Student Raises $50,000 For A Kind #Homeless Man … #GiftOfGiving


(The following excerpt from Student Raises $50,000 For A Kind Homeless Man recently appeared on To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)

A British college student is going above and beyond to help a homeless man who offered her everything he had when she was in need.

On December 4th, 22-year-old Dominique Harrison-Bentzen lost her bank card in the early hours of the morning and had no way of getting home. A homeless man named Robbie approached her and offered her about five dollars, all the money he had, so she could take a cab home. She didn’t take his money, but was so touched by the gesture she took to the streets of preston and launched a Go Get Funding campaign to raise money for the homeless man on his behalf.
After she found her way home, Dominique set out to find the identity of the good samaritan. She says that along the way she heard other stories about the kind homeless man; stories where he offered his scarf to those who were cold, or returned lost wallets with their contents untouched.

She writes on her crowdsourcing page, “I was lucky enough to find him again and his name is Robbie, he has been homeless for 7 months through no fault of his own and needs to get back on his feet but cannot get work due to having no address.”
On Tuesday, Dominique and a group of friends spent a night on the streets panhandling not only to make money for Robbie, but to also see what he experiences day to day. At this point she’s raised more than 50,000 U.S. dollars, and hope to raise another $12,000.
Because of her kind efforts, Robbie is now sleeping with a roof over his head, but his kind nature still manages to shine through. He’s asked Dominique to donate excess funds to soup kitchens and food banks to help others who are in similar situations.

Finding #DannyWatkins … Why Eagles’ 2011 First Round Pick Left #NFL … And #FollowedHisHeart

Danny Watkins

(The following excerpt from Finding Danny Watkins by Peter King recently appeared on To read it in its entirety click on the link below.)

It’s game day in Philadelphia, and Howard Mudd is certain of one thing: Danny Watkins can handle Ndamukong Suh.

The Eagles are hosting Detroit in Week 6 of the 2012 season. Andy Reid had coaxed Mudd, the grizzled offensive line coach, out of retirement two years earlier, charging him with molding Philly’s up-and-coming front five. That included Watkins, the Eagles’ 2011 first-round pick.

Watkins, 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, overflowed with God-given talent: agile feet and mind, natural balance, the toughness to thrive in the trenches. No one man can singlehandedly shut down Suh, but Watkins, Mudd thought, had the smarts and raw strength to hold one of the NFL’s elite defenders in check.

Yet that afternoon, Suh and teammate Nick Fairley set up residence in the Eagles’ backfield. Watkins offered little resistance as the Lions harassed Michael Vick throughout the afternoon. The Eagles blew a 10-point lead and the game went to overtime. After back-to-back sacks of Vick set up a third-and-31 at Philadelphia’s four-yard line, the Lions rushed only three. Watkins stood awkwardly at the line of scrimmage, no teammates or opponents around him. He looked confused, out of place as his quarterback scrambled and threw a ball away out of bounds, setting off a cascade of boos from the home crowd. That was the last meaningful snap of Watkins’ NFL career. Detroit’s field goal on the subsequent possession finished the second of a calamitous eight-game losing streak that cost Reid, Mudd and Watkins their jobs.

Watkins was there that day, but only in the most literal sense. Mudd was looking for the can’t-miss mauler who had so enthralled the Eagles’ brass and coaching staff that they took him with the 23rd overall pick of the 2011 draft. That Danny Watkins could have handled Ndamukong Suh. This Danny Watkins could not.

There is no shortage of colorful parlance in the scouting community. Offensive linemen with a rare blend of size, strength and quick feet are sometimes termed “dancing bears.” The Eagles were certain that’s what they were getting in Watkins. Instead, they had a deer in headlights.

How could a player endowed with outrageous talent come up so… vacant? It didn’t add up. Then again, for those—like Mudd—entrenched in football’s inner circles, nothing about Danny Watkins’ brief and bizarre NFL existence makes sense at all.

* * *

Mudd found Watkins one afternoon early in training camp and pulled the rookie aside for a one-on-one session. It was 2011, and Watkins was a collegiate left tackle transitioning inside for Philadelphia. Because of the lockout that spring, Eagles coaches couldn’t work with him until late July, when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached. And because his agent was still negotiating his contract, Watkins missed the first five days of camp. Now he was behind.

