Let’s be honest – flowers and candy are kind of an easy out for Valentine’s Day. They’re nice, sure – but not the most creative gift choice. And what’s the deal with the price of roses doubling just for the occasion?? Costs skyrocket like the price of gas on Labor Day weekend – for no other reason than people will pay more to give the traditional gift. So buck the system. Be a Valentine’s Day rebel. Here are a dozen (roseless!) gift ideas to that will get you thinking outside the chocolate box!
1. Vanity license plate. Get that special saying or nickname on a license plate – and your loved one will have your special sentiments with them where ever they go!
2. Newspaper greeting. If you live in a small town, buying a page, half page, quarter page or smaller of the local newspaper is probably an option. You can have it say whatever you want – and even include that special picture that will make your mate smile. What goes better with a morning cup of coffee like a personalized newspaper?!
3. Etched mirror. Take a hanging mirror from your wall to a glass etcher and have that meaningful quote, symbol or picture etched permanently in the place your mate will see reflected around their face for years to come! For a bigger splurge, hire the etcher to come to your home and do the bathroom mirror.
4. Create a secret code. Do something simple like having the letters in your own names represent different letters. Give your mate a card with your secret message (maybe where you’re going for dinner?) with instruction on the back for how to crack the code. When the day is over you’ll still have your code to tweet or send Facebook message that only the two of you will understand!
5. Name a star for them. Really. The International Star Registry has several “packages” for star-naming available. They even have coordinates of your personalized star included. Additional splurge? Buy, rent or borrow a telescope to have it aiming at your mate’s new star when you present your gift!
6. Personalized office supplies. Staplers, tape dispensers, letter holders and pens can be boring. Unless they’re a reminder that you are loved! Go traditional with your mate’s name, or make it even more personal with an inside joke, favorite song lyric, or other meaningful engraving.
7. Workplace delivery. Instead of sending those predictable (and grossly overpriced) roses to the workplace, how about surprising your mate with lunch delivered from their favorite restaurant, or a special coffee and pastry for their morning break?
8. Personalized games. Dice and playing cards can be personalized with words and pictures. Want to go bigger? How about personalizing a whole board game like this Make Your Opoly Board Game? Operating on a tight budget? There’s an app for that! In this case, a My Monopoly Game app that allows you to create and print personalized stickers to go over an existing game board.
10. A calendar. Boring? Not if you have few mystery dates penned in for upcoming months. Now the mundane qualifies as a gift that keeps on giving!
11. The selfie presentation. Want to take your mate to a special movie, dinner, or other event? Take a picture of yourself holding the tickets or menu and download the picture as wallpaper on your mate’s computer. What better way to start the day then turning on the computer and having the promise of a gift-to-come virtually presented?
10. Happily-ever-after book ending. Draft a Love Letter and glue it to the back inside cover of the book they’re reading for a very special ending!
Remember those Magic Eye books and pictures that were everywhere in the early 1990s? Like the picture above, they were chaotic blurs of colors, shapes and seemingly abstract patterns. The promise was that if we looked at the two-dimensional picture in the right way, we would see a three-dimensional image emerge before our very eyes!
So we would squint, move the picture around, stare into the colors – and still it looked the same. But when we were persistent, we could make it happen. If you held the picture close to your face – nose almost touching – and backed it away slowly while staring at it unblinkingly, the picture in front of you morphed magically into a beautiful, interesting, or complex design. Even though you were looking for that transformation, you were still taken by surprise when it appeared because it was right there – and had been right there the whole time. You just weren’t looking at it with the right focus. And remember how once you finally saw it, you could move the picture around and still see the inner picture – often even more clearly when you moved it farther away? That’s because your focus at that point was on the depth of of the picture instead of the chaotic facade.
