I've been thinking a lot lately about giving. That's undoubtedly because of the season but not entirely. I don't spend the month preceding Christmas running around like a crazed fool looking to fulfill a gift list, whether that person wants the item or not. I only buy presents for the five great-nephews -- just a little something they can open from me. The rest of the family gets my homemade lasagna for the holiday dinner buffet. If you've ever made lasagna from scratch, you know it's labor-intensive, and therefore a labor of love.

To me, the focus of the season (and the rest of the year, for that matter) should be what we do for others. Not buying them a gift they might not ever use.

What came to mind, in particular, was that a year ago, my brother-in-law -- no stranger to helping out other people -- had this bright idea: Let's get together as a family and work on one another's houses. My brother-in-law is a contractor, works hard and long hours remodeling and fixing other people's homes for a living.

But he thought since there are seven homeowners in the family who rarely have the time or money to work on their properties, he would devise a plan (and lists) of the tasks to be completed at each of them -- in a day. He called his program "Family Cares," and modeled it, to a certain extent, after AmericCares Homefront. So from January to April of this year, the members of each household had to work at all of the others.

His idea was the ultimate volunteer effort.

My brother-in-law handled all of the big carpentry work, while the rest of us did whatever he assigned us to do. My brother-in-law used us where he thought our skill sets would do the most good. Some of us helped with the carpentry, others painted or did cleanups. At one of the homes, my nephew and I dug and rototilled a plot for a vegetable garden.

One of my biggest jobs was the day I ran a team of family members to clean out the basement of my niece's house. It wasn't the most pleasant task, but it sure held a sense of accomplishment. My greatest joy at the completion of the job was when my two great-nephews decided they would make the newly refurbished basement their "boy cave." And every time I walk through my brightly painted living room, with a newly exposed hardwood floor, and kitchen, I am very grateful to the family for helping me to do something I never would have done on my own.

While my brother-in-law said he wanted to do the program so he could see his family more, I think he did it because he wanted to do something that was bigger than his immediate world. Toiling every day to make money, sustain a lifestyle and pay bills cannot be all there is to life. Looking out for and helping someone else are the greatest gifts.

Keep that in mind as you race around the malls in this final week before Christmas. There are many ways to help someone else during this season of giving, and in return make you feel really good.

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines or @patricia_hines on Twitter.