Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thank-You Notes With a Personal Touch


According to the Emily Post Institute, all gifts should be acknowledged with a thank-you note, unless the presents were opened in the presence (get it?) of the gift-giver. If you are able to thank the giver in person as you open the gift, you’re off the hook – unless, says Emily, the giver is one of the “older generation” who expects (and appreciates) a hand-written note of thanks as a gesture of respect and consideration.

An e-mailed thank-you is OK only if you have a casual relationship with the gift giver and already correspond regularly via e-mail. But when in doubt, write it out – a handwritten note is infinitely more personal and thoughtful. Think of it as the hug your gift-giver would have gotten had you been together when the gift was opened. An e-mailed thank-you, on the other hand, is more like a fist-bump. Or maybe a high five.

If you have a little time to spend on your thank-you note (sure you do), it’s easy to use your computer and printer (or scissors and glue) to create a custom note card. By adding creative photos, printouts or elements that tie in with the gift or your relationship with the giver, you can make the card itself a meaningful and fun part of your expression of heartfelt gratitude.

Some thank-you note theme ideas:
  • Take a digital photo of the recipient with the gift (opening it, enjoying it, or just posing as shown above)

  • Scan an old photo of the gifter and the giftee together

  • Decorate a card using packaging or giftwrap from the gift, or a printout from a related website

  • Use something that ties in with the gift -- if your gifter gave you a gift card for a bookstore, decorate the card with the art from a best-selling book. If he/she gave you a ski jacket, cut out a snowflake or find a graphic of a skier.
     
  • Think about the past: If you went to France together once upon a time, use some French graphics on the card (or better yet, write it in French!). If you were college chums, decorate the card with a graphic of your school’s mascot.

  • Think about the future: If you will be seeing her in 2010, decorate the card with a tiny calendar with your reunion date circled. If he is planning a trip somewhere exciting, use a photo of his destination.
Give it a little thought…see if you can come up with something fun to make that special someone extra happy to get your note.

Either way, just be sure to write the dang note. Ms. Post says a late thank-you note is always better than no note at all (but why wait?).


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last-Second Gift Ideas

One year our family gift exchange somehow went haywire, and two of us bought gifts for the same kid...which meant one nephew was left giftless. This error was discovered when we were celebrating Christmas in the remote north woods of Wisconsin, where there are few shopping opportunities on a good day, much less December 25. My quick-thinking sister-in-law spotted the crisis while we were just about to open gifts, and sent her son to the nearest gas station/mini mart, where he loaded up on squirt guns, jumbo packs of gum, water balloon kits and lots of candy. A Christmas crisis averted!

Goes to show you, Santa's not the only one who should check his list twice on Christmas...

Here are some on-the-spot solutions to keep in mind if you have an unexpected gift-giving opportunity on Christmas day:
  • Check your closets and cupboards for new, potentially giftable items.

  • Do a quick shuffle and re-tag gifts -- rob Peter to gift Paul. Peter will understand.

  • Re-gift (but follow the rules of re-gifting -- see 12/22 post)
     
  • Add a ribbon to a nice bottle of wine or liqueur.
     
  • Wrap up a vase, home decor item or piece of jewelry you can live without.

  • Go sentimental: pass on a minor family heirloom or a great book.
     
  • Turn cash into something less gauche than cash -- attach $20 to a packet of microwave popcorn with a note that reads, "Enjoy a movie on us!"

  • If all else fails, head to 7-11 or the grocery store that's open on December 25...then get creative (think gift cards, candy, wine...).
If you celebrate Christmas, I hope yours is very merry -- and your gifts are big hits!

~

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kids are Gift-Givers Too

Children need to learn about the art of graciously giving and receiving gifts while they are still young enough to pay attention to their parents. This phase does not last long, so it's important for us to act quickly.

Young children and teenagers alike can take part in creating meaningful, affordable gifts to give to family and close friends this holiday season. Children generally do not have a lot of cash, so homemade gifts are most appropriate (and, of course, most appreciated). It's so fun to see kids get excited about giving a gift they have created...