And so it is with marriage. We let the surface appearance of chaos and disconnectedness in our busy lives turn into our reality – the 2D version of us. The beautiful, the interesting, the foundation of what we started with is in the midst of that. It’s available for us to return to and hold on to when our big picture blurs into something we don’t recognize. It’s worth the effort to squint and shift our view and persist in our efforts until we see clearly what our main focus is – the 3D version of us. Once you know where it is, it’s what you keep seeing.
Exercising with your spouse is usually a good thing. Not only are you spending time with each other, you are both working together toward a common goal – an activity that reaps benefits in other areas of your marriage. But not all activity is created equal. There are some forms of exercise that, when done with your spouse, could actually harm your marriage. Here are five exercises you should skip when you’re married.
1. Jumping to conclusions. You know what they say about the person who assumes, right? Don’t give yourself an opportunity to prove the old saying correct – ask a few questions (without the accusatory tone) before making an informed conclusion about any given situation.
2. Stretching the truth. Referred to in some circles as “lying.” Not OK. Unless, of course, you are planning a fabulous surprise for your mate or hiding their gift!
3. Side-stepping the issue. The serious stuff doesn’t go away by ignoring it. Find a stress-free time to talk over those tough topics before they elevate to crisis-mode.
4. Running out of steam. Take care of yourself so you can better take care of and be there for your spouse. There’s a reason flight attendants tell passengers to put their own oxygen mask on before attempting to assist others: doing so makes the person more effective when assisting.
5. Pulling up past grievances. Take a tip from Elsa and let it go, let it go, let it go if you want to have a happy ending!
The beginning of a new year is often a time for evaluation, assessing, and planning for the upcoming twelve months. We analyze things like our health, our spiritual direction, our priorities, our careers and set goals regarding what we would like to do different, better, or not at all. Let’s not forget our marriage in this annual assessment!
The beginning of the year is a great time to review the past year of marriage to assess what we did right, what is not working, what we can do better, what changes we can make to improve our marriage, and what goals we can work together to accomplish over the next year. Here are 11 questions to get you started.
To Answer as a couple:
Is there anybody in your life that is not supportive of your marriage or tries to undermine your relationship that you should consider limiting contact with this year?
Do you need to cultivate some couple friends this year who have positive attitudes about marriage to interact with?
What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve your marriage this year?
What’s the most important decision you need to make together this year?
What is the biggest obligation you feel needs to be met this year?
What area of your lives most need simplifying and what is one thing you could do to accomplish that?
If one or both of you need to get healthier, what is one change you could both support making to move toward that goal?
What is your biggest financial goal and what is one thing you could do this year to move closer to that goal?
For each spouse to answer individually:
If there is a time-waster activity that gets in the way of spending time with your spouse, what can you do about it this year?
What can you do to encourage/uplift your spouse on a regular basis this year?
What one change can you make that would help you be a better husband or wife this year?
Whether we are already amazing or working toward getting there, it’s easy to get caught up in the New Year changes we want to make to be better individuals. Make sure you spend at least, if not more, energy and effort with your spouse to determine what you can do to enhance your already-amazing (or on-its-way-to-amazing) marriage in the upcoming year!
I’m always intrigued by the BEST and WORST lists that abound this time of year. What worked over the past 365 days and what didn’t. What made us smile and what made us cry. What we ran to the movies to see and what we ran from. What new toys were hits and what were misses. It’s like a mega award show with hundreds of custom-made categories to fit each author’s list. What a great way to review the year!
So here, in no particular order, are my offerings for the BEST of 12 categories from the 2014 blog posts. (You’re on your own for a WORST list!)
Courthouse Behaviors That Could Cost You Your Family Law Case. Everybody knows they have to behave in the courtroom – just in case the judge is watching. What they often don’t take into consideration is who else is watching – and where they can be seen!
Marriage Chuckles wins if you’re taking into account the whole post, but here’s the single cartoon that got the most snickers this year. My caption? “Why you should make eye contact when your spouse speaks to you.”
Dear Brides-and-Grooms-to-Be: Just Because You Said “YES” Doesn’t Mean You Should Say “I DO.“ There are definitely times that an engaged couple shouldn’t get married – even if the invitations have been sent out and the flowers have been ordered.
