Several years ago, we decided to limit our holiday gift-giving to three gifts: The Gift, a learning experience, and something [blue]; we choose a different color every year. We only have two rules: one of the gifts must be homemade (or made locally by hand) and we must agree on a total spending limit.

Our simple criteria has made us think creatively, saved us time and money, and, most importantly, resulted in happier holidays. We've successfully banished the days of "over-giving" in misguided attempts to lavish, impress or outdo. It's eco-smart, too, since we really don't need more "stuff." If you're curious about what I'm making in the kitchen for gifts this year, check out DIY in GreenYankee Home on the website.

The Gift is sometimes, but not always, the most expensive. It's definitely a surprise. A weekend getaway, a new winter jacket, or renewing your marriage vows all qualify. So do a family portrait, a monthly massage, and a new gym membership. We try to fulfill a little dream, or provide a little luxury that otherwise wouldn't be realized. If you're lucky enough to be skilled in a trade or craft, you might create an artisanal product or promise/provide your labor to give something that's been put off in the past.

The Learning Experience is often the most fun and entertaining. Does someone in your family want to scuba dive, reupholster grandma's sofa, make bon bons, or get fit with a personal trainer? Chances are there's a continuing ed course, a DVD, or online tutoring for your subject matter. A day, weekend, or extended course usually guarantees the best results, since you have to show up for the class. And don't forget books, even from the library. Jumpstart the experience by providing some supplies.

A learning experience can also be in the form of giving back by volunteering. Local non-profits are happy to trade your enthusiasm for learning their ropes. "Service learning" is now an important component of higher education, so local colleges would have lists of volunteer opportunities. Arts and civic organizations usually have additional benefits to volunteering, like free admission for ushering or reduced prices for merchandise. Locally, Team Haverhill is one of the most successful volunteer groups.

The Color Gift is surely the broadest category and offers the giver a lot of leeway. One year, I received blue jeans with Joni Mitchell's cd Blue. (A Case of You remains one of my favorite love songs of all time.) Red is our color this year, for the first time. I'm thinking hand-knit socks, an array of amaryllis bulbs, or a Schwinn Quad Steer 4x4 Red Wagon for hauling wood.

Green offers the opportunity to introduce some eco-smart choices into your daily routine and has many ways to give green ideas this holiday season. I'm especially looking forward to white since it's the presence or balance of all colors. The perfect rainbow!

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