Here are some easy (and fun) ideas for gifts kids can create and give:
  • Christmas tree ornaments
    - Craft stores sell inexpensive clear glass ornaments, which can be painted with glass paint or filled with  beads, tinsel, feathers, glitter or other holiday goodies
    - Regular matte glass ornaments can be decorated with metallic Sharpie pens or glue and glitter
    - The old flour-and-salt dough recipe is an easy (and inexpensive) classic for creating cute ornaments

  • Bookmarks
    - Cut a 2 x 8-inch slice of kid's art, a cute photo, computer art or a plain piece of paper inscribed (by your young one) with the recipient's name and stamped or doodled decorations... laminate at Kinko's (FedEx Office, whatever), punch a hole and add a tassel or ribbon. Ta-dah!

  • Refrigerator magnets
    - Fimo clay (sold at craft stores and art stores) is like perma-Play-Doh... comes in brilliant colors, and can be baked to permanent hardness. Kids can create little sculptures, bake them, and glue them to magnets for lovely refrigerator decor to be coveted by grandmas everywhere.

  • School art
    - Art projects from school that are destined for the back of your closet might just merit a place of honor in someone else's home.

  • Gift certificates - the gift of time: Older kids (and adults, for that matter) can create certificates for time and services -- always appreciated!
    - Wash the dog, the car or the dishes
    - Babysitting or dog-walking
    - Yard work, house work, laundry or help with errands
    - Breakfast in bed
    - What else? Drop hints!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gift Cards = #1 Gift Choice


A recent National Retail Federation poll found that gift cards are the number one favorite holiday present -- more than half of those surveyed hoped to receive one this season. Of course, this survey is subject to a tiny bit of bias, since our nation’s retailers stand to make an estimated $95 billion in sales of gift cards this year, but the fact remains: gift cards are hot.

What's not to like? They are ultra-convenient (buy it at the source if you are out shopping, or pick up a couple of cards along with a gallon of milk at the grocery store). They are always the right size, the right color, the right style. Yay, gift cards.

And yet...and yet...gift cards are kind of a cop out. They usually don't take much effort on the gift-giver's end, and they can feel a bit impersonal. Gift cards seem to say "I don't know what you want, but I think I know what you like, and I don't want to take the risk of buying you something you already have or will only sorta-like." Right? Right.

The remedy? Pump up your gift card gift with some creative touches to transform it into a personal, meaningful gift. Let's face it: a card alone feels a little too much like a gift of cash (which Miss Manners would frown upon, undoubtedly). A card with a little something attached feels like the gift of a shopping spree or fun experience created with your giftee in mind (which feels pretty darn good).

How can you make a gift card more fun to receive?
  • Book store gift card - Include a note with recommendations of books / CDs / DVDs you have enjoyed, or print out a list of award-nominees for this year. Add a handmade bookmark (make your own using photos or your computer, or put your kids to work for you). Include an Itty-Bitty Booklight or reading glasses, or fake out your giftee by tucking the card between the covers of a book he/she wouldn't necessarily enjoy (you can probably find some great bodice-rippers at thrift stores)...

  • iTunes gift card - Package it in a CD case (or even an LP sleeve!). Create your own cover art, or use an old CD cover to fake out your music-lovin' friend.

  • Hardware store gift card - These are great for home owners and renters alike. Include something tangible from the store with your gift card -- a house plant, an inexpensive tool or a book on whatever home improvement project your giftee has been wanting to tackle.

  • Manicure/pedicure gift card - Include a bottle of nail polish (OPI brand has some very clever names for colors -- there's an opportunity for punning here).

  • Restaurant gift card - Include a copy of the menu (available on site or online). Package the card in a Chinese food carryout box or a fast food to go container. Attach a nice bottle of wine, a roll of Rolaids, chopsticks, toothpicks or one of those funny extension forks (available at Restoration Hardware). Give this some thought: what fits? What would your giftee get a kick out of?

  • Sports store gift card - What sports does your giftee enjoy? Gear the attachment to that. Tuck the card in a pair of athletic socks or an Ace bandage, or attach it to a can of deodorant or gel insoles. Wrap the package in the newspaper's sports page.

  • Clothing store gift card - Attach the card to the store's latest catalog, annotated (by you!) to show which outfits the giftee should try. Or package the card in a big gift box from the store, with a note indicating that this space is reserved for a future stylin' purchase. Or wrap the card with something very outdated (from a thrift store or your closet), just to fake him/her out.

  • Coffee shop gift card - An unused coffee cup can be the perfect box for the card...include some breath mints or sleep aids or...?