How to Get Couple Friends (and why you need to). No matter how many great friends and family members you have, if you’re married you still need couple friends. They enhance your marriage in several meaningful ways. Here’s the who, what, when, where and why of it – starring Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel.
Easter – It’s NOT Just For Bunnies Anymore. A collection of rabbit-ear-wearing-animal pictures guaranteed to make you say: “Awwwwww – that is so cute.” And for the toughest of you who will not allow yourself to say such things out loud, I’ll bet you a dozen donuts you can’t help thinking it!
Marriage, Ladies’ Home Journal and the Simple Things That Matter. I was delighted to have a little featured spot in the July issue of Ladies’ Home Journal this year. And humbled by its focus versus my expectation.
5 Ways to Spook Your Spouse! It got a little creepy. But I thought the title gave fair warning of what one could expect!
Is Your Marriage Like the Tree of Forty Fruits? Hopefully it is. And the tree itself – pictured with its projected blooms – is an awesome creation.
Marriage – 73 Years of Wisdom. Barbara “Cutie” Cooper knows a little something about marriage – as well she should after being married for 73 years! Sample a nugget or two of wisdom shared from her book.
Losing a Pet – a Universal Hurt. After 13 years, I had to say good-bye to the only dog I’d ever had. Many of you can understand this universal hurt. You may, like me, smile at the thought of the good times you had with your beloved pet – through misty eyes.
How to Get His Ex to Hate You and What Children Want Their Divorced Parents to Know About the Holidays. Divorce is hard enough on children without the added stress of being in the middle of the game-playing that some adults engage in. Whether the destructive behavior is intentional or not, the devastating effect is the same for the children. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
FIRST HONORABLE MENTION: I was delighted recently when a young man whose opinion I value told me how wonderful my blog was. He said there was one particular post he really enjoyed. He searched his mind to remember what it was. I waited patiently for him to recall what profound bit of wisdom I had imparted that had touched him so. “Oh yeah,” he said slapping his forehead. “I remember. It was the one about toilet paper.” Excuse me??! In response to my surprised reaction he explained that I write a lot of stuff for girls, and the toilet paper one was more his kind of thing. And so, winner of the BEST NON-GIRL TOPIC goes to Random Acts of Toilet Paper.
For those disappointed that this year-end post includes no discussion about New year’s Resolutions, please see 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Couples (without the word “weight” in them!)
1. Pay down someone’s layaway. School counselors are a good resource for finding families who could use a helping holiday hand.
2. Bring a little Christmas cheer to someone who can’t get out and about. Take a mini tree and ornaments over to light up a corner. Whether they are alone, or family won’t arrive until the holidays, contribute to the happy glow.
3. Offer to babysit for that single parent or couple who are limited on funds so they can shop without the kids in tow.
4. Helping out with local food baskets? How about sticking in a card game if you know the recipient can use it and/or has children? They are compact and add a little entertainment to the mix! Skip-bo is a good one because two (or more) people can play, the cards are easy on the eyes, and you can find it at discount stores, drug stores, and games stores for under $10.
5. Send that neighbor on a tight budget an anonymous Christmas card containing a gift card to a nearby grocery store.
6. Bring your (well-behaved!) dog to a local nursing home. Of course you want to check with the appropriate person at the facility first to set up a good time and find out about any restrictions they might have. But it is well-established that animals can both lift the spirits of those who are down and calm down those who are agitated. Often seniors in nursing homes don’t have much opportunity to love on a pet – and many miss their own. When you see how much joy such a simple gesture can bring, you may want to extend your visits beyond the holiday season!
7. Offer to wrap gifts and/or hide them at your house for parents with inquisitive children who have little private time. My husband and I did this for years when we had next-door neighbors with little ones. We didn’t have family of our own locally and we fell into the tradition of hauling the gifts over to their house on Christmas Eve after the kids had gone to bed. After, we’d sit with the parents while sipping a Christmas drink, soft Christmas carols playing in the background, and enjoyed a wonderful chat. It led to a cherished friendship and lovely memories.