“When you pull, you pull too quickly,” Mudd instructed. “You can’t get yourself back in position.” The coach planted his foot into the grass and motioned behind him, showing the rookie he needed to be two yards deep.

Do you understand this angle?

“No, Captain, I don’t,” Watkins replied.

The coach went over the positioning again. Two more times. Five more times. Maybe a dozen more times.

Do you get it?

“Yes Captain, I feel better,” Watkins replied. Always with a smile. Always “Captain.”

Danny Watkins is not dumb. Quite the contrary. At Baylor he was known for being as cerebral as he was tough. He reportedly scored a 40 on the 50-question Wonderlic personality/intelligence test; the average score for an offensive lineman is in the low 20s. He was one of the smartest guys in one of the smartest position groups in football. He was disciplined; as a senior, he only drew one personal foul. Mudd couldn’t wait to mold him. And yet, the next day at practice they tried the same drill; it was like the previous day’s conversation had never taken place.

At first, Mudd wrote it off as the rookie curve, something he calls the Valley of Darkness. A first-year player may be timid his first few weeks, overwhelmed by the pace and the magnitude of the NFL. At some point during that first season, almost every player—especially those with Watkins’ physical talent and mind—find the light.

Watkins struggled that summer, failing to earn a starting spot until five weeks into the season. Once he did get on the field, he was often a liability. Watkins stayed in the dark his whole rookie season.

At the end of the year, Mudd tasked his offensive linemen with writing a self-assessment. Watkins’ paper, according to Mudd, “approached the quality you’d find in a master’s thesis.”

Mudd received another surprise. Center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis approached the coach with a request he had never heard before: Take it easy on Danny. Mudd was old-school tough and he knew it. Kelce and Mathis asked him to consider taking a different approach with Watkins. Don’t be so hard on him. They found a teammate breaking down.

* * *

How does a kid who grew up in a lake-crested British Columbia town end up playing professional football anyway? Like all of Canada, West Kelowna was hockey-crazed. The NFL was an afterthought, at best.

But Watkins, at his size… once he settled in on American soil, he was going to end up on the gridiron.

The football machine found Watkins when he enrolled at Butte College in Northern California in 2008 to study fire sciences. Football junkies might recognize the community college in Oroville, Calif. Larry Allen played there in 1990. A decade later, their quarterback was Aaron Rodgers. Butte people know a football player when they see one.

So it was only a matter of time before someone put Watkins in pads. Classmates had begun suggesting it since the day he arrived. Two weeks before Butte’s season began, Jeff Jordan invited the 22-year-old freshman into his office. Jordan explained how football might pave the road to a four-year college, or at the very least help him assimilate to Butte’s campus life. What the heck, thought Watkins. He had played hockey and some rugby growing up, this wouldn’t be much different. He signed a waiver and showed up for two-a-days.

Allen is in the Hall of Fame, and Rodgers will likely join him in Canton one day. But Watkins’ raw potential—it was unlike anything the program ever had. Coaches liked the fact that he had no bad habits to break. Everything was new, and Watkins was their protégée. He’d go to offensive line coach Rob Snelling’s house a few nights a week, and they’d devour meat loaf, mashed potatoes and Division I football. The first time Watkins watched a full four quarters of America’s most popular sport, he was hooked. By the season opener, he was Butte’s starting right guard. In year two, he had progressed so much that Butte coaches shipped his tape off to programs across the country.

Nearly 50 schools contacted Watkins; the Canadian was endearingly clueless. Florida called, is that a good football school? How about Arkansas? Watkins settled on Baylor because it fit his criteria: warm weather and friendly folks. His arrival in Waco marked his first exposure to big-time football. He was thrown into the machine—preseason camp, two-a-days, film sessions, media days, preseason watch-lists—and fit in just like any other cog. He had replaced Jason Smith, the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft. Late that season, he matched up against Texas A&M’s Von Miller, the nation’s leading sacker. Miller did not record a single sack or tackle for loss.

