3 Questions I Ask During My Child’s Tantrum

Tantrums are an inevitable part of toddlerdom. Americans call it the ‘Terrible Twos’ or the ‘Terrible Threes’ if you’re really unlucky, but the Danish call it The Boundary Stage“. The Danish have their own way of parenting and living slowly in general. I haven’t read it all the way through yet but it’s on my summer reading list: The Danish Way.

There’s no secret that my second child is my tantrum queen. She’ll meltdown over a drop of milk on the table or a sock that doesn’t fit just right. But I’ve noticed, that sometimes, the severity of the tantrum differs based on circumstances outside of her current predicament.

Some questions I ask myself when our little’s are having a meltdown:

What kind of tantrum am I dealing with right now?

It’s important to recognize the type of tantrum. There’s a significant difference between the kicking, screaming, throwing type of tantrum and the huffing and puffing because things are just not working out well. I see 3 different type of tantrums any given day:

  1. Defiance tantrum: this is basically what the Danish call, ‘The Boundary Stage’. She is pushing a boundary to see how far she can get. It’s really important I set strong boundaries for these type of tantrums and never give in for that kind of behavior…all without yelling. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! (For instance, the time I waited 15 minutes for my 3-year-old to get off the floor in the Lowe’s exit because I couldn’t carry her baby doll. The looks of passersby were Instagram-worthy).
  2. Frustration tantrum: Thoughts of my 3-year-old, Charlotte, “This baby doll won’t sit perfectly in this stroller, so I’ll throw the whole darn thing across a room.”  It’s important I recognize her frustration and help her work through it. Easier said than done, but It. Must. Be. Done. Life is frustrating, adulting especially, but we have ways of working it out and I need to teach my kids appropriate ways of working through their frustrations too because throwing her desk across the room probably won’t go over well in the corporate world.
  3. Life is Over Tantrum: This tantrum is completely illogical, and sometimes violent, it stems from something much deeper than the current problem. I need to ask myself follow-up questions if we get to this point in a tantrum! See below…

What happened today or yesterday?

My kids are pretty predictable. I know they can’t handle a 6 a.m – 6 p.m., full day, packed with activities, no matter how much fun they have. Even for my quiet, first born, long days usually end in tears or stair stomping. If they have had one of these days, I try to recognize how tired they are and not even indulge in an argument or tantrum. We call it a day and put them to bed with as little fuss as possible. This usually looks like a quick teeth brush (if possible) and any calming bedtime routine that will end this crazy, forsaken day. Lots of times, my girls want to read books to calm them before bed. Even if it’s 11 p.m. we read them the books if it will get them to sleep in the calmest way possible.

What Can I Do Right Now to Diffuse This?

Sometimes, we have the perfect storm. We are out late, we are staying in a hotel, lots of people are around or we staying at a friend’s house and all ‘toddler-hell’ breaks loose. First things first, we remove them from all forms of stimulation. I usually take my older daughter for a walk away from everyone, or if it’s late, to a room (or hallway) where just her and I can sit and either talk or read. I find nothing rude about this, even at a friend’s house. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings (attitude or otherwise) and remove them from the offending situation. This tactic has always worked and always will, but a word of caution, there are times we’ve had to literally drag our kids out of a mess, kicking and screaming.

Once upon a time, when my daughter (who I shall not name), attempted to hit my husband in the face, repeatedly, while he was removing her from a tantrum in the post exchange. We’ve all been there, can I get an Amen? The point is, she was removed, we went somewhere quiet where she could either finish her tantrum, or calm down, or decide if it was time to go home because it’s obviously been too hectic of a day.

Word to the sane: I’m not perfect, these are just the notes I write myself to remember to follow the right steps when I’m dealing with a breakdown. I’ve screamed and yelled and many other things I’m not proud of. We are all just trying to do the right thing but don’t get down on yourself if you slip up because you have feelings and limits too. Remember, apologizing, especially to your children teaches them it’s okay to make mistakes but that we must own our actions and words.

I hope these questions can help you, the next time your in the middle of meltdown city. Are there any questions or tactics you use during tantrums?

The Overwhelmed Family

The photo above was on a train ride from Vicenza to Roma. I’d like to say how lovely the trip was, but it wasn’t, we were way overwhelmed and under prepared.

