Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Myth America
 News & Features
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Gifts That Keep Giving

For me, the holiday season of gift giving doesn’t start with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or congested Black Friday register lines, but rather with a blank piece of linoleum, some scratch paper and a pencil.

From these lowly objects, I develop an idea for a holiday card that I will mail (as in snail) out to over 100 people—family, friends and others who have made a difference in my life during the last year. I scratch out a number of ideas on paper, trying to keep the message simple, joyous and peace-affirming. After settling on a design and sketching it on the linoleum, I then use a gouging tool to carve it (in mirror image) into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle of the flooring material.

Once the linoleum is successfully cut, I convert my dining room into a print shop. I spread newspapers out over the wooden table in the middle of the room and clear spaces on the nearby piano and shelves for lining up cards to dry. I use an old paper cutter to cut pieces of textured recycled paper to the card size desired and fold them. I squeeze water-based block printing ink on the slick pages of one of the innumerable catalogues of useless objects that fill my mailbox at this time of year and roll my brayer through the ink. With a thin coating of ink on the brayer, I then roll it across the surface of the linoleum and press a piece of the prepared paper against the inked surface. After rubbing the paper vigorously against the linoleum with my fingers, I peel it back and presto—a handmade holiday card. The nature of this printing process makes each piece unique.

I’ve been making cards this way for over 25 years and my adult kids still come by to help with the production. It’s a tradition that I think gets back to some of the basics of the holiday season that predate the mass-marketing and shop-till-you-drop mentality that’s now so pervasive.

’Tis the season for gift giving. We exchange gifts with friends and family, reinforcing the bonds between us. Unfortunately, for many it is also the season for accumulating more personal debt and useless junk. Billions of dollars of goods are exchanged, with much of this paid for through credit. According to credit-tracking organizations, the average U.S. household is currently treading water with $8,000-$9,000 of credit-card debt. Credit-card abuse has become a widespread addictive behavior of epidemic proportions in this country.

For the national economy, the gift-giving holidays provide a major year-end sales spike. No doubt George W. will be out rallying Americans to get further into debt in order to lift the mired economy, show their patriotic zeal and enhance his re-election prospects. With the Bureau of the National Debt reporting a record $6.9 trillion national debt, which is increasing at the rate of $2.64 billion a day, George W. seems to be the perfect poster boy for debt. Resist the temptation!

Good gifting involves planning and thought: Make a list of those persons you plan to give gifts to, the kinds of things you’d like to get for each and the amount of money you have to spend. I make such a list each year and update it as I go along, noting what I end up getting for each person. I try to focus on gifts that are energy efficient, environmentally benign, and fairly traded. Thinking along these lines has led me to a number of gifting ideas. Here are a few:

One of the best energy-efficiency gifts I’ve found is the compact fluorescent light bulb. This gift reduces energy bills, cuts greenhouse gas emissions and provides a more efficient household light. It’s a gift that keeps giving and has benefits for more than just the receiver of the gift. You can check out a range of bulb options at Real Goods (, though some brands and types are carried by local hardware stores.

Another area that I’ve found works well for gifting is food. Giving food allows you to introduce people to new items that are nutritious and perhaps produced with less environmental damage. The Honest Weight Food Co-op (484 Central Ave., Albany) provides a wide range of highly nutritious and organic foods as well as environmentally enlightened personal-care products. They also carry fair-trade and shade-grown coffees, which see more of the price paid going back to their growers—who use agricultural methods that result in less environmental damage.

I’ve found that the best place in the area for fair-traded crafts from cultures around the world is the Ten Thousand Villages store in Stuyvesant Plaza. The store’s mission is a “fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America.” Buying gifts here makes more of the price you pay end up in the hands of the craftspeople who produced them than in other stores.

Used books are another well-received gift I’ve given over the years. Dove and Hudson Old Books and the Lark Street Book Shop (215 Lark St.) are two regular Albany gifting stops on my list. Fine recycled books cost a fraction of their original price and they read just as well as new expensive ones while supporting important homegrown community-involved businesses.

If you want to formally opt out of the gift exchange ritual all together and make it a buy-nothing holiday, check out There you can print out Holiday Gift Exemption Vouchers that allow you and your gift exchangers to enter a written formal agreement not to buy each other gifts.

With such a large part of the year’s buying taking place during the next few weeks, the gifts you buy (and don’t buy) can affect much more than the gratitude of their recipients. Well, excuse me, I’ve got a few cards to print and get into the mail.

—Tom Nattell

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Save 50% With Home Delivery
Send Flowers Today 2
wine & food 120 x 90
WebVitamins Why Pay More?
Subscribe to USA TODAY and get 33% off
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 4 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.