  • Movie theater or video rental gift card - Package the card with a bag of microwave popcorn or a box of your giftee's favorite candy.
Lots of creative options! If you are willing to be a bit of a card yourself, your gift card can become a very fun gift to receive. Yay, gift cards.

~

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Non-Shoppers Guide to Gift Shopping


We all know someone who is uncomfortable with the shopping aspect of the holiday season. This person (who, statistically speaking, is probably a male and very likely your husband or boyfriend) probably does not shop January-November, so this pressure at the end of the year can be quite daunting. Compare it to an athletic endeavor: if one hasn't trained all year and then wants to win a gold medal in December, he/she is under a lot of pressure -- without a lot of chances for success.

But there is hope. Feel free to print out these 12 tips to help the non-shopper come up with a great gift or two...
  1. Start with a list: Who are you shopping for? Think a little bit about their likes and dislikes, their daily lives right now, the past you have shared with them, and any impending future plans of note. If you might be shopping for clothing, shoes or jewelry, know their sizes and style preferences. Also know the cell phone numbers of their good friends, just in case you get stuck.

  2. Do a little detective work to figure out where she already likes to shop...this will make your life easier and greatly improve your chances of picking an appropriate gift. If you discover she is a devoted Talbot's shopper, for example, you probably won't want to waste your time in Forever 21. Or visa-versa.

  3. Resist the hype. Just because something has been advertised on TV or has a beautiful display does not mean it will be a great gift. Just because something is on sale or you have a 50% off coupon does not mean it will be a great gift. A great gift is something you think your giftee will be happy to receive and enjoy using. Retailers don't necessarily share your same values, so don't let them push you around.

  4. Feel free to ask sales clerks for help, and be prepared to give them clues about your giftee's size, age, habits and/or preferences, and be aware that these clerks are probably super-busy. This time of year you may encounter employees who are temps without a lot of experience (or, in some cases, brains), so it is perfectly acceptable to turn to kindly fellow shoppers for advice.

  5. If you find a perfect gift that is in a shrink-wrapped basket, it is not a perfect gift, no matter what the nice saleslady says. Move on.

  6. Think about what your giftee already owns, but don't buy something she already has. If she has a red wallet and a red coat, she probably likes red. Work from there. You can buy something else that's red (like a cosmetics bag or a sweater), or something that complements red (like a plaid scarf or red and gold earrings -- if she wears earrings and likes gold).

  7. Avoid the obvious. If she has been collecting turtle figurines for 20 years, another turtle statue isn't going to rock her world (unless it's one she has been coveting). Or if she is an avid tennis player and already has all the tennis gear she could ever want or need, don't go there. Find another place to focus.

  8. Gift cards can be nice, as long as (a) they are not the only gift you are giving (a card alone isn't very exciting) and (b) they are from places she would want to visit (a store where she likes to shop or a spa she would enjoy). But please don't just stick a card in an envelope! Put a gift card in a pretty box, or disguise it as another gift, or make it part of a treasure hunt, or include a related add-on (a scarf, a book, a laptop case, flowers, a bottle of wine...whatever fits).

  9. Sentimental gifts can be big hits, especially when they come from a non-shopper (who automatically tends to get extra bonus points for a great gift). Is there a song or movie she loved when you first met? Buy a CD or DVD. Did you have a great date somewhere special? Make a gift certificate to go there again. Can you repair or replace something she once treasured? Go for it.

  10. No matter how much time she spends complaining about her appearance, do not buy any kind of self-improvement gift for Christmas. Trust me. A spa day or a massage is OK, but a diet book is not. And don't even go near that jar of fancy European anti-cellulite cream or the Rogaine for Women gift set.

  11. Always ask for a gift receipt, and keep your receipts...just in case.

  12. As you are walking down the mall or through a busy store, please do not stop in the middle of the aisle to look around, no matter how disoriented you are. This is the equivalent of slamming on the brakes while driving your car in the fast lane. Pull over, get your bearings, and no one will get hurt.
You can do this! Good luck --

~

Friday, December 18, 2009

Step Outside of the (big) Box (store)

Big box stores and department stores are convenient, but think about it: those are the stores where people go to buy things for themselves. Your job, as a gifter, is to find something else...something your friends and loved ones don't necessarily know they need or want or deserve, but will enjoy nonetheless. No pressure.