 

Life isn’t so simple, I’m not sure it’s been simple since the industrial revolution, and today’s technologies make it increasingly more difficult to reconnect and slow down within our family.

Signs Your Family is Overwhelmed:

  1. Mom, Dad, and kids are easy to snap during the simplest tasks.
  2. Kids come home and immediately start a fight with you or each other.
  3. The look of disgust or anguish can be seen on their little faces the moment they get into the car.
  4. Tears come quickly at the slightest hint of the word ‘no’ or ‘time to go home’.

For some of these, we think that this is always normal, or this is just how kids are and how we are. However, this really can’t be the norm. Living this way every day or even weekly isn’t healthy and doesn’t need to be the case.

I’ve recommended it before, but I seriously can’t recommend it enough: Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The signs above are what he calls a Soul Fever, and it can be reduced or eliminated if we take steps to slow down our family.

Recognizing these Soul Fevers is the most important step. My husband and I recently came home one night with our two daughters, completely melting down from leaving an art show. They had school all day, a playdate after school, a quick dinner then an art show, until 8 p.m. Although this doesn’t seem so bad, our girls just couldn’t handle it. The amount of attitude and tears was unbearable leaving the show. After some embarrassing yelling and prompting, my hubby and I took a seat on the couch (with kids still breaking down in the background) and recalled that this was our fault. We know their limits, we’ve done this before and recognized that they can’t handle long days and nights, especially on school nights. If we knew they would have to go to the art show we should have said no to the afterschool playdate and left the show earlier than we did. A small failure that we paid dearly for.

In the past we’ve implemented the one activity per day rule; we don’t plan more than one big activity per day, even on weekends. This worked out fabulously for us in the past, when they were really little, and we thought since they were getting older they could handle a bit more now. Well, we were wrong! We are back to our standard one activity a day and life is much easier. We say no to a lot of invitations since we know they just will not end well. Truthfully, it makes us more relaxed parents. We aren’t carting them all over God’s Creation, trying to fill every last second with something fun. There are times when we feel guilty that they will miss out on a rewarding and exciting experience, but nothing is rewarding if it calls for a tantrum at the end.

Tantrums do not have to be normal.

Every child is different, get to know yours really well and you’ll be able to tell why they tantrum. My oldest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough downtime and sleep. My youngest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough one-on-one attention (and sleep). We all ‘tantrum’ we don’t get enough sleep, Amen!

What does your family do to avoid the Soul Fever? Do you have family rules to help keep a calm and relaxed household?

Some of our rules:

  1. One activity/sport per season, per kid.
  2. One activity per day.
  3. One down day every weekend, almost like a Sabbath.
  4. Reward chart for good behavior during required activities (teeth brushing, bedtime, getting ready for school).
  5. Checking with our spouse before we say ‘yes’ to anything.
  6. No friend sleepovers (again the sleep factor)!
  7. No playdates on school nights (this one I’ve tried over and over again, but sadly she just can’t handle it).

Good Change, Bad Change, It’s All the Same

Photo Credit: Joe Leap

Have you ever wondered why you felt so drained even though you’ve accomplished something amazing? Maybe you’re supposed to feel elated about a career move but then suddenly you’re exhausted just thinking about it. If you express those feelings you’ll be seen as unhappy and ungrateful. It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with you, your body is just responding to stress, it’s just good stress. However, your body responds to those changes, roughly, in the same way as negative change. We go through similar hormonal responses.

Change can be good, in moderation, at the right time in your life.

If you’ve never heard of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Test, I recommend you take it. You should retake this test anytime you feel unexplainably stressed, you don’t know why you keep getting sick or have some unexplained health issues. Don’t forget to add things that you can recognize as stress that may not be listed or may not be as straight forward. For instance, if you’ve just graduated college make sure to add ‘end of college‘ and ‘outstanding personal achievement‘. If you’re moving back in with your parents add ‘moving‘ and ‘change in family obligations‘ as well. Thus graduating from college is incredibly stressful, even though it’s an entirely wonderful achievement.

All change is stress to your mind and body!

If you’d like to do some further research head on over to the CDC website to do an experiment on how you personally cope with stress: (https://www.cdc.gov/bam/teachers/documents/stress_body_mind.pdf).

