Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Stress & Last Minute Gift Ideas

I’m feeling a bit stressed out, which is pretty normal for me during the holiday season. The holidays bring about so many mixed emotions. This has been a stressful time of the year for me my whole life. Growing up with two sets of parents (both divorced and remarried) can get overwhelming at times. You can’t be at two places at once, so you end up celebrating the same holiday multiple times. The celebrating, food and spending time with the family is always great; it’s the traveling & running around that is exhausting. Just getting to see the whole family can be challenging (for big or divorced families), not to mention attending holiday parties with friends and coworkers or spending time with your significant other’s family. Although I still do enjoy the winter holidays, some years I’ve felt like I needed to take a vacation to recoup from my winter holiday (be it school, college or working as a teacher).
The gift giving factor is what really makes the winter holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, etc) more stressful. I’m the type of person that loves to shop and when I was still on my feet I’d stay at the mall for hours and get all my Christmas shopping done in one day. I find shopping in the mall less enjoyable since my accident, because it’s much harder to maneuver a wheelchair through big crowds. You would think a wheelchair would make it easier to be noticed and that people would take extra consideration in letting you get through the congestion of shoppers, but I find that most people walk around in a daze or are too focused on themselves to pay attention. Not to mention, people have a tons of bags, boxes and other obstacles to get tangled in. The stores themselves are not really laid out with wheelchair access in mind either and it can be difficult to impossible to pass through narrow rows of merchandise. There are even some stores I don’t even try to enter (like Claire’s) because they are so tiny to begin with and I usually can’t see half the merchandise over people’s heads.
It can get quite expensive when you have to buy for double the amount of people (two sets of parents, four sets of grandparents, siblings, etc). I don’t mind spending money on my loved ones (if I have it). In fact, I rather enjoy gift giving. It’s the process of finding and choosing the right gift for each person that can be a hassle. Having picky or difficult people to buy for can make staying on a budget challenging if their list of wants is small. I’m pretty fortunate in that most people I know are easy to buy for, because they have hobbies or specific interests. Luckily nowadays almost all stores offer online shopping as an alternative. Most websites even let you create wish lists, which is very helpful! Wish lists provide the buyer a range of things to choose from and the receiver still has some element of surprise when they are opening the gift. Wish lists are great because they remove the stress of figuring out things like sizes and colors. These days I do almost all my shopping online instead of going to the mall and wished all my friends & family would send me wish lists.
I tend to wait last minute to shop for other people, because it kills me to wait to give the gifts. If I shopped for Christmas in October, I’d end up buying double; having already given the first set of gifts away. When I was on my feet I could wait until December 22nd and still get everything accomplished. Online shopping requires more time and planning, because you have to consider the time it will take the items to be delivered to you. Naturally, most sites offer fast shipping alternatives, but be ready to pay an arm and a leg for it. I don’t think it’s worth buying something online if I have to pay half or more than the cost of the item itself in shipping fees. Convenience is nice, but it’s absurd to pay double the price of something I could buy around the corner. This year I’m stuck going to the stores, because I’ve procrastinated too long and have yet to buy a single gift for any of the adults in my life (shopping for kids is fun). I’d much prefer doing everything online, but that’s what I get for continuously putting it off.
If you still haven’t tried online shopping, I recommend you do. The important thing to keep in mind when you shop online is keeping your credit card information secure. Only shop on big name websites that represent well known retailers such as: Best Buy, Target, Amazon and ToysRUs. You might find seemingly great deals on smaller websites, but you are taking a big risk trusting “mom & pop” shops with your info. A smart thing to do is set up a PayPal account. PayPal is a service that acts as an intermediary between your bank and the retailer. They keep your info secure and a lot of retailers let you pay using PayPal (even smaller businesses). Try to minimize the number of websites that don’t accept PayPal; the fewer sites that have your info, the better. Most websites let you create an account, which can save your shipping and billing addresses along with your credit card info. I normally create accounts for the convenience of saving addresses and the ability to track my orders. However, I do not recommend saving your credit card information on multiple sites. Most online stores have multiple payment options and you can tailor your account to only save certain information. You can easily keep track of what you buy by having the order confirmations emailed to you or you can print out a paper copy. Online shopping is also a fast and easy way to compare store prices and read reviews on products.
If you are like me and are still looking for ideas and/or still have shopping left to do, I have a few suggestions that might help you out. As I said before, I know how hard it can be to choose the right gift for the right person. It might seem even more difficult when shopping for the people in your life with disabilities. The first obstacle can be the high price of anything labeled for use with people with disabilities. In my experience, I’ve found the equipment and supplies I use are almost always marked higher if they come from a store that is geared to sell to the disabled and/or medical community. It’s a sad fact. In many cases high prices are caused by the need for customized products and/or because manufacturers aren’t producing modalities and equipment on a large scale. That said, there are some really great gifts out there and many of them don’t require specialty shops. Some gift ideas just require a little ingenuity and creative thinking.
