Love and a log cabin
AlexMaster/ShutterstockMarisa Zeppieri-Curuana, 39, has been suffering from lupus, an incurable and sometimes debilitating autoimmune disease, since 2008. (Here are the signs of lupus you should know.) A few years ago, following a year-long flare-up during which she was hospitalized 12 times and spent most of her time in a wheelchair, her husband, Mickey, was hunting for holiday gifts. He was eager to cheer and inspire Marisa, who was just beginning to be able to walk once again—albeit with some difficulty, given the heat and burning sunshine of Southern Florida, where Mickey and Marisa make their home. That's when Mickey came up with what Marisa will forever remember as the holiday gift idea to beat all holiday gift ideas: He whisked her off to a gorgeous log cabin in a quiet corner of Maine for a 10-day Christmas retreat.
"Sitting by the fireplace, reading, watching old movies, standing on the porch with hot tea as the snow came down, watching the animals, being invited by the locals to experience their Christmas festivities," she recalls. "It wasn't an adventurous vacation by most people's standards, but for us, it was a beautiful time to reconnect, get far away from the hospital, calm our bodies, sleep, and, most importantly, spend quiet time together." It was exactly what Marisa needed, and her husband totally "got it." So did the cabin's owner, who found herself inspired—by Mickey's love for Marisa and Marisa's strength—to let them stay a few extra days.
Marisa is the founder of LupusChick, a not-for-profit aimed at supporting and encouraging those with autoimmune disorders. The Lupus Foundation of America reports that 1.5 million Americans are living with lupus, and 16,000 new cases are reported each year, but when actress and singer, Selena Gomez publicly revealed her battle with the condition, millennials began to take note. Here's why autoimmune conditions are on the rise among millennials.
A quilt of many colors
PHILIPIMAGE/ShutterstockEighteen years ago, Terry Grahl of Taylor, Michigan, was pregnant with her fourth child—and her first and only daughter. "Money was very tight," Terry recalls, but when her mom called to ask if she'd like to go shopping at the local fabric store, she couldn't say no because she was finding herself craving some Mom-time. "I remember walking around, gazing at all this beautiful fabric but knowing I could never afford any of it if I was going to be able to afford Christmas gifts for my little boys."
Well, Terry's mom must have known what Terry was thinking. Leaning over, she whispered to Terry, "You pick any fabrics you like. It's your Christmas gift from me." Terry's eyes filled with tears as the cart began to overflow with bolts of fabric, but not because Terry was planning on making herself a pretty dress or a pair of curtains for the kitchen. Rather, Terry's mom's generosity had inspired some holiday gift ideas in Terry, and it didn't take long for Terry to figure out what she was going to do with all that fabric.
"I was going to make my first quilt," she explains. "Every night when my little boys went to bed, I would work on this queen-size quilt. With every stitch, I thought about all that my mom had done for me and my siblings over the course of our childhood, during which we were always battling homelessness, but Mom somehow managed to fill our lives with love and make everything okay."
On Christmas day, five days after her baby girl was born, Terry handed her mom a gift box. Inside was the quilt she had sewn, shedding cathartic tears of love with each stitch, from the fabric her mother had given her as a gift.
These are the superhuman things only moms can do.
Halfpoint/ShutterstockJulia Simens, author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, is no longer an "expat" (she lives in Incline Village, Nevada), but she knows a thing or two about the struggles of living far away from loved ones. She also knows a thing or two about the gifts that go along with those struggles, including an actual gift she received from her mother that came just at the right moment to form a much-needed connection between her past, her present, and everything that lay in the future.
Julia grew up in Kansas but at 35, was living in Perth, Australia, for work when she became a mother for the first time. When the Christmas season arrived, although Julie was thrilled with her new daughter and was growing accustomed to life in Perth, she couldn't help but feel a bit lonely for her own mother, as well as her childhood home and the comforts of the past. That's why it was so meaningful when she opened a package shipped straight from Kansas and saw that inside was her own baby outfit from 35 years ago: dress, bonnet, and cute little socks made out of pink Swiss Dot (a sheer cotton fabric that is embellished with small dots). Along with the outfit was an old, faded picture of Julie wearing the outfit. On the back of the photo was the inscription from her mom: "Baby Julia, Russel Springs, Kansas, 1958 — Cute!!!"
The nostalgia the gift awakened was powerful and healing and brought Julia so much joy that 25 years later, at age 60, she still thinks of it as "the best Christmas gift ever."
Here are some more tips on giving truly meaningful gifts.
The gift of hearing
Andrey Popov/Shutterstock"Some gifts are tiny. Some gifts are needed. And some gifts... some gifts are priceless." So says 26-year-old Sarah Bricker of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who had suffered from debilitating hearing loss until she received the gift of hearing two years ago for Christmas when her parents presented her with her first hearing aids. Here's what else she has to say:
"I remember the moment they were fit to my ears," Sarah recalls. "And I remember every first that came after—the first time I heard my mother's voice. The first time I heard my father cry as he realized I could hear my mother. The first time I listened to Winter Wonderland on the radio and heard every word, rather than incoherent mumblings. The first time I heard my best friend's voice, calling from England to wish me a Merry Christmas."
