The best gifts are ones that can’t be returned

“What would you like for (fill in looming “gift-receiving” day)?”

In a typical year, I hear that question three times (Father’s Day, birthday and Christmas) from family members, particularly from my children, because my wife knows asking for such guidance is a lost cause. Hey, a recent present was agreeing to go halvsies on a new stove. Perfection. (The idea and the stove! And the old one went to someone who really needed it.)

My usual answer for a desired gift: “Nothing.”

Everyone hates that response. It has become the family joke, so much so the question has evolved to, “We know you’ll say you don’t want anything, but what can we get you?”

“Is a clean bedroom floor too much to ask?”

“DAD!!”

OK. Dad wants a two-party political system that actually gets something accomplished, an end to the nation’s hunger crisis and for the Browns to be competitive.

In a box. With a pretty bow.

Eschewing gifts is not martyrdom. It reflects the reality that dad already owns plenty of stuff, doesn’t need more and the stuff dad does like must meet exacting standards that no one knows but him, and even that changes once the next new-and-improved version comes along.

Buyer’s remorse? All the time.

So imagine that same gnawing feeling as a gift receiver.

A good poker face doesn’t come from playing poker. It comes from saying, “Oooo. I love it. Great gift. Thank you!” while wondering, “Did they include a gift receipt?”

It sounds terrible, I know.

All of this is to say that at a certain point in life the best gifts for dad are the ones that can’t be returned—intangible, such as making time for a visit, lending a helping hand on a home project, paying attention at the dinner table or practicing patience during a difficult conversation; or perishable, such as a nice steak to throw on the grill or a “Chocolate Extreme” ice cream cake. (Hint, hint.)

That’s what dad wants.

Pretty bow not required.

—Rich Desrosiers

Energy-efficient holiday cheer

It wasn’t home ownership that gave me a love for Christmas decorations, but it did make me take things to the next level.

“I feel like we could make this a lot more dangerous,” I said to an old ladder and an unorganized strand of lights one year.

Each year, when the weather is just sketchy enough to cause someone to fall off his roof, I climb up there myself. After a solid hour of placing clips, regaining my balance and putting up lights, my roof is perfectly lined with holiday joy. In the moment, I feel like Clark W. Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” letting my emotions get the best of me as I make a proud speech before plugging in the lights.

But the payoff is never as grand as the movies.

“Ehh, nice,” my family and me agree.

So, we add a few strands to the trees and bushes. And we put up two old, plastic Noel candles we found at a second-hand store. It looks pretty good.

But, really, it’s nothing. On a scale from bah humbug to Ho, Ho, Ho, our house ranks between shut-in who hangs one strand of lights on the mailbox to the guy who took out a second mortgage to pay his electricity bills.

If you really want to spread Christmas cheer with holiday lights, you need a plan and a lot more lights. You need so many lights that your family raises concerns.

A friend of mine really goes for it on the holidays. And he gave me two great pieces of advice. First, if you want to go big, give yourself a few weekends and add it to your budget. In other words, don’t go big.

Second, he said to replace your old, incandescent holiday lights with LED lights. LEDs use less energy than incandescent lights. They are more durable, they don’t burn out, and they don’t get hot to the touch. So, they’re perfect for the tree.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer that incandescent lights.

My friend, who shall remain nameless to protect him from all of the neighbors who have to look at his yard, said his electric bill went from an extra $50 each December to $10 just by switching lights.

—Dave Manley

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