Now is a good time to avoid the throngs at the mega-chain stores and spread some holiday cheer (and holiday dollars) at local, independent businesses in your community. You can find some great gifts and make your experience more enjoyable this season by shopping at local spots where your business is appreciated and your money spent will be good for the 'hood.

Here are some hot spots for quality local shopping this season:
  • Museum or zoo gift shops

  • Beauty salons and health food stores (many sell charming gifts, jewelry and luxe beauty supplies too)

  • Local book sellers (gift cards or books by local authors)

  • Church or temple gift shops

  • Antique stores, used book stores, consignment stores and thrift shops (think vintage!)

  • Furniture or lighting stores (small decor items to accent bigger pieces are usually for sale too)

  • Music shops (interesting instruments or CDs by local musicians)

  • Art galleries or craft shows

  • Local cafes and restaurants (gift cards, house specialties (their bottled salad dressing?) or local art...

  • Play houses, performing arts centers and sports venues (tickets! souvenirs!)

For more ideas and inspiration, surf the web to find your community's chamber of commerce, downtown business association or convention & visitors bureau -- chances are they will offer a long list of local merchants who will be happy to do business with you.


~

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Praise of Theme Gifts

A friend of mine put together a wonderful theme gift for her adult daughter this Christmas: a soup-making kit with a nice soup pot, a soup recipe book and some soup ingredients, all bundled in a sturdy, reusable shopping bag with -- best of all -- a gift certificate for one-on-one soup-making lessons with Mom.

Without spending a lot of money, she has created a gift that is practical, personal, clever, experiential, memorable and fun...the kind of gift her daughter will talk about when people ask her, "so what did you get...?"

Building a fun theme gift isn't that hard, really -- you just have to find a good theme and build on it. For example:
  • For the new motorcycle owner: nice leather gloves... along with a do-rag, fake pierced earring and rub-on tattoos.

  • For someone about to take an adventurous vacation: a travel book, a little flag from their destination and a CD of indigenous music. Use a map of their trip route as gift wrap. If they are going to a place where they don't speak the language, make a few funny flashcards ("I don't speak ______," "Where is the bathroom?" "Beer, please." etc.).

  • For the poker player: a shirt from a casino, cards, poker chips and ridiculous dark glasses, packaged together in an emptied Lucky Charms cereal box.

  • For your relative's new baby: a custom tee for the next family reunion, plus baby sunscreen, toddler-size sunglasses and a tiny swimsuit -- all tucked in a colorful beach pail.

  • For the gardening enthusiast: a green thumb (cut the thumb off a glove, color it with a green marker, and label it somehow), a gardening tool, a gardening book or packets of seeds, and maybe a bottle of Advil. Plop the goodies in a terra cotta pot or watering can and wrap it in plain paper stamped with green thumbprints.

  • For the (adult) birthday girl, try a princess theme: a tiara, a feather boa, chocolates and a bottle of bubble bath or Champagne.
See where I am going with this? With a theme that fits your giftee (plus a little creativity), you can build upon a mild-mannered gift to create something quite memorable.

Three words of advice on theme gifts:
  1. Let at least one piece of the gift be something of value (e.g., nice leather gloves in the first example above).

  2. Avoid themed "add-ons" that are too expensive (bad for you) or too big or junky (bad for the recipient). Our goal is to avoid giving gifts that end up in the landfill, right?

  3. Don't automatically package your theme gift in a basket (unless your giftee really loves baskets). Let the gift container serve a purpose or fit the theme too!
Have you given or received a great theme gift lately? Add your stories to the SB Gift Girl gift list for future posts! Please share your info via comment below or send an e-mail to sbgiftgirl@gmail.com.

Happy gifting!
~

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Special Delivery


A little colorful duct tape makes it even more exciting to receive that box full of gifts delivered by UPS. (Probably makes it more fun to deliver too!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wrapping Things Up



In Japan, “tsusumi” is a philosophy wherein the wrapping is considered a part of the gift itself; both are chosen and implemented with thought, care and consideration.

This is not to dis the convenience of a colorful gift bag with tissue paper, but there's still time to put a little thought and ingenuity into your own tsutsumi for this year's holiday gifting.