Although I chose these gift ideas with the disabled community in mind (spinal cord injuries and paralysis in particular), they are applicable to everyone. Here are a few of my suggestions for this holiday season:
1. I think we all too often forget that during the holidays our focus is supposed to be on the spirit of giving, spending time with loved ones and in many cases, religious traditions. Somehow those aspects of the holidays often get lost in the hustle and bustle of our commercialized society. That said, I think the very best gift you can give is a donation to a charity in the name or in honor of the person you’re buying for. For someone such as myself (with a chronic disease or permanent disability), I can’t think of a better gift. Giving to charities that support causes that the receiver deems important is like giving a double gift. You’re giving the hope to the person you gift and you give support to the cause itself. Most “causes” have official groups or organizations that raise funds for research for cures, awareness and/support. I suggest giving to well known organizations, such as The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. There are even some websites that allow you to prioritize causes that are important to you and provide links to reputable charities; that way gift givers know exactly what causes/issues matter to you. , and are three great examples of charitable donation gifting sites.
2. One of the hot items this year is e-readers. If you’re not familiar with the term, an e-reader or e-book is an electronical device that lets you store hundreds (even thousands) of books, magazines, journals and newspapers into a very convenient and small amount of space. The e-readers that are for sale all range a bit in size from about six to nine inches in height, five to seven inches wide and under an inch thick. They are incredibly light; usually weighing less than an average hardcover book. The big three right now are: Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Sony Reader. All three e-readers are fairly easy to use and can even be controlled using a mouth stick. All three e-readers allow you to purchase & download books using Wi-Fi, but you need to check coverage areas of each company before you buy. All of the readers use e-ink technology, which mimics the look of paper and doesn’t have glare issues like you’d have reading from a PC. You can even jot down annotations & highlight words in e-books and they all include built in dictionaries. While they all do relatively the same stuff, there are a few key differences you should consider.
• The Kindle has been around the longest and it currently comes in two models. The KindleDX is larger than most e-books at 9 inches, but it is still incredibly light & thin. Kindle DX gives you the option to read horizontally or vertically. Its unique selling point is its text to speech figure that can “read” text aloud. Unfortunately, the TTS (text to speech) feature is not compatible with all books. Some authors complained that it was discouraging consumers from buying audio books. I disagree. There is no comparison to a human reader versus a computer reader. TTS is nice for someone such as myself, because I can listen to books in bed without setting up all the equipment I need to read a traditional book. TTS doesn’t provide the tone or inflection a human reader could, nor does it understand the context of the words it reads. I view TTS as a convenient alternative to reading (especially for someone without hand function).Audio books are available as well if you get tired of listening to everything in a monotone, robotic voice. Kindles are only available through Amazon’s website, so your only way to test one out is to order one. You also need to buy all of your books and periodicals through Amazon. The nice thing is that the Kindle is ready to use straight out of the box. You don’t need a PC to access the web or use to the Kindle. There is a basic web browser included. It also includes 3G global coverage. There are no fees or contracts and Amazon will back up your books on their site. A couple of other selling points include: a built in PDF readers (or converter depending on which model), personal document service, Wikipedia, button controls for both left and right handed people and compatible applications for the iPhone and Blackberry.
• The Sony Reader comes in three models. The Pocket Edition , Touch Edition & Daily Edition, which is a bit larger than the first two. The Daily Edition is the closest in comparison to Kindle DX. It can be read horizontal or vertically and has 3G wireless capabilities. The unique selling point against the Kindle was its touch screen controls. However, the Nook also has touch controls and can compete directly against Sony Reader. There aren’t many unique things about the Sony Reader, but unlike the Kindle, you can see them in person and try them out in various stores. The other nice thing about the Sony Readers is the wide range of sites from which you can purchase books. You can find many books for cheaper prices or even for free. Sony gives you more buying options, whereas its two competitors make you buy books through them.
• The Barnes & Noble Nook was only just released (December, 2009), so there are still a few kinks that might need to be fixed and not many people have one yet. The Nook is available to try in person and the Wi-Fi service is free for all Nook owners, within B&N stores. That said, the Nook has a few unique features that make it stand out. There are two touch screens on the Nook; the upper area is for reading text and uses e-ink technology, while the bottom features a LCD scroll bar with color pictures of book covers (similar to iPods that can display album covers). The second feature exclusive to the Nook is the ability to share books with other Nook users. The LendMe feature is a nice option that many book lovers will enjoy because it allows them to share favorite e-books just the same as they would a paper copy.