8. Donate blood. Donations are often down during the holidays due, in part, to all the added commitments that regular donors have. It’s a life-saving gift that costs you nothing but time. (And, for some, getting over the ewwwww factor of a needle being involved. But just remember – you get cookies afterward!)
9. Volunteer to walk the dog one day a week (or more?) for that elderly neighbor who has a mobility challenge. This is even more helpful on icy days.
10. Wrap up some small gifts (a box of chocolate, a fold-up umbrella, a mini flashlight), carry them with you, and give them spontaneously to strangers you pass that seem harried, stressed out or depressed with a smiling “Merry Christmas” (or the greeting for the holiday you are celebrating). WARNING: The joy of spontaneous gift-giving can become addictive!
Have a great idea for a holiday good deed or been the recipient of one? Tell us about it!
Going to bed angry goes against what we have been told, taught, and maybe even promised our spouse before marriage. Is, sometimes, going to bed angry healthier for your relationship than staying up until the matter is resolved? On the side of the debate that says “Go ahead – sleep on it,” here are three reasons to go to bed angry.
1. The argument is escalating. If each spouse gets more entrenched in their own position and no progress is being made, sometimes things get louder and increasingly heated the more each tries to force their perspective on the other. If it were daytime, one or the other might stomp off to another room to cool down before addressing – or deciding to blow off – the original reason that anger resulted from a given topic. Going to bed, backs turned to the other, might be the nighttime version of that.
2. Tiredness adds to irrational response. Being overtired and responding to each other in a cranky manner may have been what got the argument started in the first place. The more tired one gets, the more likely one is to respond in an over-the-top way and/or make regrettable statements.
3. The situation can be processed in your subconscious while you sleep. In other words, things will look better in the morning.
But will things really look better in the morning? Will we wake up refreshed, rational, and eager to see our mate’s side of things? Do we wake up to an epiphany for a fair resolution? Or do we get out of bed, ignore each other, and carry our grudge throughout the day?
Maybe there is a reason that “not going to bed angry” has been advised by many of our predecessors. Maybe the tired marital cliche’ has some merit to it. In reverse order, here are three reasons not to go to bed angry with each other.
3. The chasm between the two of you could widen. Instead of being rested and able to resolve the conflict from the night before, both parties could end up more convinced than ever they were right. And determined not to be the first to concede – or even speak. Sound silly? Most long-standing grudges are. How many times have you heard someone utter I’m not even sure what started it? And yet, the animosity lives on.
2. Being angry can disrupt your sleep. Tossing, turning, stewing, planning for the next go-round, could deprive you of the sleep you so desperately need in order to restore your reasoned thinking. So instead of waking with a new attitude, you’re crankier than ever and ready for round two.
1. Because there may not be a do-over tomorrow. We often go through life as if we have all the time in the world. But, as our elders are so acutely aware, we may not have tomorrow. Anybody who has lost a loved one probably remembers the last words ever exchanged with them. Statistically, the chances of us being just fine in the morning are very high. But statistics are just numbers – which is not always the same as real life. Which is why it is important to live in a way, and treat each other in a way, that leaves us with no regrets.
Don’t let the TV news fool you – there are a lot of good people out there! Nothing brings the compassion out of people quite like a cute animal – or the loss of one. If you have reached adulthood, chances are good you have either lost a beloved pet, grieved for a loved one who has, or know that there will be a time when you do. It is a universal hurt that transcends age, gender, race, religion, intellect, and income bracket.
In our animal world, the only thing worse than losing a pet is having to make the decision of when that will be. Please forgive my use of a crass expression here, but it seems to sum the situation up concisely: It. Just. Sucks.
But, oh, what a lovely opportunity to see the best in people.
