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One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts is a foot-tall snow-white sparkly ceramic squirrel from my nephew Isaac. When my brother Chris asked Isaac why he picked that present for me, Isaac said, “It’s fancy and Aunt Brandi’s fancy.”

I chuckle whenever I look at the decoration because I’ve never considered myself elegant or formal. Still, if my sweet, kind, more-self-aware-than-most-adults nephew sees my mostly-workout-clothes-wearing self as fancy, I should accept the frilly compliment because I know my nephew’s intentions are always love-filled.

It’s that time of year when many of us are adding unnecessary pressure to find the perfect gifts that spark a sentimental tear or shriek in delight. However, instead of stressing out and buying more stuff, the most lavish thing we can do is think about who we are to the people we love and how we can be more open, loving, and present during the holidays.

I’ve been more conscious recently about my listening skills and how they could improve. I may have given myself a pass for spending 17 years as a dog trainer listening to my client’s problems without doing anything to put myself back together at the end of the day. Or, maybe I’ve allowed my sometimes overwhelmed state of mind to overshadow what’s important to me: quality time with the people I love most. 

Our dogs remind us daily of how wonderful time together without talking can be. Dogs don’t wait their turn to speak (ok, maybe some do). Yet dogs consistently show us the joy of simple things.

Mabel loves shredding and ripping up boxes and paper. Even her squeaky toys, when I give her a stuffie to squawk and toss and tear apart, I give her the cardboard backing because my sweet, simple girl’s just as happy to rip apart the package as the toy. 

So, maybe this season, we give ourselves the present of not trying so hard to find, buy, and embellish gifts, more stuff. Instead, we offer our loved ones what we all want most: love, understanding, and listening to the same stories we’ve heard for years with a childlike wonder. And, if we’re lucky, we may find the perfect gift—profound thankfulness for our most important commodity: time.