Here are some ideas for creative gift-wrapping:
  • Enlarge a meaningful old photo and use it as gift wrap -- extra great if the photo ties in with the gift inside somehow. I used a picture of my dad and brother in classic 70s tennis togs to wrap a funny book on fatherhood... the book was soon forgotten, but the wrapping paper was definitely memorable.

  • Enlarge the gift recipient's signature or favorite doodle...trace it with glue and add glitter. Dazzling!

  • If you have photo-editing software and photos of your giftee on your computer, you can have fun using creative filters and wild effects on digital photos, and use the printed output to wrap a gift.

  • Old maps are big pieces of paper that make perfect gift wrap -- especially if the map somehow ties in with the gift recipient or the contents of the package.

  • Go green: expired calendars, blueprints, posters, shopping bags, newspaper pages (Sports section for the sports guy!) and the Sunday comics can also find a second life as wrapping paper.

  • Magazine pages with beautiful (or funny) ads can make lovely gift wrap for small packages.

  • If you have little kids, you can turn a fun rainy-afternoon activity into wrapping paper production session. Tape a long roll of kraft brown or white paper on the kitchen floor and put 'em to work with finger paints, holiday-colored markers, or sponge-stamps and tempra paint. Once it's dried you'll have a nice roll of custom gift wrap (which the kids will be proud to see under the tree).

  • Think outside of the box -- really! There are lots of clever ways to package your gift besides boxes: new paint cans (available at hardware stores), reusable shopping bags (colorful Chico bags are perfect), takeout containers, mailing tubes, jars... 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Paint a Plate (You can do this!)


Here's a fun idea that works for gift-givers of any age: paint a plate or bowl at your local pottery painting studio. Kids can paint some beautiful stuff, and adults can find the creative process to be surprisingly enjoyable (and a lot more fun than hitting the mall). Even if you are not necessarily artistic, it's the thought that counts -- a gift that is made with love will be received with love!

Some ideas:
  • holiday cookie plate. This is an easy gift for kids to create (triangle + square = tree), and  is a fun way for them to add a piece to the family's holiday traditions. (Bonus points if you give the gift loaded with homemade goodies)

  • A "favorite dish" plate or bowl for the gift recipient's own culinary specialty or favorite food: Grandma's waffles, Dad's burgers, whomever's ice cream, popcorn, brownies or... you get the idea.

  • A family plate, decorated with your family tree, a made-up family crest (silly is good!) or simply the individual names of everyone in the family

  • A pet bowl for the giftee's dog or cat (Hey, they're members of the family too! Add a pet toy when you give the gift.)

  • A decorative vase or bowl to complement the colors in the giftee's home

  • A themed piggy bank for someone who is saving up for something special (a trip? a car? retirement?)

  • If you have a baby or toddler, your spouse or close relatives will undoubtedly love anything created with the baby's handprint or footprint (a tile trivet or plate, perhaps?)
Even if you are not artistic, it's easy to decorate a piece with stripes, polka dots, stars, hearts or flowers...you can do this! The staff at the studio is usually well-trained to help those of us who may need it.

To find the ceramic painting studio near you, search online -- there are lots of them out there, including Color Me Mine, 2000 Degrees, Petroglyph Ceramic Lounge, and Paint Your Own Pottery.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eight Days of Hanukkah

Hanukkah this year officially begins at sundown on Friday, December 11. Eight days of gifting? Sounds like fun to me!

Here are three creative ways to approach this opportunity for serial gifting (good stuff even if you do not celebrate this holiday):

1. A charm bracelet (Pandora and Trollbeads are popular...or old-fashioned charms are cute on a necklace...). Give the bare chain first, followed by one charm a day. See if you can attach a story or some meaning to each charm.

2. The old gift box-within-a-gift box, times eight. Big box on the outside, with seven progressively smaller giftwrapped boxes nested within. Have a small gift attached to the outside of each box, with a special goody inside the final one.

3. Figure-out-the-gift build-a-sentence word-a-day clue builder (with gratitude to my dad for this wonderful idea): Each day, the giftees (most likely, your kids) get a card with a jumbled up word -- their job is to decipher the word. At the end of the week, they will have seven words, which they will then need to arrange to create a sentence. For example, the sentence might be: "Let's take a special trip this summer." On the eighth day, the gift giver presents a final jumbled word or finds a clever way to present the final clue (in this hypothetical case, your destination). When my dad did this, he feigned ambivalence at the end and said "let's just go in the dining room for dessert and we'll talk about it." The room was decorated with pineapples, toy airplanes, plastic leis and Hawaii posters. Cowabunga!

