Back in the '70s, my favorite cookbook was "Laurel's Kitchen" by Laurel Robertson. I've lost the book and forgotten the recipes, but I do remember the philosophy behind the cooking.

Laurel believed that the mind-set of the cook and the atmosphere in the kitchen all became ingredients in the food. Since I usually listened to NPR's "All Things Considered" while I cooked dinner, I figured my food was full of war and rumors of war.

Her philosophy sticks with me because I think it may have wider applications. Consider the process of acquiring and giving gifts. I've written before about cleaning out the attic at my mother's house. Long gone were the gifts my children had given her, but she had saved the wrapping paper they'd made themselves by drawing pictures on rolls of shelf paper. I would like to believe that there's a correlation between the joy that goes into choosing/making the gift, and the joy that's experienced by the person who receives the gift.

If that correlation works, it would mean there was very little joy radiating from the gift that had been purchased under the stress of traffic, crowds and fatigue, no matter how much it cost. In contrast, the fudge you had fun making and wrapping in your kitchen would bring great joy, no matter how little the cost.

I had a friend who bought presents every year for her adult stepchildren. She complained about the time involved, the fact that these people already had everything and that they never said thank you. Acquiring those gifts was a stressful and joyless enterprise. I'm confident that receiving those gifts was equally joyless.

In contrast, last year, I received many joyful gifts. My children gave a goat (in my name) to Heifer International. I'm still happy to think about the family who received that goat. Maybe they named it "Fran." (And maybe they didn't.) My children enjoyed giving me the gift, I loved receiving the gift, and I'm betting that the family that received the goat is happier than all of us put together.

A dear friend's daughter didn't have money for shopping, so she bought inexpensive glasses from Goodwill, added wax and wicks, and voila! Candles! She enjoyed making her gift, and I was delighted to receive it.

At read-aloud time when our children were young, I read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl. Before Christmas, I had a wonderful time making golden tickets (like the ones in the book) for each of our children. On Christmas morning, stuffed inside organic candy bars from the natural foods store, were the golden tickets entitling each bearer to a trip to Disney World. The joy I had making those tickets was nothing compared to the pandemonium of joy the tickets produced.

Although you may dismiss Laurel's philosophy as a big bunch of hooey, there are plenty of other reasons not to shop till you drop. CharityNavigator.com is one place to start. Or simply type "donations" into any search engine.

If you don't feel creative and you need inspiration, there's plenty of help.

Gifts of food are fun to make and give. Cookbooks are shelved in the library under 641.5. Craft books are shelved under 745.5. Bookstores stock an amazing selection of titles full of ideas. For children, my favorite craft and cooking books are the "Family Fun" series.

Enjoy!

Reach Fran Hawk at franbooks@yahoo.com.