Crap — It’s Birthday Gift Time Again!

by Katy on May 15, 2010 · 13 comments

How did this guy get to be twelve years old?

The birthdays in my family have a tendency to clump up all together. Logically, there would be an evenly spaced pattern of birthdays throughout the year, but that would defy the random specificity of life.

The next month brings the birthdays of my husband, (May 16th) my son, (May 19th) my step-mother and brother-in-law; (June 15th) and lastly my father (June 23rd). Whew!

Not only am I looking at a significant chunk of birthday-age, but this year marks some significant banner years of 40, 45 and 75.

So should I drive to the mall, open up my checkbook, (okay, okay. . .  debit card) and buy everyone a significant gift? No way, fellow non-consumers, I sit still and put on on my thinking cap. Because giving each birthday some concentrated thought is key to coming up with a great birthday idea, that doesn’t undo my debt reduction and savings efforts.

My husband’s 45th birthday comes first, so I have this one completely taken care of. My husband and I really love the TV show “The Office,” and I put together a theme gift, which is two “The Office” T-shirts and a packet of beet seeds.  (If you watched the show, you’d understand.) Yes, yes, I know that buying new T-shirts breaks The Compact, (buy nothing new) but I had Amazon gift cards that I earned through using SwagBucks, which meant this portion of the gift was free! (I buy so little in the way of new stuff that I feel no guilt for occasional new purchases. T-shirts are practical, and he’ll get a kick out them.) I will of course plant the beets. I may even prepare some kind of beet dish to go with his birthday dinner.

Next comes my younger son’s birthday. He’s turning twelve, which is kind of hard age for gifts. He still kind of likes toys, but he’s also into teenage guy stuff as well. I had wanted to buy him an acoustic guitar, (he already has an electric one) so put I the word out that I was looking for one. It turns out that my father had one he was willing give. This was great, but took away my main gift idea. I’ve already bought him an ocarina and a puzzle, and will shop for him on Monday or Tuesday, (at Goodwill of course!) I will be keeping an eye out for a nice hoodie and some hepcat plaid shorts, which he likes. I may also buy him a gift card to Buffalo Exchange, which sells cool second hand clothes.

I usually buy ahead of time, so I’m kind of disappointed with my relative non-readiness for my son birthday. What can I say? May 19th snuck up on me!

For my father’s 75th birthday, I’m assembling a fantastic gift, which I can’t write about here as he reads the blog. But rest assured, I will share all about it on June 24th!

I’m still unsure of what to do for my step-mother and brother-in-law, but I will start keeping a keen eye open at Goodwill for them.

Oy. It’s like this every year. I’m completely ready with some gifts and completely stymied with others.

Okay, non-consumers. I need your help with birthday ideas for my 12-year-old son. He really loves art, music and cool clothing. Please . . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura May 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

How about an art crawl, or visit to a museum (too bad the velvet painting museum has closed), a special day all to himself with one or both you and your husband. Add some $$ for a visit to Goodwill or another second hand place and let him pick something out for himself, and lunch at the food cart of his choice. Twelve is a fun, and one of the last years that many kids like to do things, or be seen, with their parents (they still like their parents as they get older, it’s just that they would rather do things with their peers).


Ruthie May 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Oh my goodness, my favorite scene from this last episode is “Yes I am doing the beet juice fast! Look at my teeth!!”

I would highly recommend a ukulele. They’re very “in” right now, easy to find used (ebay!), cheap and incredibly fun to play, even for seasoned guitarists. He seems like an uber cool kid. 🙂


Katy May 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm


Great idea, but he already has a ukelele.



Linden May 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Okay, I have the best chocolate beet cake recipe—and he will never figure it out unless you tell him. This is from the Essential Root Vegetable Cook Book, a terrific cookbook if you raise or eat lots of root vegetables.

Beetific Chocolate-Nut Torte (Makes a 9-inch torte, serves 10) Note to JEFF: Beetific is not a misspelling—this is the real name of the cake; a play on words, as in beatific.

1 16 ounce can whole or sliced beets
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
5 large eggs, separated
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs
grated rind of one lemon
1 ½ cups finely ground unblanched almonds

Grind the nuts very fine but short of becoming a paste; almonds are preferred but you can substitute pecans, walnuts or cashews. A nut grinder is best for this purpose, or use a completely dry food processor or blender and pulse, stopping and scraping the sides down often.


2 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons rum or strong coffee
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Drain the beets and puree them in a food processor. Transfer the puree to a fine sieve and set aside to drain again. You should have slightly more than 1 ¼ cups.

Butter a 9 inch spring-form pan and line the bottom with a round of wax paper or parchment cut to fit. Butter the paper and dust lightly with four. Set aside.

