July and August are full of Fedore birthdays, and finding the perfect gifts can be challenging. No matter the month, I write a check or withdraw cash for my five nieces and nephews.
This feels like a cop out and yet, when I was young, I relished receiving cash from my parents or grandparents. (The number of $1 bills grew each year with my age.) So when I insert money inside a birthday card, I assure myself I’m giving nieces and nephews freedom, not just cash.
My sister and I exchange experiences for our birthdays. Most years, Karen arranges a trip to Leavenworth for Oktoberfest – a nostalgic trip because our high school days were spent in Germany. Repeated playings of the “Chicken Dance” bond us like no other song can.
For Karen’s birthday, during recent summers I have researched a list of concert choices; she chooses a show, and we stay the night nearby. We take selfies, though they’re usually awful with someone’s head looking twice as large as the other’s. Afterward, we talk about our experiences to anyone who will listen, laughing during our stories.
Not all gifts of experiences turn out as well as anticipated. This summer, I gave my two brothers, nephew and niece’s husband a golf outing. Despite a calamity with a golf cart, it gave them the opportunity to take time off from work (they deserve this) and hang out with the guys for an afternoon.
For one of my parents’ Christmas presents, I described in a card that they could take an outing to the Gig Harbor airport for lunch, then to some nearby galleries and shops. My dad loves airplanes and mom loves shopping and art. We have not been able to schedule this due to weather or conflicting events. I still have four months to deliver on this promise, though.
I also gave my niece, her husband and their three-year-old son an outing to a ceramics shop, where we will paint light switch covers. I’m setting my sights on late August.
What I like best about giving experiences is that it encourages us to connect often, even if it’s simply to attempt to arrange the outings.
My family members and friends are busy people (let’s face it, we all are) and the mere effort of making time for each other is the best gift of all, no matter the occasion.
My mom was busy with four young, active children. But she found time to prepare our favorite meals and desserts on our birthdays. I always wanted roasted lamb with Yorkshire pudding. (Our mom grew up in England, so she knows how to prepare perfect lamb with roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, gravy and mint sauce. It’s in her DNA.) I alternated between lemon meringue pie and German chocolate cake for dessert.
Over 40 years later, I still remember these birthday meals. My brothers and sister remember theirs, too.
Special events aside, with heartfelt gratitude I have many memories of my parents and siblings making time for each other. Practically every Sunday, we’d load into our station wagon or hatchback and drive somewhere — whether to an ancient castle when we were stationed in Germany or England, or to a hike near Saltars Point in Steilacoom.
All we needed were a tank of gas and some snacks. (Dum-Dum lollipops would keep us quiet in the car . . . as long as there were four root beer Dum-Dums available.)
And, of course, we needed time.
Now, we still clear our hectic schedules and join together as family. We often count our blessings, which is why some family members give gifts of care for rescued animals, to food banks, or for medical and educational supplies in developing countries. With these gifts, we experience a sense of wellbeing knowing that support is given to others.
I’ve already started brainstorming future birthdays and Christmas experiences.
Heidi Fedore of Lakewood is a middle school principal in Gig Harbor. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.