Friends and former teammates from Butte and Baylor rave about Watkins as a person: affable, always smiling, a bit goofy. He rode a motorized scooter around campus. He told everyone and anyone that if the Bears won a bowl game in 2010, he’d celebrate at Disneyland.

The bright and eager learner at Butte and Baylor was not the Danny Watkins who went to work for the Eagles. It wasn’t just the fact that the guy who once shut down Von Miller suddenly struggled to contain players with half the talent. In Philadelphia, he was an outsider. He rarely hung out with teammates on off days. He was aloof, as far as the team could tell almost reclusive.

Every Monday, Mudd would ask his players if they’d watched film of the previous day’s game yet. Kelce, Mathis and Todd Herremans almost always said yes. Jason Peters, too (Mudd didn’t always believe him, but he knew Peters would always watch tape before Tuesday morning rolled around).

Watkins’ answer, always without fail: “No Captain, not yet.”

Mudd remembers word spreading through the Eagles’ facility sometime during the second half of that nightmare 2012 season. This was Mudd’s 45th year in professional football, as a player and a coach. “Never have I heard something so ridiculous,” he says. “Not in my entire NFL career.”

Danny Watkins was spotted on the 11 o’clock news, in full gear. Not pine green with a white 63 on his chest. Philadelphia Fire Department. Watkins insists it was a misunderstanding, that he was only wearing the gear as part of charity work with his firefighter-related foundation.

As far as the Eagles organization was concerned, they finally had an explanation. This was why their first-round pick was giving them the kind of measly performance they could get from a street free agent. He wasn’t putting in the time, not pulling his weight during the week. Watkins denies it, but those within the organization were certain what they had found: Danny Watkins was moonlighting as a firefighter.

* * *

Watkins was 26 when the Eagles made him a first-round pick. But he had already found his calling, a decade earlier. Wayne Schintzler found Danny Watkins knocking at the door.


Keep up with the latest from Peter King and The MMQB.
Watkins was a good kid. He played hockey—always the biggest kid on the ice—and some rugby. But sports weren’t his passion. He was obsessed with firefighting. He spent years talking about the profession, lit up when he heard a siren. His mother told him to do something about it. One day, he finally worked up the courage to knock on the maroon door of Fire Station 31, at the foot of Old Okanagan Highway, and ask for a job. He was 16, and he wanted to run into burning buildings.
Schnitzler, the station’s fire chief, looked at the kid—rosy cheeks, round face, baby fat—and didn’t know what to say. His initial instinct was to turn Danny away, tell him to come back in a few years. But this kid had spunk, and at 6-feet-and-burly he looked more than able. So Schnitzler called Mrs. Watkins to make sure they had permission. (Vicky said yes, but would only drop off Danny if he finished his chores.) And so Danny Watkins became West Kelowna’s first junior firefighter.

In a profession with a lot of downtime, chemistry in a firehouse is important. Schnitzler worried the kid might be pesky or annoying, but figured he could always tell him to shoo off after a couple months. This was a man’s job; some teenager couldn’t just tag along for an extended take-your-son to work day.

Yet the age difference didn’t matter. Watkins showed up every day with a smile, and that smile became infectious. Sometimes he’d join the guys upstairs to play cards. Most of the time he would linger in the garage, inspecting the equipment, fiddling with different pieces of the truck. He’d sud the thing down until it was as shiny as a toy.

After a few months, the guys let him ride on the back for calls. Soon after, they let him join in. Watkins had that perfect blend of intellect, compassion, and girth. On one medical call, he singlehandedly lifted a 250-pound man. On an emergency call for an automobile crash, Watkins volunteered to remove a truck’s detached hood so a colleague could get to the battery. Watkins was to firefighting what a young Peyton Manning was to quarterbacking. His story would be something of West Kelowna legend.

And so, Watkins spent his formative years cooking pasta with the guys, watching slapstick comedies with the guys, responding to calls with the guys.

* * *

After graduating high school, Watkins joined the department in a part-time capacity. He even moved into the firehouse for a year, occupying a small room upstairs. But he worried he’d never be a full-time hire without a degree. He looked up the school with the best fire science program, and that’s how he landed south of the border at Butte.

