I realized it’s just like my feeling of pride when I cook a delicious dinner meal for my family. Just a couple of years ago, the hectic work schedule of our two-CEO family had us eating out five nights a week on a regular basis. Our sixty-hour or more a week work schedules have slowed down as the economy has slowed down, and as a result, so has our income. We eat out two-four times per month now. I am cooking our dinner the rest of the days per month. This necessity of a thriftier lifestyle has been a big change and yet has been a big blessing to me also as it turns out. I have rediscovered how much fun I have cooking and that I love to cook again. I’m just as proud that I am a good cook as I am that I am a good executive. I put the same amount of attention to detail in both endeavors and equally enjoy the “great job” accolade for either when given.
I grew up in a family with both parents being wonderful cooks. I’m very lucky. My parents would never have thought to go out to eat dinner because they were too busy at work to cook at home. They enjoyed cooking and saw it as pleasurable family time. My Italian dad was a home cook who made bread and pasta from scratch by hand on a regular basis. Rediscovering the fun in cooking has me re-remembering the smells and laughter I had learning to make lasagna, gravy, meatballs, and pasta way back then with one of my best teachers in life—my dad. My Swedish mom was a home cook who made the Black Magic Chocolate Cake (strong coffee and sour milk, believe it or not) and chicken and dumplings and deviled eggs that are the most requested birthday meal even today by my sisters and me. I still chuckle to myself with the memory of my dad teasing my mom when she made her “little” meatballs for her Swedish Meatballs dinner saying, “You call that a meatball?”
I remember my mom and dad dancing around the kitchen cooking together when I hear a Frank Sinatra song. I remember chopping garlic cloves for what seemed, like, forever for my dad in the kitchen every time I see the glass jar of chopped garlic in the grocery store. I hadn’t thought of these memories in a while. They are both memories of the simple pleasures in life I’m glad I experienced. Everyday events, which may get overlooked in more prosperous times, are a source of pleasure and comfort during thriftier times. And, this is a wonderful realization that can fill you with joy and a sunny attitude, which can make the necessity of being a little more thrifty somewhat rewarding and not be viewed as a burden or failure.
As we approach the holidays, I hope people, especially parents, will appreciate that it’s the gift of time and even inexpensive thoughtful gifts that will bring great pleasure to their family and friends. I hope parents don’t feel guilty if they can’t buy their children the latest, greatest technology gadget. I hope everyone realizes the gift of time and thoughtfulness is what will create lasting memories. What you are creating today may be memories to be remembered years from now providing comfort perhaps when your child is feeling sad or facing a challenging time in their adult life. As just one example, your children will remember the fun in the kitchen making holiday cookies and dinner they had with you long after the newest gadget has become obsolete to them. Your visit to your friend or nana’s house with a basket of homemade cookies made by you and your children will mean a lot to her, for it is the time you spend with her in the visit that will be a memory for all of you. It is usually thoughtfulness and laughter that people remember and look back on with fondness in life.
Some of you reading this might be saying to yourself right about now: “Yeah right, my kids would be embarrassed by all of this.” I know firsthand that an embarrassing family memory can become a treasured one when you are seeking comfort in uncertain times as an adult. As I mentioned, my dad made pasta from scratch by hand when I was growing up. I can remember coming home from school with a friend and seeing the pasta strips draped across dishtowels on our dining room chairs drying in the air with Maria Callas playing in the background. I was always embarrassed for my friends to see this, as it seemed so old fashioned and backwards to me at the time. I made pasta from scratch by hand a few months ago and put Andrea Boccelli on the stereo. I could sense my dad’s spirit in the dining room with me as I draped the pasta over our dining room chairs to dry. It was the warmest and most comforting feeling I have had in a long time. The point being, you never know what your children will remember fondly later; so if they are embarrassed by your family time efforts now, so what, it’s still worth your effort.
My two favorite gifts of all time were both inexpensive. They are my favorite gifts because one was so intimately given from the heart, and the other was so reflective of knowing me on an every day level. My youngest sister, like my dad was, is a gifted poet and writer. Many years ago for Christmas, when she had no money to buy gifts, she wrote me a poem titled “The Face in the Mirror” and placed it in a mirror frame. It is one of my most treasured possessions to this day. Half way through reading her poem for the first time that Christmas morning, I realized it was about her looking in the mirror and seeing the face of our dad looking back at her. When I read her poem today years later, I still feel inside how she perfectly captured the dichotomy of our dad’s great love and yet almost impossible-to-meet expectations for all of his children. The average person reading this poem may not realize it was about her and our dad. It is very personal and intimate with that knowing between the two of us. This handmade gift had more impact in my life than any piece of expensive jewelry ever had.
On a lighter note, yet also personal, my second favorite gift was a Mr. Coffee Ice-Tea Maker that retails for $19.99 my husband bought me the first year we were married for my birthday. He thought it was the perfect gift for me, because it would make my daily ice tea drinking habit more convenient. I love that thing, and yes, I use it almost every day. He bought me other more expensive gifts too that birthday, but you know what; I can’t recall what they were off hand. Yet, when I used that ice-tea maker this afternoon, I smiled and thought of his handsome face and remembered the day he gave it to me.