As our beautiful 13-year-old Carolina Dog’s legs betrayed her more frequently and the tumor growing inside her impeded her lung capacity, we prayed for natural causes to swoop down and take the decision away from us. Our vet had already warned us things didn’t work that way. But what did she know? With my vast experience of having this one and only dog for 13 years, I thought (okay – desperately hoped) she was wrong. She wasn’t.
So, as we prepared for Bondy to take this walk to a Rainbow Bridge that we kept hearing about, we wanted to celebrate this doe-eyed dog that had just shown up at our house thirteen years ago demanding a good home. We tried to find her one. After several failed attempts, we had to face the fact that we had a dog and now needed a fence. Is that an ungracious way to accept a gift, or what?!
So, back to the celebration. We assisted Bondy in creating and executing a bucket list, posting the progress on Facebook. She had a ball riding in a convertible, having a whole ice cream cone to herself, and being allowed to watch TV while sitting on my precious green leather couch, among other things. We enjoyed it just as much. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t quite “all in” on the couch bit – I cheated and put a towel on it first. She – and my husband – had the last chuckle with that one. I didn’t notice until I saw the picture later that her tush was definitely off the towel and on my couch.
With all items successfully checked off on her bucket list, it was decision time. We made the phone call. We were fortunate that our vet was willing to come to our home. However, because of a convention she attended, the appointment was a week out. A long week filled with many ‘lasts’ – the last romp in the snow, the last play-date with Jenny (her Boston Terrier buddy), the last night she would be with us, the last morning she would bark us awake while rolling around in scratch-my-tummy mode.
I will never forget the abundance of kindness poured out on us those last couple of days. Offers of condolence, encouraging words, many prayers, and sympathetic notes both from those who knew us well and many who knew our hurt more than they knew us.
And on that final day, a dear friend called to let us know she was coming over with soup. Soup?? What kind of person brings soup and (as it turns out) banana cream pudding for a dog-passing day?? Apparently, the kind of person that is hurting so bad for you that they think of you all day long while they make hot soup and something light because they know it won’t occur to you to fix something to eat that day. The kind of person who packs up some crispy chips and shredded cheese to toss in the soup. The kind of person who, fresh from their own personal losses, drives over to unpack the bounty, say their own good-byes, and cry with you. Oh, that we could all be blessed with a soup-maker in our lives!
This is our first day without Bondy, so the hurt is still quite raw and the house is quite empty. We head to bed misty-eyed as we realize again she’s not there to have her 10:30 run before the goodnight snack. We agree again that we did the right thing. We chatter more about some of the special times with her until we can make each other smile. We agree that despite all the hurt involved in the final days, the joy of the rest of our time with her was absolutely worth it. And we agree that she was the best gift we almost refused to receive.
This November, one of the things I am most grateful for is the opportunity to visit with dear family members in (not-so) sunny Florida! While I am enjoying them, please enjoy this Thanksgiving encore!
With Thanksgiving as its finale, November is a great month to focus on the many people and things there are to be thankful for in our lives. The great food is just a bonus! If you and your spouse want to put the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving this year, here are 10 suggestions to get you started.
1. Send a Thank You note to someone who has affected your marriage. Is there a couple who set a fine marital example? A friend or relative that was supportive during a tough time? Send them a hand-written thank you note letting them know they made a difference.
2. Double tip – or triple tip. Let that food-server in your local diner know their service is appreciated and valued by going beyond the current ‘obligatory’ percentage with your tip. Breakfast servers often are up the earliest, hustling the most, and pulling in the least in tips. Just having coffee? Watch a face light up when you leave some bills instead of change as a thank-you.
3. Add a note to the tip jar. This isn’t instead of a tip, mind you. But if you’re at a place that has a tip jar out for counter service and you have something nice to say about your waitperson or the establishment, jot a note letting them know and put it in the tip jar with your cash tip.