As he sat in Coach Jordan’s office he thought, You want me? You’re kidding, right? The coaches told him to show up to practice, see if he liked it. When Watkins arrived, he was mesmerized by the intensity: pads popping on practice dummies. The guys at the station had always told him that if he worked out, even just a little, he’d be unstoppable.

Watkins liked Coach Snelling, a family man. This was his first time away from home, and it was nice to enjoy a home-cooked meal. They watched football games, but a lot of the time he and Snelling would just talk about life. Watkins would tell his coach about his aspirations to be a full-time firefighter, about the rush he’d get when the sirens went up, about the sound sleep he’d have after hosing down a building or carrying someone out of danger. Snelling would listen, just like Watkins’ friends in West Kelowna did.

Everything had happened so fast at Baylor. His senior year, Art Briles brought him along to Big 12 media days in place of star quarterback Robert Griffin III. A few weeks later Watkins heard rumblings that NFL scouts were interested. After the season, he received an invitation to the Senior Bowl. That’s when he realized the NFL was a possibility… or rather should be a possibility. Watkins was friends with Jason Smith, and he knew the money: More than $60 million to play football? Nobody could say no to that. So Watkins went through with it—Senior Bowl (where he starred), combine, pro day, workouts. Football to that point had been a fun and exciting chapter, and firefighting would be there for him when it was over. After all, an average NFL career was only a few years.

When Watkins received an invitation to Radio City Music Hall for the draft, he was going to turn it down. He’d put on a pair of sweatpants and sit on his couch in West Kelowna, maybe have a few friends over. Plans changed when he found out he could visit with the New York Fire Department and tour Ground Zero. So he and some old firefighting pals flew east for draft day.

“I think we were more excited for the draft than he was,” says Schnitzler. “He was excited for the fire-related stuff.”

After arriving in Philadelphia, one of the first things Watkins did was visit local firehouses. He met a local fireman named Joe Gordon, and they hit it off. Together, they founded a charity called All Hands Working, to help save the lives of those who save lives. Watkins’ thinking was this: He could use his leverage as an NFL player to raise visibility for a group he believes needs support.

He also did something that his Eagles teammates found strange but charming: He bought himself a fire truck.

* * *

Watkins found NFL culture to be different from what he had experienced in college. At Butte and Baylor, the coaching staff felt like family. “As cheesy as it is, it’s like the movie, The Blind Side,” explains Lionel Bateman, one of Watkins’ best friends in West Kelowna.

It’s the scene when Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) explains to Michael Oher the concept of teamwork in the trenches. This team is your family and you have to protect them. Tony is your quarterback. You protect his blind side. When you look at him, think of me—how you have my back.

“At Butte and Baylor it felt like that,” Bateman says. “Danny wanted to have their back because they were his family. In Philly it was harsher. It wasn’t an ask, but a demand. They wanted you to do something because they demanded it, not because you wanted to play for them.”

Watkins’ personality clashed with Mudd. That’s not to say he was a perfect teammate. He had allowed himself to emotionally drift away from a sport that requires intensity. While teammates spent off days at the facility, Watkins spent his down time visiting local firehouses with Gordon.

The money was great, but never that important. The fame was irrelevant. After he bought a house in Philadelphia, he brought his buddies down from West Kelowna to help with renovations. Bateman noticed the flooring looked cheap. Watkins told him it was the cheapest he could find at Home Depot—and on sale. “It’s not that he was stingy,” Bateman says, “it’s just that he’s not a material guy. The fame and the fortune of the NFL meant nothing to him. All he wanted was a simple house and to do what he loves.”

There were changes in Philly after that 2012 season. Reid and his staff, including Mudd, were out. Oregon coach Chip Kelly was in. Watkins was cut during training camp. He was scooped up by a Dolphins team that spent 2013 embroiled in a hazing scandal. Watkins spent the season in Miami, a seldom-used reserve. Then he walked away.

“I coached many players over many years, and not reaching Danny Watkins was my biggest failure,” Mudd says. “He had so much talent, so much potential, and I failed.”