Just know that all change is stress to your mind and body. Just got a promotion? Great, check the stress box. Just had a big disagreement with your in-laws? Sorry about that, but again, check the stress box.

So what do we do about about all this stress? Since it’s inevitable and life happens after all. Learn to recognize the things you can control and things you can’t. If you’ve just lost an important family member, now is not the time to take on optional work. MindTools states, “While this is clearly easier said than done, you can usually avoid moving house, for example, close to when you retire, or when one of your children goes off to college; you can learn conflict resolution skills to minimize conflict with other people; you can avoid taking on new obligations or engaging with new programs of study; and you can take things easy, and look after yourself.” 

Looking after yourself receives a post all on it’s own, but for now find one thing you do just for yourself (that doesn’t include internet surfing or television watching). Schedule time for this, by writing it on the calendar. Do this regularly and more often during noticeably high stress times. It’s okay not to do it all now. That’s the whole point of slowing down. There is a time in life for everything, but the time for everything is not right now.

Meditation also deserves a note here. I am in no way affiliated with 10% Happier but I’ve used their first seven guided meditations and I can happily recommend it.

I’m going to coin the term, Change Seeker, a person constantly in need of change to feel fulfilled.

Personal aside: the military has made me a Change Seeker. I look for change everywhere, I constantly rearrange my furniture, I’m always looking forward to the next place to move or new things to get involved in (or new degrees to get). But I can recognize that I’m, pretty much, chronically stressed (in both good and bad ways). I made a list of ongoing projects and I’m a little embarrassed to share it, so let’s just say it’s over 50 items long. I’m looking to slow my change seeking behaviors and hope to report to you a healthier update in the future.

 

 

Are you Healthy? Check your Poop!

Checking your daily poop for optimized health.

Poop Pageant Image: From Practical Paleo

What’s the best way to determine if you’re currently healthy? Take a look at your daily poop, AND you should be having a DAILY poop.

Finding a healthy balance is extremely difficult for all of us in the Western world. There are so many demands pulling us in so many directions that our health takes a back seat to work, home demands, kids, you name it. But your health (mental and physical) is incredibly important to those around you. When you are miserable, so is your spouse, kids, and co-workers, and that’s partially your fault for not taking care of yourself in the first place.

Take care of yourself, in order to not drag others down!

Now, I’m no guru on the body. I’ve taken my fair share of classes in anatomy and nutrition but I’m not a doctor, holistic or otherwise. I do care about my body though and I know when it feels good and I know when it feels pretty shitty.

In order to feel my best, I need to:

  • Eat Clean, this means eating real food, not something from a bag, can or tub. It usually requires a good amount of prep work but it’s worth every second. I’m planning on doing the Whole30 soon and will post results. Eating clean requires me to Plan, Plan, Plan! I hate this actually, I’m usually the more spontaneous type but if I don’t plan, then I eat junk and I feel terrible!

 

  • I take my supplements! In today’s food market we cannot get what we need from the foods that are being grown and produced. The soil is laden with pesticides and run-off. It’s not worth losing sleep over but it’s worth knowing that you’re going to need to supplement. I take a multivitamin and pre and probiotics. There is a lot that has come out recently about gut health. Want to know if your gut is healthy? Check out this poop pageant, hang it in your bathroom even (no shame in the game!).

 

  • Keep your house clean with the most eco-friendly products you can find. You can make your own cleaning products or find a good company you trust (right now I’m stuck on Mrs. Meyers). I use a few basics products and try to keep it simple with four bottles for everything!

 

  • Create a healthy mind. I’ve just started the 10% happier meditations. I feel a little silly meditating, but so did Dan Harris when he first started. It’s cooler to be calm than be a lunatic all the time. Yoga is also my go to mind and body workout. I currently practice Yoga with Adriene on youtube. She has so many videos, for every type of yoga imaginable.

 

  • Finally, exercise. The concept of exercise is by far the most difficult lifestyle factor for me to achieve. I need accountability, every single day, or I need a calendar reminder to get outside and move. Exercise doesn’t need to be gym worthy; you can walk/jog around your neighborhood, ride your bike, go swimming, or do a workout video at home (there are so many free ones on youtube).