Two cool gift-related Hanukkah notes:
  • Gelt is a traditional gift at Hanukkah -- perhaps you can find creative ways to tuck coins (chocolate or maybe a $1 golden coin?) in with other non-traditional gifts.
     
  • Because oil is an important symbol at Hanukkah, doughnut stands pop up all over Israel during Hanukkah. Get creative and wrap a gift in a doughnut box or, heck, give a box of Krispy Kremes or Dunkin' Donuts. Yum!

    ~

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On the Wall...


Inexpensive wall art can be a terrific gift for kids, teens, young adults, guys with a "man cave," or anyone who has a work space to decorate.

As always, consider the person you are shopping for: does he/she have a favorite movie, travel destination, beloved hometown, celebrity, musical group, catch phrase, athlete, car, TV show, sport...? Or would he get a kick out of again owning an old poster he had as a kid? Your job is to search and surf -- chances are there's a poster to fit what he/she is all about (or something that the two of you share in common).

Important side note: it is a good idea to take the attitude that your gift will probably not be a focal point in your giftee's home (in fact, you may never see it again). If your gift ends up on the back of a laundry room door, c'est la vie. It's the thought that counts.

Here are three good online options for wall art:

  1. AllPosters.com has an amazing selection of posters, frame-worthy art, and metal signs (plus some cool retro rock band tee shirts).

  2. eBay is a good place to look for vintage or collectible posters.

  3. Despair.com is the place to go for tongue-in-cheek "demotivational" posters with a sardonic twist. There is also an option here to create your own motivational (or demotivational) poster with your own photo and whatever wording works.

    ~

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Gifts for Teachers


The holidays are a lovely opportunity for parents to spread a little joy and give thanks to the teachers who make such a huge impact upon the lives of our children. But there are some challenges here: we parents don’t necessarily know our childrens' teachers very well outside of the classroom, and our children's gift-giving judgment may not be fully on target…what to do?

I surveyed a cross-section of teachers on this topic, and came up with some interesting input that may be helpful this holiday season:

What are teachers’ favorite holiday gifts?

The most appreciated gifts are the personal ones:
  • A note of gratitude written by the student and/or the parents

  • A creative gift handmade by the child with the teacher in mind

  • Something coordinated by the entire class

  • Support for the teacher’s passion: a donation to an animal shelter for an animal lover, or a gift to a homeless shelter where the teacher regularly volunteers, or a pledge to the school’s annual fund in his/her name

  • A special gift related to the teacher's curriculum

  • Yummy homemade edibles (especially those that don't need to be eaten right away)

  • For a teacher/homeowner: an apple tree to plant in honor of his/her students
Gift cards! Classier than cash, but potentially oh-so-useful…favorites are:
  • Local malls or American Express/Visa cards that they can spend virtually anywhere.

  • Locally-owned stores (book stores, smoothie spots, restaurants, hardware stores, etc.)

  • Nearby chain stores (Macy’s, Borders, Target, OSH, Home Depot)

  • Movie theater passes

  • Teacher supply stores

  • Gift certificates for manicures, pedicure or massages
Think about the recipient...coffee shop gift cards are nice only if the teacher is a coffee-drinker (I know of one teacher who has more than $200 in Starbucks gift cards – and he doesn’t drink coffee). A hardware store gift certificate is perfect for the teacher who just bought a new home. Do your detective work (chances are your child can be a very good spy for you)!


Thanks -- but no thanks...
  • Holiday decorations (aka “dust catchers”)

  • “Best teacher” mugs…or any mugs at all, really. Teachers typically don’t have a lot of time to drink coffee on the job, and they only need one cup to hold their pencils...

  • Teacher trinkets, period. Any teacher who has been on the job for more than a year really doesn’t need any more tchotchkes featuring cheerful apples or frolicking chalkboards.

  • Candles, soap, lotion. Bear in mind that a teacher can be receiving 20+ gifts at a time...how many of these gift shop items does one person really need? If you find something you know the teacher will love, then lovely. Otherwise, keep looking.