As far as the NFL is concerned, Danny Watkins is a bust. He never filed official retirement papers, hoping to slink out of the league without notice, leaving football behind as a distant and forgettable chapter. “Making an announcement would have called attention to himself,” his agent, Joe Panos, says.

When his ex-teammates talk about Watkins there’s a hint of anger, and more than a hint of disappointment.

“He was more than intelligent enough, and more than athletically gifted enough to play football,” Mathis says. “The reason he’s not in the NFL right now is because of him. This isn’t what he wanted to do.”

Up until October, Panos was still fielding calls from teams wondering if Watkins would come in for a workout. He would not.

* * *

“There is so much of the NFL that is not part of who I am or what I do.”

Watkins spoke to The MMQB, his first public comments since leaving the NFL last winter. He was not easy to find. An initial interview request to Panos was met with the response “Danny is not interested.” Watkins didn’t turn up during a search of Dallas-area firehouses. Turns out, he is stationed in a suburb a few miles north. He is a firefighter again.

A few weeks after the initial request, he agreed to a brief phone interview. The biggest reason he has been so reluctant to talk, he says, is that previous stories about him “reflect poorly on the firefighting profession.”

Watkins is adamant he wasn’t fighting fires while with the Eagles. It was a misunderstanding, he says. Repeatedly, the coaching staff called him in and questioned his priorities, told him he needed to spend less time at firehouses and more time at the facility. But he insists he wanted to make it work with the Eagles.

“I guess you could say it didn’t go well in Philadelphia. I got hurt [he dealt with a nagging ankle injury his second season] and never really performed,” he says. “Then I got to Miami, and the whole Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito scandal happened, and I looked around and realized this isn’t where I wanted to be. I re-evaluated how things were going, and I knew I was ready to be a fireman again. I missed it so much.”

Mudd thinks back to the local news footage, a mystery that, publicly, has never been solved. In August, Philadelphia sports blog Crossing Broad published photos that allegedly depict Watkins fighting a fire. The Philadelphia Fire Department looked into claims Watkins violated code; PFD Executive Chief Clifford Gilliam says the case is closed, no action will be taken against Watkins.

Mudd knows what he saw on the news… or maybe he had just heard about it so many times he convinced himself that he saw it. Now, he thinks back and sighs. “It wasn’t like it was a national emergency, like the fire department summoned anyone with experience to help,” Mudd says. “For whatever reason, he was just motivated to be there and not with us.”

For Eagles fans, this is unforgivable. They’ll complain about the money Watkins made, play the “we-coulda-had” draft game. But it’s more than that.

Football is a religion in the U.S. High schools invest in professional-grade facilities, hoping to buy Friday Night glory. Universities stake reputations on gridiron wins and losses. Millions make the NFL part of their autumn Sunday ritual. It is consistently television’s highest-rated programming. The day after the Super Bowl is an unofficial work holiday.

An estimated 3.5 million kids played in youth leagues this fall, the majority dreaming of advancement to high school, college, and one day the NFL, a league with fewer than 2,000 available roster spots. For those who do make it, the fame, the fortune and the glory are almost immeasurable.

Those who work in football at the highest levels operate in a bubble. They got there by investing their lives into the game. Every day they are surrounded by players desperate to make a team, to earn a contract, to be a cog in the machine. They will never understand Danny Watkins. He was given a free ride to the top of the football world, and he said, No thanks.

Fourteen years ago, before he was a first-round pick or an NFL draft bust, before Division I coaches watched him on tape or a future Heisman winner relied on his protection, before he had ever thought about putting on shoulder pads, Danny Watkins found where he belonged. And for those in the football world who wonder whatever happened to him, Schnitzler can provide the answer in eight words:

“Danny Watkins was born to be a firefighter.”

Why Synchronize and #Bond With Your #Children


 (The following excerpt from Why Synchronize And Bond With Your Children by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., recently appeared on To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)

Have you ever wondered why some people are so much happier working in groups than others? Or how some couples stay madly in love and remain attached to each other for decades? The answer may actually lie in their early-childhood and infancy experiences with their parents and caregivers. The research of Dr. Ruth Feldman* suggests precisely that.