Do you have any other strategies that keep you at your best?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies. They are purely my chosen methods of research and products. 

How to backtrack after chasing the American Dream

Photo: inhabit.com

I recently wrote an article on how living in Italy changed my idea of minimalism and it had a lot of wonderful responses and questions. The main question: how can we live like this without actually moving to Europe? Obviously, we can’t live exactly like this because we don’t have control over billboards or shopping malls but we do have control over our homes, minds and where we choose to shop.

After we moved back to the United States we dived head first into the American dream. We bought a house that was too big for us, furnished the rooms that we didn’t have furniture for, acquired all the maintenance items ‘needed’ to upkeep the house, including a power washer, snow blower and leaf blower AND we bought a new car. What. Were. We. Thinking? Honestly, we weren’t thinking. Consumerism had taken hold of our minds and bodies. Even my eldest daughter would go into meltdowns when she couldn’t get something she saw in a store, which had been completely unlike her in Italy. I felt her pain, I wanted it all too. All the big, shiny cars, houses, clothes and furniture.

In January of this year, I started digging ourselves out of the hole we had dug. I’m still digging but I have a goal in mind and that is what pushes me forward. Europe left its mark on me, I had only just forgotten about it for a short time.

4 ways we are putting a stop to the American Dream:

1. Selling the big car for a smaller one

Europeans drive small cars. Large families cram into small cars and yes, it may be uncomfortable for the duration of the ride but they learn to work together to get where they need to go. It’s called teamwork and it takes a lot of understanding and patience but it’s a life lesson, a life lesson that we are forgetting quickly in America. So the big ole’ mini-van is on its way out and I’m back to a Prius (just like I had in Italy, ironically). We are a family of four, who fit very comfortably in a Prius, no one is complaining.

2. Playing the ‘We are moving’ game

I love this one. My husband and I have been playing this little game on the weekends. We will ask, “If we were moving to a 2-bedroom apartment would you take this?” We like to imagine we are moving to a 2-bedroom condo or townhouse, (eh-em no yard work), in Florida or another warm state! So far, we decided, the huge dining room table we bought is going, as is our second tv stand. Why I have two tv stands…I don’t know, seemed like a good idea at the time, so we could all watch tv separately, which never happens and is completely frivolous now that I think of it.

3. My kids will learn to share their stuff

Sharing is a fact of life. There are a few instances when you never have to share, but for the most part, we need to share our lives with others. I have to share a room with my husband (and a bathroom, sigh) but I’ve always had to share with my sisters, then with my roommates, etc. etc. We do not need two individual bathrooms for my husband and I and arguably we do not need double the amount of toys so that each of my children has one of their own. If we can learn to share we won’t have double of everything, all while teaching great life lessons to our kids. Some minimalists go as far as owning close to nothing and borrowing a lot of things they need, like a lawn mower, or blender but it’s okay to own one of these if you use it often!

4. I refuse to go into department stores or malls

Too. Many. Choices. The noise, the lights, the smells. It’s all too much for me to go into big box stores or department stores anymore. When you live without them for years, it can really make your head spin when you return. I had an actual panic attack in a mall when we returned from Italy and I had a moment of decision paralysis when I had an entire aisle of juice to choose from in the grocery store. It’s insane the number of choices offered in just about any store in America. I now limit my choices extensively. I only shop at Trader Joe’s because they only have exactly what I need and nothing else (I promise I don’t spend more than at the regular grocery). I have considered ordering my body products online, as Target has become a death bed for my wallet and I try to shop at only locally owned shops when available. I’m so looking forward to our new, specialty, in town coffee shop that doesn’t sell Starbucks or dunkin’ donuts!

What are you doing to downsize your big life?

Is this Happiness or Pleasure?

Many people talk about slowing down, getting out of the rat race, retiring to Florida, downsizing, or becoming minimalist, but why? The answer is to be happy but if we don’t define happiness we can mistakenly replace it with pleasure and find ourselves in the exact same boat we were in before we slowed down.

It should seem that giving up commitments and removing our clutter would make us feel immensely better and it does for a moment until you want that one thing you got rid of and now your life is a little more complicated. You may have to improvise or ask someone to borrow something, which makes us just a little uncomfortable or can annoyingly take us a little bit longer.

