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DIY Christmas: Give from the Heart, Not the Wallet

May 30, 2024

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I am terribly guilty of “overdoing” Christmas. 

When Nicole and Jaclyn were young, I bought, wrapped, and piled so many gifts under the tree that it would take the girls 3 days to unwrap them.  It’s true!  

Back then I justified it by purchasing “educational games” that stimulated their brains or art kits that would open the world of tie dying, sand sculpture, or whatever was the latest craze at the time.

Knowing that I was overdoing Christmas, I insisted that we play the games and open the art kits after they opened them so they would fully appreciate them.  And then, they wrote their thank you cards to all of the family and friends who also contributed to the piles of presents under the tree BEFORE opening the next gift. 

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated that we had so many family and friends who wanted to give during the holidays.  But it all got way out of control.

When my girls asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, I wrote out a list of things that I would really treasure and enjoy.  I asked for a bike-riding trip with the family or to have everyone help build an herb garden in my kitchen with me.  I also asked them to make earrings with me so we could create the perfect jewelry using the crystals and sterling silver that I love to wear. And if this list didn’t work for them, I asked to have the CD player repaired in my car and a playlist of my favorite oldies hits.  I wanted Christmas to be about sharing time together and making new memories.

What happened next was really inspiring. 

Jaclyn wanted spectacular beach photos for her living room walls. She had picked out a few photos from local photographers’ galleries and sent us links to their websites.  But with my new philosophy on Christmas this year, I thought I would shoot all of her favorite beach hangouts in Santa Cruz and enlarge them for her walls.  I shot dramatic stormy sunsets in Capitola and Pleasure Point, and then just yesterday I captured some of the 15-foot waves at Steamer’s Lane.

Winters in Santa Cruz bring huge waves – it’s a surfer’s paradise. I enjoyed going to her old stomping grounds at Black’s Beach and the Cove, where she hung out with friends in high school.  There’s something more personal when one spends a little time doing something special for you. When I sent her photos to choose from, she called me to tell me how really touched she was that I went out to shoot these photos just for her. 

Since then, I’ve been all over Santa Cruz with my camera and monopod really loving the beautiful place we call home, and I’m looking forward to a Christmas where our gifts come from our hearts, and not so much from our wallets.


Headshot of Susan Tatsui-D’Arcy 2019 california mother of the year at graduation ceremonySusan Tatsui-D’Arcy was born and raised in Southern California and currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. After her first child was born, Susan set up a preschool so she could spend more time with her daughter and provide engaging activities for her. She invited other children to join to create a stimulating and social environment. Realizing that no existing school met the standards she wanted for her children, she opened an elementary school for accelerated students that expanded with her children as they advanced each year. When her daughters were in middle school, Susan created ProjectMERIT to inspire teens to find their niches and pursue independent projects and then expanded Merit Academy to include high school and college advisory. Susan has written eleven books on parenting, education & time management. Susan is the CEO and founder of Merit Academy and Merit Educational Consultants. For fun, Susan skis, ATVs, and manages her aquaponics garden and permaculture fruit orchard. Susan is the 2019 California Mother of the Year. Read more about Susan here…