In childhood, we learn to love from our interactions with our parents. It is through our parents and primary caregivers that we first develop selective attachments (in that we understand the uniqueness of certain relationships). We develop enduring attachments (in that some relationships last a very long time) attachments. Secure attachment (trusting, reciprocal relationship) in early life is a necessary process for a good social life. The ways our parents treat us in infancy lay the groundwork for our treatment of all relationships in the future, including romantic and platonic ones (Feldman, 2014). Feldman (2014) suggests that this is due to an underlying trait that influences all relationships, called synchrony.

Synchrony is the ability to coordinate actions and collaborate towards a common goal. Dr. Feldman gives the example of ants working together in an anthill. Studies have shown that these insects are able to detect certain biological cues from other members of the colony, and can use these cues to predict the behaviors and goals of the others. They then adapt their own behavior to help achieve the goals of the group (carrying food, building the anthill, etc.). Mammals exhibit the same quality, but rather than learn from chemical cues as ants do, they practice and develop synchrony in early life through interaction with and proximity to parents,.

The development of healthy synchronic bonds is the cornerstone of adaptive social life, according to Dr. Feldman. Also, unlike ants, each human synchronic bond is unique. For example, each parent-child dyad develops its own playful interactions. Similarly, spouses can become sensitive to their partner’s specific bio-social cues over time (the way she rubs her nose when upset, the way he breathes when he’s stressed, etc.). In humans, synchrony is heavily dependent on attachment, due to the personal nature of our synchronic bonds, first established with parents in early life.

Oxytocin, a neural hormone, plays an essential role in bonding and attachment. Here are some fast facts about the famous “cuddle hormone:”

Oxytocin is related to dopamine levels and immunity strength- higher levels of oxytocin mean greater overall happiness and healthiness.
Oxytocin has a strong epigenetic effect- early social experiences (mainly parent-infant interactions) shape future levels of this hormone, and therefore the ability to bond with others.
“Normal” Oxytocin levels can vary greatly from person to person (it can range from 11-4000 pg/ml) but within an individual this is a stable number i.e. a person with a normal level of 2000 pg/ml will never suddenly drop to 100 pg/ml, and vice versa. Precisely what level is “normal” or baseline for a person is partially genetic, but is also affected and set in early-life.
Oxytocin’s release can be stimulated by touch, hence its nickname “the cuddle hormone.”
It is clear how crucial a role Oxytocin plays in attachment and bonding, but what parental behaviors specifically affect this hormone’s presence in infants? Prof. Feldman offers the following examples as being especially important. These can be performed by both parents, but are more commonly done by the mother in the first few months after birth:

“Motherese” vocalizations- babbling and other baby-talk noises have been shown to positively affect infant oxytocin levels.
Face to face contact- intimate facial contact synchronizes the mother’s and infant’s hormone levels in an almost dance-like rhythm.
Breastfeeding transfers oxytocin to the infant and releases oxytocin in the mother, relaxing and bonding them together
Physical social play increases oxytocin in parents…
Affectionate touch- Even without breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact is particularly effective at promoting oxytocin release. You’ve probably heard that cuddling with your romantic partner releases oxytocin and makes the two of you feel closer. This is true for mothers and their babies as well. Caresses, breastfeeding, and holding all contribute to positive development of oxytocin pathways in the infant brain, and makes moms feel great too!
As humans, our relationships with others are crucial to our survival and advancement. Being able to work together and understand others is key to any group’s success, be that a family or a government. Prof. Feldman has shown how important parental behaviors toward their children can affect the child’s ability to enjoy healthy future relationships, including the adults and work colleagues we become.

Advice to parents: Show your kids affectionate attention. Cuddle with them as much as you can. You may be doing more good than you realize.

* Dr. Ruth Feldman is a Professor of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University and an adjunct professor at the Child Study Center at Yale University. She primarily researches childhood stress and trauma, development of parent-child relations, and neurological bases of communication.