Maybe being happy doesn’t mean having everything we want.

Does being happy mean we are never uncomfortable? Resoundingly, No! We can have an incredibly happy life, content with where we are, who we are and what we have. Happiness comes from the knowledge that it’s not always going to be easy and it’s not always going to be perfect and we will still be okay. We will actually be more than okay, we will learn lessons and become a better version of ourselves because of the experience. We can even have the expectation that we will be uncomfortable and just that knowledge can make us happier when we find we aren’t as uncomfortable as we thought we would be.

Pleasure, however, is a different beast. Seeking pleasure is, by far, not the same thing as seeking happiness. Pleasure, in most cases, actually will decrease our happiness. See, the pleasure meter you experience when you get something new is off the charts, but then just days later you’re already less excited than you were when you first received it. It’s like buying a new car, or a new pair of shoes, after the first use your pleasure meter starts to go down and you can become unhappy when the car isn’t everything you thought it would be or the shoes don’t hold up as well as you expected.

There are three different variables in the happiness meter: Pleasure, expectation, and contentment. Pleasure has high-risk factors for decreasing happiness overall. If we seek only pleasures in life we will eventually come to expect them. Expectation is the root of all discontentment, we become incredibly discontented when our expectations are not met. And here is where we find unhappiness.

So the formula seems to suggest that we actually stop seeking pleasure. Which would be a pretty boring life, but what if for the sake of argument, in our overly abundant, consumerist, first world country, that we just stop seeking so many pleasures? Sure I’ll still seek the beach in the summertime and ice cream on the first day of spring but maybe I’ll stop seeking the $5,000 vacations and the brand new vehicles. And without the need for expensive houses, cars, and vacations, I may find I have to work less and that wouldn’t be too bad! What if we seek happiness right where we are, with the people we are with?

Arguably, our culture sets us up for unhappiness. Expectations in the U.S. are unreasonable. We see ads everywhere that include the perfect (but outrageously expensive) vacations, perfect hair, flawless skin, the fastest cars with heated and cooled seats, and bigger and bigger and bigger houses (though cheaply built). While, Instagram and facebook surely, don’t help us set lower our expectations either. We are set up for failure and that sucks. But we have the option to see through the smoke screens and remind ourselves of what makes us happy not what is purely pleasurable.

What pleasures have you sought because you thought they would increase your happiness?

Some of mine are: a new minivan (we are the only country in the world where every parent drives a minivan, no matter the number of kids), a bigger house than I really need, perfectly renovated bathrooms, expensive shoes for a theoretical career, and a Caribbean vacation. I’m sure that list could go on. When I really think about it, those things have not brought me happiness, just short, intense pleasure. I would have been just as happy (or happier), in the long run, going to the Outer Banks with my family, wearing shoes from TJ Maxx, a bathroom that functioned but wasn’t super pretty (so I had more money to give, or to take my family to the beach), and I would have been way happier with a used, smaller car that I didn’t’ feel worried my kids would ruin with their lollipops or chocolate milk!

For my downshifted life, I’ll be taking steps this year to recognize what is happiness in my life and what is simply pleasure.

Minimalist Gifts for Your Love Language

There are five love languages and it’s not hard to figure out which one you are by taking a simple test. The five languages are Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts.  It can be difficult to know someone else’s love language and give them a gift that truly speaks to them unless you ask them to take the test.

If you know the person really well, such as your spouse, child or good friend, you can usually guess one of their top love languages. Furthermore, it can be difficult to buy gifts for minimalists who view physical objects as obtrusive to their lifestyle and happiness. Here’s a short guide to overcoming gifting problems.

1. Everyone has a secondary love language; utilize it.

My love language is Quality Time but my secondary language is Words of Affirmation. If you aren’t able to offer me quality time, because you live too far away or are too busy, then please write me a beautifully written note or letter about how you feel about me.  If you MUST buy me a physical gift then I would prefer something useful (like a specialty tea) or something that’s ‘just so me’!

Gifts for the Words of Affirmation type: a letter or note, a list of things you love about the person, a book you made especially for them, a homemade meme about them (here’s an app for this), have a cartoon drawn of them, a CD or iTunes combination that they would like. The key to this language: being creative and knowing their best qualities.