"My hearing aids are probably the dearest Christmas gift my parents have ever given to me. It might sound strange to say that, but until you lose your hearing, you never fully understand how inexplicably precious it is. How you miss the moment your partner whispers 'I love you.' How you miss the calming roll of the ocean waves on vacation. How you miss the joke that everyone laughs at. How you miss—life. But now I don't miss life anymore."
Her hearing aids were more than just about hearing, however. They gave Sarah self-confidence, the chance to embrace new friends and new places, the courage to take on new challenges and adventures. "They gave me the chance to hear the words I'd longed to hear, and to laugh at the jokes I'd desperately wished to be part of. Every day, they return to me a moment, a sound, a voice. They return to me the kaleidoscope of a life I'd once thought forever dark."
Sarah is a communications specialist at Starkey Hearing Technologies, who is in the business of connecting people and changing lives. Through her work and experiences, Sarah has learned that being able to hear the world and the people around us is as essential to the human experience as breathing. Every time someone purchases a hearing aid, Starkey makes a donation to Starkey Hearing Foundation, which travels the globe to give people in need the priceless gift of hearing.
If you're thinking about purchasing a hearing aid, here's what you need to know about buying hearing aids online.
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A first Christmas with a second chance
How Hwee Young/EPA/REX/ShutterstockSixteen years ago, Carlyn Montes De Oca and her husband, Ken, of Forest Knolls, California, were enjoying their first Christmas together. However, there was a poignancy to their new beginning: Carlyn's first marriage had ended in divorce, and Ken's first marriage came to an end three years earlier when his wife died of breast cancer. "We both really needed a second chance at love," says Carlyn, now 56. And maybe this was it, especially since they were reuniting after having known each other 20 years earlier.
What Ken gave Carlyn that day made it clear that it was. "He gave me a black and white, nearly impossible-to-find, poster of Jane Goodall with a chimpanzee reaching up towards her, and the caption, Think Different," she recalls. And it meant everything. "Jane Goodall is my hero. Her selfless devotion to the welfare of animals inspired me to become an animal advocate. Today, I am a best-selling and award-winning author, and this picture hangs beside my bed. It's what I see first when I wake up in the morning before I turn and see that I'm lying next to the most wonderful man in the world."
Jane Goodall inspires us too, Carlyn. These 10 Jane Goodall quotes can restore anyone's faith in humanity.
The "last" gift her mother ever gave her
Dmitry Tkachuk/ShutterstockOn Christmas, 2014, Manhattan's Jennifer Maguire received a beautiful bracelet (a Tiffany ID bracelet like this one) from her mother. "You can get it engraved in the city, Jenny," her mom told her as they hugged. Three weeks later, her mom passed away just shy of age 60. It was the last time they'd ever embrace. For a long time after, Jennifer also thought of the bracelet as the last gift her mom would ever give her. However, time revealed something different to Jennifer.
"Although I wore the bracelet many times, I couldn't bring myself to get it engraved because I knew I couldn't show it to Mom," Jennifer explains. "But one day, in early 2016, I steeled myself, walked into Tiffany's and got the bracelet engraved with "Jenny" on the front, and on the back, "Love, Mom." That's when Jennifer realized that the bracelet wasn't the last gift her mom would ever give her because, on just that very day, her mom had given her the gift of strength.
"Soon I began to see my mom's gifts all the time, like when I'm surfing, which my mom encouraged me to do. By learning to watch for these gifts, my sad tears turn into happy tears, and even some laughs, which Mom would love. The bracelet that formerly brought a bittersweet joy brings me true, constant joy now as I realize that life does go on when you keep memories alive."
Here's are some other ways you can support someone who has lost a loved one.
A father's gift in Mom's memory
malei/ShutterstockNot everyone can be so lucky as to receive a horse as a Christmas gift from her father, but Catherine "Cat" Chapman Mosely of Charlottesville, Virginia, was seemingly one of the lucky ones. It was during her junior year at Wake Forest University, where she was captain of the Equestrian Team, and it was the culmination of an ongoing wish for a horse that had originated early in her childhood. "Every Christmas morning," Cat says, "I'd run down the steps and look out the window to see if my wish had come true."
Then one year it did come true. However, it was far more bittersweet than it might otherwise seem—because her father's gift was intended to help her grieve the loss of Cat's mom, who had passed away the previous spring. "It was an incredible gift after a huge loss," Cat says. And although it did not take away the pain of the loss, it gave her something to love, forming an emotional bridge to her childhood and her beloved mother. And for this gift, Cat will be forever grateful.
"I named my horse Frank's Insurance Policy, after my dad, Frank, who was an insurance salesman. We called her Frankie for short, and I'm offering this story to you," Cat told Reader's Digest, "in honor of my father, who more than 35 years later is still alive and nearing his 90th year."