How More Families Are Spurning Decadent #Christmas Gifts


(The following excerpt from How More Families Are Spurning Decadent Christmas Gifts by Kathryn Tuggle recently appeared on To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)

If you’re consistently dismayed at the growing pile of toys, clothes and electronic gadgets in your home, you’re not alone. Since the holidays are often an unwelcome opportunity to add more “stuff” to drawers and closets, more families are getting creative with their celebrations, opting for nontraditional gift-giving and shared experiences rather than store-bought goods.

The Buy Nothing Project, a grassroots “gift economy” group that focuses on circulating goods through a community rather than buying new, had just one 400-member group 16 months ago. Today, the organization boasts more than 350 groups in nine countries and more than 80,000 members.

“More people are just saying no to the constant consumerism of the holidays,” says co-founder Liesl Clark. “People have had an awakening that they own too much stuff. We’re giving ourselves too much, we’re giving our kids too much and we’re all feeling kind of sick to our stomachs about it.”

Here’s how you can cut back on expensive store-bought gifts:

Bring It Up Gently

If you want to radically alter the way your family celebrates the holidays, it’s a little late to bring it up this year, but you can plant the seeds of change for next year.

“If you want to break with tradition, you have to do it well in advance of the holidays, because people do their shopping in advance,” says clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg. “But this year you can start talking about how nice it would be to make homemade gifts, do charitable work or cook a meal together. Those things always mean more than material gifts anyway.”

Whenever you approach your family and friends with your new holiday plans, you’ve got to sell it.
“Say, ‘We love you and we want to make this fun. This year our family is making a change, and as always we want you to be a part of our celebrations,'” she says. “It’s all in the presentation.”

Be Patient

You may find that your friends and family would rather scale back on gift-buying slowly. “You have to honor what everyone is doing. You want to do it in the spirit of non-judgementalism. There are people who live and love to shop,” she says. “If that is what they insist they want to do, then your idea might not catch on the first year. It may catch on the second or third year.”

Emotions surrounding gift-giving often run high, Clark says. Some people are ashamed to say they don’t want to give gifts, while others can’t comprehend not showering a child with gifts at Christmas.
“When I told people we weren’t giving my daughter gifts for her eighth birthday, some family friends were horrified. ‘What do you mean you’re not buying her a gift?’ There is an expectation in these settings that you’re going to give your child whatever they want,” she says.

As you wait for your family and friends to catch on to your way of doing things, participate, but participate in your own way, says Marie Anakee, founder and editor of

“From an etiquette standpoint that’s really the best thing each of us can do – be a gracious recipient and allow others to celebrate the holidays how they wish,” Anakee says. “I think it’s important to weigh their feelings. Some people are under the wrong assumption that when someone gives them a lavish gift they have to match it in kind. This is totally untrue.”

Give Your Time or an Experience

When you look back on the holidays throughout your life, you remember experiences the most, not presents, Greenberg says. “You don’t remember the stereo. You remember the time you went to a late movie, went out for Chinese food or went to the botanical gardens together,” she says. “This is why experiences are such a meaningful present.”

Instead of giving a store-bought gift, consider tickets to a concert, the ballet or a baseball game. If that’s out of your price range, offer to babysit or cook a meal for your loved one. Any kind of service you can provide is not only a great present, it also allows you to spend more time with the recipient throughout the year, she says.

“Experiences almost always trump physical things because they really can never be taken away from someone,” says Anakee, adding that an in-home movie night, baking cookies, making cards and ornaments together or putting together care packages for the elderly can be great holiday bonding experiences. “Just taking the time to listen, laugh and catch up in a warm and loving environment can be an amazing gift,” she says.

Also, don’t forget about the marketable skills you may have. Your friends and family might love a lesson or two. “Help someone start a garden or give them a knitting lesson,” Greenberg says. “And this works for any age group. Young people could give their grandparents computer lessons.”

Make Something or Give Something Sentimental

“I have yet to meet someone who feels that it’s more appropriate to buy something for someone than to make something,” Clark says. “We make candles every year, and our family really enjoys receiving them just as much if not more than something wrapped in plastic cellophane bought in a fancy shop.”

With that said, it’s important to be cognizant of the receiver’s likes and interests, Clark says. Tweens probably aren’t going to want bulky knitted sweaters every Christmas, but they might be into other types of arts and crafts.