Gifts for the Quality Time type: Invite them to wander around a city or town together, tickets to a show or play, a night with no phones and no screens – just the two of you, a pass to take a class together, or as a big gesture take the whole day off of work just to spend with them. The key to this language: no phones. This person feels really hurt when you look at a screen instead of them.

Gifts for the Acts of Service type: Take the kids and allow them some personal time, buy them a car wash or house cleaning service, plan out a trip to take them on or make a list of things to do in their area, make them dinner (that’s freezable), make them a calendar and take the time to write in all the important family birthdates and holidays. The key to this language: know what they do often and find a way to do it for them.

2. When we don’t know the person well enough to know their love language. 

When we don’t know the gift receiver well enough then Quality Time, Physical Touch and even Words of Affirmation are really off the table because let’s be real, that could get awkward. As a minimalist it’s hard to buy this person just random junk we know will be trashed or donated. What a waste.

Focus on their occupation: for a gift for an acquaintance or friend, figure out what they do all day. Teachers love gift cards and fun school/art supplies and they will never go to waste, bonus points if you can put it in a super durable, useful organizer. Stay-at-home moms can always use coffee or tea, a nice sweater or leggings (gift receipt please) and if you’re really ambitious, a home-cooked meal they can freeze or free babysitting. If the receiver has a long commute buy them a book on audible, a subscription to a magazine or newspaper, or make a CD/iTunes mix just for them. The key to finding the right gift that won’t go to waste: utility and ways to make their life easier.

3. The hardest love language to please when you’re a minimalist: Receiving Gifts

Receiving Gifts, as a love language, is usually hard for minimalists to follow through on. Why buy something they aren’t going to keep or that will clutter their lives? But Receiving Gifts is a real love language and lots of people actually view love in this way; arguably, this is how most people express love in our culture. How can you do this in a productive, non-wasteful way?

Gifts for the Receiving Gifts type: a basket of consumables (think jam, candy, flowers, wine), a book you know they’ve been wanting to read, a gift card or catalog telling them to circle what they want, a photo album of your favorite memories with them, a journal with prompts, a kindle, iTunes gift card (for apps or music), something related to their birthday month (ex. birthstone earrings). The key to this language: buy them a gift that reminds you of them or you know is their favorite. It doesn’t have to be expensive but it has to be about them and not junk!

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4. Kids and the never ending Legos.

Children receive so much STUFF, between holidays, birthdays and general visits to the grandparents, it seems to never end. You would think a child’s love language is always Receiving Gifts, but I urge you to think about why children love receiving gifts so much. Does your kid ask you to build legos with them all the time or do art projects with you constantly? I’d say their real love language is Quality Time. Is your child super happy when you’ve cleaned their bedroom for them or made them their favorite meal? Maybe your little one’s love language is Acts of Service. I don’t know a child that doesn’t love to hear Words of Affirmation. How can we limit the amount of junk that comes into our homes through these other love languages?

Ask grandparents to take just the birthday girl/boy on a day just for them; they could take them to the movies or out to dinner and really get to know them one-on-one. Try to emphasize how important days like this are over physical objects.

Here are some presents we all wish you would buy for our kids but never do: museum passes, zoo passes, movie tickets, amusement park passes, jump or play zone passes, musical instrument lessons or money towards any lessons, and subscriptions of any type. Live far away? Buy them a personalized stationary set and ask them to be your penpal. Snail mail is so fun and the world is quickly losing good writers!

For kids birthday parties: Gift cards to kid-oriented restaurants or ice cream shops are always fun. Project boxes that kids can do on their own are a blessing to parents and kids alike (I have a stack all ready for when they are ‘bored’ this summer). Think outside the box, we all have enough Legos already. Some great building projects are kiwi crate and Creativity for Kids. Outdoor equipment is also a pretty safe bet, like roller blades, scooters, beach toys, or gardening sets. If all else fails, gift cards are always welcome!

5. Physical Touch as a love language should be saved for your immediate family. Enough said. 

There isn’t much need for explanation in this category but if your spouse’s love language is Physical Touch make sure you’re extra loving on their birthday and throughout the year. A cuddle here, a kiss there, make sure you pay extra attention. Again, put down the phone and hold their hand! This type of person will also love a massage gift certificate or mani-pedi.