My descriptions are good to get you started, but they are just short overviews. I suggest you visit each website and do a bit of comparison shopping yourself ( , & ). Try reading reviews from nonbiased websites ( or are good) as well, not just the manufacturer’s websites. I’m leaning towards the Kindle for myself. I really like the TTS feature. The touch screen navigation is the only thing the Kindle e-books are lacking and I’m sure whenever Amazon decides to release a newer model it will include a touch screen as well. They are all a bit pricey (around $300), so you’ll want to weigh all the options. I’m an avid reader and although I love my books, they take up a ton of space. I think it’s pretty amazing to able to have a virtual library of books that can travel with you wherever you go! As a bonus, e-books are “green” in that they save paper and space. I think e-books are great gifts for anyone.
3. Getting dressed can be stressful for me, as I need help and have safety issues to consider. I tend to wear easy stuff like sweats and t-shirts if I’m just going to be in my apartment. I’d compare my style now (at home) to how I used to dress if I was going to the gym. I try to make life a little easier for my aides by only wearing my “normal” clothes when I have guests or go out. Much of my clothes from before my accident (pants especially) are no longer appropriate for me and I’ve given bags & bags full to charity. Being paralyzed and confined to a chair, I have to consider ways that clothes might damage my skin or create problems that I can’t feel. Poor circulation can create swelling, so tight or form fitting clothes can create pressure sores and/or constrict my catheter. I stay away from clothes with buttons, rhinestones, zippers or beading on the back, because leaning up against those things can break down skin quickly and create sores.
I can’t raise my arms over my head, which poses a problem for getting on certain shirts and jackets. Although the clothes technically fit me, most are not designed with disabilities in mind (it’s assumed that adults put their own clothes on).That doesn’t mean I have to wear hospital gowns or pajamas all the time. I can still wear trendy clothes as long as I keep those issues in mind and buy a bigger size if I’m unsure. If you are buying clothes for someone in a wheelchair you should keep the issues I’ve mentioned in mind. You might also want to check out specialty shops that sell clothes designed exclusively for people who use wheelchairs. I haven’t come across many that sell trendy or youthful styles (most are designed for the elderly), but you can find basics. is one of the better sites I found.
4. My last gift idea is for the gamers in your life. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t enjoy the computer or video games. I was big into gaming before my accident and was really bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to play games again; after my accident, since I have no control below my chest. I only have use of my neck, shoulders and biceps. However, I’ve learned and/or invented ways that allow me still play games using a mouth stick. Luckily, there are tons of gaming options out there and hands are not necessarily required! Nintendo has developed some pretty innovative games/gaming systems that don’t rely solely on mashing buttons. Depending on the person’s needs and abilities, Nintendo Wii can be adapted to use with your arms, head or sip and puff. There are even sites that customize controllers to make it easier for people with limited hand function ( & Nintendo DS is a portable system that has dozens of touch based games. You can figure out the game controls by reading reviews online ( Sometimes the back of the game box or online store description give enough information to determine if it’s touch based. I own over 30 Nintendo DS games that I’ve been able to play (and beat in many cases) by using a mouth stick. Ordinarily, a person with normal hand function would use the stylus stick that comes with the DS, but it’s a bit too thin and way too short to use by mouth. I adapted a mouth stick by adding a knitting needle inside of it, so that it has a pointy tip like a stylus, but is long enough to use. Using a mouth stick also gives me better control since it is thicker than a regular stylus and less flimsy.
As for the computer, there are hundreds of games that only require a mouse to play. I have a trackball mouse, which allows me to move just the ball and not the entire mouse itself (I use Kensington’s Orbit Optical Trackball, which only costs about $30). You can purchase games online or buy the software in stores. Most games in the following genres can be played by mouth stick: match 3 (such as Bejeweled), Mahjong, hidden objects (such the Huntsville Mystery Case Files series), simulation (such as Sims 3) and time management (such as Farmville). There are emulation programs that let you play console games (Xbox, PS3 & Gamecube for example) on your PC and users can customize key settings. Most console emulators are not licensed by the gaming companies, so I’d avoid going that route. Lastly, there are some pretty neat gadgets out there that can be used by people with little to no motor function; such as someone with a high level spinal cord injury like Christopher Reeve. These gadgets use eye movements or speech recognition to control a wide range of functions on the computer ( & are two examples). You can surf the web and write with both types of equipment/software and even create art with the optical devices. This type of technology can be a gift of freedom to those people who are otherwise “locked in.”

I hope my tips are helpful. Even if you’re done with all your holiday shopping this year (you’re lucky!), you can use these ideas for any gift giving occasion. I will be braving the mall and the crowds this year (and possibly snow). Try and choose meaningful & practical gifts that fit in your budget and remember that the presents aren’t the most important part of holidays. Wishing everyone a happy and safe holiday season!

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