Sounds like Cat's dad deserves one of these awesome gifts.
A husband who colors outside the lines
Frame Studio/ShutterstockHere's the story of a husband who's been inspiring his wife's creativity for more than 20 years now: Alexandria, Virginia's Amanda Ponzar was 20 years old and engaged to the man to whom she's still married. He knew she loved drawing and coloring, and to encourage her in her love of art, he bought her 100 fibracolor markers and presented them to her on Christmas Day in 1997.
Fast forward to today. Amanda is 40, and she and her husband are about to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, but guess what? She still has those markers, and she not only uses them all the time to make art, she has also used them to teach her own children to love art. "They still work, at least most of them," Amanda says, "which is truly amazing." And her kids have used them as a jumping-off point, adding Crayola markers, paint, and colored pencils to their arsenal of art tools.
It's the gift of creativity that keeps on giving, and that makes it all the more meaningful. If you're into Zodiac signs, then giving one of these gifts can be quite meaningful as well.
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The promise of a honeymoon every single month
kudla/ShutterstockIn another feel-good husband-moment, we present Jeff, the husband of 40-year old Rachel de Bernard Sheerin of Charlotte, North Carolina. "Jeff's the eternal romantic," Rachel says. And to prove it, she tells us what he gave her on Christmas morning of 2015.
"We were married in October of that year, but because of my work schedule and demands, we couldn't take a honeymoon. I love to travel, so it hurt, but I powered through. Then, for Christmas, Jeff gifted me with what he called A Honeymoon a Month for 2016." It included 12 places they'd never been to that they could explore together, and that's what they did. Their destinations included a casino ("We were first time gamblers!"), a resort in Tulum, Mexico, Beer City, USA ("aka Asheville, North Carolina"), our state capital ("Raleigh, North Carolina"), and the place where we fell in love ("Philly").
Hey, Jeff, how about next year taking Rachel around to the best state fairs and festivals in all 50 states?
Framing the pastChubarova Iryna/Shutterstock
Paige Arnof-Fenn, 52, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wants it to be known that every single gift her husband has ever given her is incredibly meaningful. THAT being said, the most meaningful gift she ever received came from her middle goddaughter and her family.
"I'd been lobbying for a photo album for years," she says, by which she means a photo album that organized the many, many family photos she'd accumulated over the years, all of them in boxes, disc drives, and hard drives of computers. "I know it's a labor of love, and on my 40th birthday, when it didn't materialize, I realized it was time to stop bugging everyone about it."
Then Christmas rolled around, and Paige's goddaughter acted as "elf," handing out gifts and placing a box on Paige's lap with a smile so huge, it was clear she was "barely able to contain her excitement." Inside the box? "One of those digital picture frames, and it was filled with literally hundreds of photographs, even photographs from before she was born. It was such an amazing surprise," Paige says. But what was truly overwhelming was turning it on and watching "this is your life" scroll before my eyes.
The gift of time
Africa Studio/ShutterstockThe most meaningful gift that Alan Sanders of San Antonio, Texas, gave to his parents, Judy and Harold, and his big brother, Kevin, was time. It wasn't much time—in fact, it was just over five years. Born on November 7, 2007, Alan passed away on January 17, 2013 after fighting cancer (soft tissue sarcoma in his pelvis and spine) for most of his life. But thanks to the gifts of friendship and community, as well as the enormous generosity and talent of San Antonio photographer, Elizabeth Homan (and her husband, Trey), the Sanders family has indelible memories of their last holiday with Alan (whom they fondly referred to as Mister Cheeks) that they will hold forever in their hearts—and on their mantle.
Alan fought cancer for nearly four of his five years, but by September of 2012, it was time for Alan to begin hospice. In a show of love and support, Judy's San Antonio yoga classmates arranged a special photo shoot with Elizabeth, whom Judy had always wanted to hire to photograph the family once "Alan got better." Elizabeth gifted her time and talents, and the yoga community chipped in to create an album of the photos. Shortly after that, Judy saw that Elizabeth was booking Santa photos during the month of November. In a show of faith, Judy booked a session, and although the sessions are normally just for kids, Elizabeth spent extra time with the Sanders family to get photos of them as a family.
When Alan passed in January, Elizabeth and Trey printed and framed half a dozen photos from both sessions for display at his memorial service. And many of the photos from the shoots have been used by the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a volunteer-powered charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long, healthy lives, and Alan posthumously became one of the five St Baldrick's 2014 Ambassadors (he'll forever be known as St. Baldrick's Ambassador Alan) and still appears on their website, in their pamphlets, and at various of their events.
"We love to think of this as Alan photobombing from Heaven," says Judy. "We can't thank Elizabeth and Trey enough for these opportunities and for their most recent fundraising to support childhood cancer research in Alan's memory. And of course, we will always cherish the memories of these photos."
If you're feeling emotional right about now, remember that crying can actually make you feel better, or at least less sad.