Sentimental gifts also mean a lot, especially family heirlooms. If you have a child in your family who is old enough to take care of a nice piece of jewelry, consider rummaging through your jewelry box and passing something down. Likewise, newlyweds might appreciate an old painting or vase with a little family history. “These gifts have nothing to do with the value, and everything to do with the meaning behind them,” Clark says.

What Your Airplane Seat Choice Says About You? … #PersonalityType


The following excerpt from Are You Enlightened or a Control Freak? What Your Airplane Seat Choice Says About You by Leah Ginsberg recently appeared on To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)

Choosing your seat on an airplane is a big deal. People obsessively check before picking a seat or even pay more for a certain position on the plane. Why? “It’s a rare opportunity to have some control over your environment when traveling,” explains psychologist and University of Washington professor Jonathan Bricker, Ph.D. “That’s very significant for the traveler.” Indeed – ask people whether they’re an aisle or window person, and they don’t hesitate to answer. (In case you’re wondering, based on customers who indicated a seat preference, 55 percent prefer a window seat and 45 percent prefer an aisle seat.) So Yahoo Travel researched, asked the experts, and picked the brains of frequent fliers to find out what your seat choice says about you.

If you’re an aisle person:

You value freedom. “Choosing an aisle seat is an expression of freedom. You know you have the ability to get up and walk around without having to ask anyone or climb over your seatmate,” says Bricker.

You’re an introvert. When stuck in a large group of people (as you are on plane – sometimes for hours) introverts feel physically uncomfortable and tend to want to stay on the periphery and have an easy escape route (even if it’s just in their heads), and they don’t like to be surrounded by people or objects on all sides. The aisle seats checks those boxes more than any other.

You’re all business. No gazing out the window and daydreaming for you. Plus it’s usually much more comfortable to sleep at the window, so you’ll likely be up working or reading a book.

You like to be in the power position. You’re the first one to talk to the flight attendant when she asks what you want to drink. You control your seatmates in a sense – middle and window people need to ask you to go the bathroom – and you can set the tone for the interaction by either being nice or grumpy about it. You’re the de facto dictator of the row.

You tend to be a bit claustrophobic. Sitting on the aisle is about as much open space as you get on board. (Too bad you can’t sit on the wing.)

If you’re a window person:

You value privacy. When you choose the window, there’s a wall on one side, so for the most part, you’re insulated enough that you won’t be affected by other people’s behavior, explains Bricker. And you won’t have your seatmate asking you to move so he can go to the bathroom.

You’re a nester. “You can create your own little own space by the window,” says Bricker. The spot feels cozier, and you can rest a pillow against the wall for more comfy naps. “You can create a little bit of a home,” he says.

You’re a dreamer. Yahoo Travel’s Editor in Chief, Paula Froelich, says she likes to look out the window because she can think about all the amazing places out there she can visit. We suspect she’s not alone.

You’re open to new experiences. According to Brian Little, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, the fact that the window allows you to watch the actual Rocky Mountains go by – which in your world that’s so much better than watching an in-flight movie about the Rockies – belies this trait.

If you’re cool with the middle seat:

You’re an extrovert. “Outgoing people like social contact,” explains Little, so they wouldn’t dread sitting between two strangers as much as others might. Yes, chatty Cathy, you’re that person on the plane.

You’re highly evolved. “Being okay with the middle seat, especially on a long flight, is an exercise in acceptance and willingness to allow what is be what is,” says Bricker. “If you’re able to give up your privacy and your autonomy, and realize it’s just a moment in time that will pass, you’re probably the most enlightened passenger on the plane.”

You’re considerate. Often, when someone chooses the aisle seat, it’s because they’re with a friend or partner, and they’re doing it as a gift to the traveling companion, explains psychologist, Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.

You’re low man on the totem pole. If you’re traveling with family or friends and you get stuck in the middle seat (as opposed to offering to sit there), it’s probably because you’re the one with the least amount of power in the group, says Wallin.

You’re disorganized. People who repeatedly end up with the middle seat may very well be there because they failed to sufficiently plan ahead. Get it together.