosher salt in baking!” In her 2006 holiday message, regarding a fellow baker who was planning the world’s largest chocolate menorah for Hanukah, Ms. Beranbaum wrote:

The spirit of this gift touches my heart because it follows a very beautiful tradition of embracing other people’s spiritual beliefs. Did you know that the most powerful Jewish liturgical music, the Kol Nidre, was written by the musician and Protestant minister Max Bruch as a gift to the Jewish community in England? I wrote my book “Rose’s Christmas Cookies,” in this same spirit and was rewarded by it becoming a classic, still beloved by many after 15 years. My editor, at first, doubted the wisdom of my writing it, but admitted later that she had been mistaken. And what was one of the truly most gratifying moments of my professional life was when a reviewer in Rhode Island wrote that the introduction contained the most moving prose on Christmas ever to be written. I still get the chills even as I write this.

cookiesam

As I bake for friends and family, I’ll hide a tin of cookies in the freezer, and look forward to letting one thaw while I steep a mid-winter pot of tea.

-Julie

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