4. Serve any day but Thanksgiving. Show your appreciation to a local shelter or ‘soup kitchen’ for the service they provide to the community by helping out. Some years back my husband was out of town for Christmas and I was alone. I decided to help serve the holiday meal at a shelter. Feeling virtuous, I called the shelter to let them know the good news – that I would be gifting them with my services. They weren’t nearly as impressed as I was. While such places need holiday help, many offer on those days – I actually heard the words “twice-a-year-do-gooders” uttered by a staffer. Often there are shortages of help at the beginning of the month (because people are saving their good deed for the holiday) or the Monday after – when everyone is good deeded out.
5. Place a potted chrysanthemum on your neighbor’s porch. Often we don’t interact with our neighbors other than to wave as we’re coming and going. ‘Good neighbors’ don’t have to be friends – they can be the person who let UPS leave your package at their house, the ones that brought your dog back when it got out of the fence, or the one who is respectful about only playing their drums before 7:00 p.m. Let them know they are appreciated.
6. Praise publicly. Give the waitperson who did a good job, a special teacher, your pastor, an inspiring community member a shout-out on Facebook or write a note to their employer. My husband and I were once in a Best Buy waiting a ridiculous amount of time to get help with buying a computer. A staffer heard us talking (read: grumbling) about the wait, apologized for it and spent the next half hour getting us connected to all the right product. When we checked out, the clerk ringing us up asked our helper what he was doing there on his day off. His day off? We wrote his supervisor a letter saying how impressive it was that an employee thought enough of his employer to protect their reputation in such a way and how helpful that young man had been. A week later we made another trip back to Best Buy. There, in their front entrance, was a framed picture of our helper with a banner that proclaimed him Employee of the Month.
7. Require thanks before the food. If you are hosting a dinner during the month, have a small paper and pencil by each place setting. Maybe printed out acorns or leaves? Instruct each guest to write down 3 things they are grateful for prior to eating. After everybody has been served go around the table and have each read their list. Allow discussion between the reads if it evolves.
8. Send someone a list of reasons you are grateful for them in your life. If it is a family member, divide the list to reflect both the natural relationship and the in-law relationship. With all the in-law jokes that abound, how nice for a mother-in-law/father-in-law/whoever-in-law to know the positive is celebrated.
9. Give them what they admire. Has somebody special in your life admired something you own? Is it an appropriate thing to gift to them? Years back when my parents downsized during a move, they gave us a lovely milk glass creamer and sugar set that I was fond of. One of my best friends admired it on a visit. She happens to have an interesting milk glass collection. She was delighted to later receive it as a gift – she appreciated the history of the objects as well as their beauty. And frankly, they looked better sitting on shelves in her living room with milk glass cousins than they did in our cupboard.
10. Gift the one who doesn’t get gifts. We often think to gift people we interact with regularly – our hair stylist, a colleague, a teacher. But what about the receptionist at the salon, the colleagues’ assistant who often helps out, a librarian, the janitors, the ‘lunch ladies’? Drop off a little something to that person who is often overlooked – letting them know they are indeed seen and appreciated.
Please add to the list of how couples can put the THANKS into Thanksgiving in the comment section below.
There are some things we just don’t think to thank our spouses for – but maybe we should. For instance, you know how in the movies people wake up morning-fresh with tousled hair? Well, in real life, it’s morning breath and bed-head. Yet our spouses love us through it and in spite of it. And have we ever said “thank you”? Here’s five more you may not have said “thank” you’ for.
1. That warm spot they create in bed that you roll into the moment they shift.
2. Waiting until the commercial break (or fast-forward break) in your show to tell you something.
3. The times their face lights up with a smile when you walk toward them. (Isn’t that the most welcoming feeling?!)
4. Helping to develop the secret code you share. The look, gesture, raised eyebrow, or cue that says wordlessly Let’s blow this joint or Did you hear what I heard? or Did you see the chick in the pink tutu with the leopard boots?!
5. Saying “I DO” and meaning it.
Original cartoon image