Old rule: I do not want a gift of any kind unless I can eat it or wear it.
New rule: I do not want a gift of any kind unless I can eat it, and since there's not much left that I can eat (thanks to a recently imposed healthy diet), never mind.
Sound tacky? I don't mean it that way. Please picture me smiling sweetly and sincerely as I say this.
It's just that gift-giving has gotten out of control (I know, I know — it's good for the economy), and most of us already have too much stuff. Because of this, our all-adult family decided many years ago not to give gifts to each other at midwinter holiday time.
Instead, we donate what money we would have spent for gifts to our favorite charities or causes.
My list grows longer over the years, even as my income shrinks, but I make sure my favorites are remembered, and please feel free to adopt my list or add it to your own.
One of the two that I vow to always remember is the Humane Society of Pasco (P.O. Box 10, Elfers, FL 34680), which many, many years ago rescued a rotund, gray tuxedo cat that I adopted in 1996 and named Bustopher Jones II in honor of T.S. Eliot's famed Beau Brummell of cats — complete with white spats — in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats. Bustopher kept me company until his untimely death in January 2004, but my gratitude for those years will never end.
The other I will always remember is The Angelus, a home for developmentally disabled people (12413 Hudson Ave., Hudson, FL 34669) that embodies the holiday spirit more than any other place I can think of.
Others that I don't want to forget are those who drive by my house in the wee hours of the morning and make getting out of bed a lot easier.
The first is my St. Petersburg Times deliveryman, who drops My Favorite Newspaper on my driveway, come rain, sleet, snow or, most likely, a glorious Florida sunrise. A couple of hours later, my dear neighbor Joe props the paper against my front door, which lets me know that whatever else may be going on, all is right in my small world.
Next are my sanitation workers, Brian and Josh, who, sometime in the early hours of Wednesdays and Saturdays, neatly and quietly take away the flotsam and jetsam of my everyday life and keep me from becoming the star on one of those horrid, though inspirational television programs about people who can't seem to let go of their detritus.
Yes, I know that newspaper deliverers and garbage collectors are paid, but it seems to me that whatever they get, they deserve a little extra come holiday time. So there.
There are countless other people who also deserve something extra each day, never mind each year — teachers, school bus drivers, baby sitters, nursing home care givers, hospice workers, animal rescue people, to name a few.
And speaking of animals, the Humane Society has issued some warnings about the hazards posed to our pets by our celebrations that I pass on to you.
Be careful what your pet eats. Holly, mistletoe, ivy, tree decorations (especially ribbons), candy (especially chocolate) and table scraps (especially bones) can kill them. Or, as in the case of a dear relative, kill your budget when you have to cough up $1,500 to have a veterinarian retrieve a stray ribbon from your cat's innards.
Think twice before you bring your pet when you visit friends or relatives. All of the excitement isn't good for your pet, and it can be even more damaging to your human relationships when your pet overturns the tree, jumps on the table and chows down on the turkey, or bites Uncle Charlie, who has dressed up like Santa Claus. Hire a pet sitter, or find a good place to board your pet.
And don't even think of giving someone a "surprise" pet as a gift. Pets are as much a responsibility as children (actually more — most kids do eventually learn how to bathe and go potty for themselves), and you wouldn't think of giving someone a "surprise" child. Would you?
Instead, if you think someone really needs a pet, buy him an adoption certificate from an animal shelter and let him make that decision on his own.
Egad, I believe my friendly advice column has turned into a sermon. Forgive?