Melt four ounces of chocolate over very low heat and, when partially melted, stir with a rubber spatula until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Place the egg yolks and ½ cup of sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer and beat at high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the yolks are a pale lemon color and creamy. Set the mixer on low speed and add the chocolate , mixing just to combine. Still on low speed, add the ground nuts, bread crumbs, pureed beets, and lemon rind and mix until well blended. Set aside.

In another clean bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed with a dash of salt until they hold soft peaks; do not overbeat. Still on high speed, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat until the whites hold a shape but are not stiff and dry.

With a spatula, gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture in several additions, mixing only to incorporate, without over-folding. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour or until the cake begins to shrink away from the sides of the pan.

Cool completely in the pan. When cooled, run a thin spatula or sharp knife between the cake and the sides of the pan to release it. Remove the sides of the pan and invert the cake onto a rack. Remove the pan bottom and the wax paper. Cover with a serving plate and invert cake again, leaving it right side up.

To make the glaze, melt 2 ounces chocolate with the rum or coffee in a small saucepan over very low heat. Remove from heat and beat in the butter with a wire whisk until thoroughly blended. Place the pan in a bowl of cold water and continue beating until the mixture is completely cooled. Spread the glaze over top and sides of the cake with a metal spatula. It can be served immediately or chilled.


That Other Jean May 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I can’t help with the twelve year old, but I have a link to a great beet recipe! Lombardy Tart: sounds weird, tastes wonderful:,1650,158162-235200,00.html


Deb May 16, 2010 at 3:43 am

This is assuming he actually likes to create art, and not just look at it. What about an art class? Is there anywhere nearby where he could take a class in drawing, painting, pottery? My local library has an Anime club, and they have an artist who comes in to teach the kids. Maybe yours has something similar?
When I was younger, I loved getting art supplies (still do!). Although these may not be easy to find without buying new.
What about a second-hand copy of the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain?


Marianne May 16, 2010 at 4:27 am

Katy, please make a jello mold with a stapler in it. PLEASE! as for your 12 year old, you could try a sort of scavenger hunt. Give him clues that lead him to another clue that lead to another etc. The final clue can lead to Buffalo Exchange where you let him buy whatever he wants for $50 (or whatever your limit is). The hunt is part of the excitement of the gift.


Tammy May 16, 2010 at 7:03 am

In my area, we have art camps in the summer. They are daily for a week and can be pricey, but isn’t your sister an artist? Maybe she has some artsy friends who would spend an hour each with your son teaching him a new technique? A friend of mine took a drumming class (native, hand-drumming) and they built their own drum – I’m no 12 yo, but that sounds way cool to me. In our area, a lot of boys that age are into skateboarding, inline skating and I’ve seen some GREAT home made ramps that salvage lumber could be used for. Not sure what type of electrical device he may have, but if he has an mp3/iPod, my son loved that we got the cable/transmittor that allowed him to listen to “his” music in the car over the radio – it sits on the dash and I have no idea how it works – but you might be able to find one used since many of the new cars have them build right into the car. What about tickets to a concert with just him and a parent(s) – or invite one friend?


Beth D. May 16, 2010 at 9:24 am

Maybe you could look for a blank book where you can write your own music, or you could probably find a way to make it.

When I used to play the piano, I always wanted sheet music of popular songs. They were pretty pricey at the time (no internet!) but I bet you could find them now maybe even used. Find out what his favorite bands/artists are and see if they have sheet music for the songs.


Angela May 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I can’t wait to see what you’re doing for your dad, because my father hits that marker next year.

Our nephew is 12 and also likes music and art, along with everything car-related. Plus he collects things. Some recent gifts have been: an automatic guitar tuner, a wooden African mask (purchased on ebay), and a collection of coins from around the world (from our travels) in a homemade “booty bag.”

If he likes to draw, drawing pads/paper, colored pencils, pastels, and paints are always good gifts. Or a gift card to an art store. Sheet music or music books.


Mamadrums May 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

A bag of nickels and a trip to Wunderland?


Lisbeth May 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Got music to go along with that ocarina? Free printout the interwebs… bear paw flutes has an ocarina songbook with finger pictures, so it’s easy to play. Unless he already plays.

If he still likes art, which I expect he wouldn’t grow out of too fast, that would still be good, I think. Seconding or thirding or whatever-ing that.



Marie-Josée May 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm

My husband began attending music (alternative rock) concerts with our daughter when she was about 12, and they have really fond memories of those outings. It became a tradition, and they attended all of the Our Lady Peace concerts held in Montreal. Perhaps that is something he would enjoy.


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