  • Useless gift cards: Please avoid something for an out-of-town store or a tiny amount at a high-end store (“$10 at Saks Fifth Avenue? Kind of humiliating…”)

  • Inappropriate gifts part 1: Think about whom the gift-giver is…how is a middle school teacher supposed to thank a 7th grade boy for bubble bath or a bottle of champagne?

  • Inappropriate gifts part 2: It is sweet to give your young ‘un the independence to pick out a gift for teacher, but it is also your responsibility to draw the line when he/she chooses a tacky reindeer statue from Costco or a half-empty bottle of perfume off your dresser.
Bottom line: hard-working teachers greatly appreciate your sincere and thoughtful gestures of thanks and goodwill for the holiday season!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dinner Out of Town


If there is someone on your list who lives far away...or someone who is planning a trip to a distant locale... the internet makes it easy to buy them a nice dinner at a great local restaurant, wherever they are.

1. Check out restaurants in their city or destination by visiting TripAdvisor.com. Just click on "restaurants," enter the city name and go. Most restaurant listings include diner reviews and links to the restaurants' websites.

2. Follow the link to the website of the restaurant that you think the recipient will enjoy -- bonus points if you pick a popular local restaurant that is not part of a chain. If they sell gift cards (chances are they do), make your purchase and have the gift card or certificate shipped to you at home so it can be properly packaged for gift-giving.

3. How you wrap up this gift can make it extra-memorable. Include a printout of the restaurant's menu, and put the card in a clean Big Mac box (between two buns, perhaps?)...or a Chinese food to-go container weighted down with uncooked rice...or an empty box that once contained Lean Cuisine or pasta or taco shells...or attach it to a cookbook, or a book about the city...be creative and have fun with it (and let us know if you come up with something great)!

~

Saturday, December 5, 2009

School Day Memories

Chances are, there is someone on your list who (a) has fond memories of school days and (b) wears tee-shirts...yes?

Here's an easy gift:

1. Visit PrepSportswear.com, find your giftee's high school (or elementary school...or college...) and customize a shirt with his/her grad year and (optional) favorite sport.

2. Get creative with giftwrap -- make an enlarged photocopy of the giftee's yearbook photo to use as wrapping paper, or wrap the box in the school's team colors.

This gift also works for kids who are still in school!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Timing is Everything



Attention, holiday shoppers! There is a lot of adorable Christmas paraphernalia on retailer shelves and catalog pages this year, with no shortage of Santa toys, Santa statuettes, Santa tea towels, Santa boxer shorts, snowman candles, reindeer platters, gingerbread pajamas, candy cane tee shirts, mistletoe napkin rings, elf snow globes or dancing pine trees...the list is endless.

If you find really great Christmas-themed gifts that you know your giftees will love (be honest, now!), my best recommendation is to give them ASAP, so they can enjoy it throughout this holiday season.

If you wait until December 25 to give someone a Christmas-themed gift, it will be used and appreciated for exactly one day, and then either recycled, sent to the landfill, or boxed up for 11 months. Even seemingly neutral holiday themes (including skiers, snowflakes, pine trees, peppermints or any red/green color combo) do not carry over well as attire or decor in January and beyond. Trust me.

Here are four golden opportunities for advance gift-giving of (appropriate, lovable, tasteful) Christmas-theme presents:

1. St. Nicholas Day is December 6. In many parts of the world, people share small gifts with each other in honor of this saint (known as a generous protector of children and the model for current day Santa Claus). Share your knowledge of this holiday and dazzle your giftee.

2. If you want to get creative, you can call December 14 the first day of Christmas and give a gift then. Interesting fact: the 12 days of Christmas on the Christian calendar actually are the 12 days after Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6)...but if your gift is a good one, the recipient probably won't call you on this technicality.

3. Holiday parties with friends or co-workers can be an OK time to give Christmas-themed gifts (as long as you are certain that the recipients celebrate Christmas, and the gift is one they will want to keep and use from year to year).

4. Secret Santa gift exchanges often lend themselves to more humorous, less personal gift-giving, so the funny light-up Santa hat, festive cubicle decor or popular CD of holiday music can be quite acceptable (again, be sure of what he/she celebrates in December).

Please be a smart shopper! If you find a lovely holiday-themed gift that your friend or loved one will appreciate and keep -- hooray. But a lot of the holiday-themed junk on the market is truly junk, so it is up to you to be a prudent shopper. Future posts on this blog will help you find alternatives to the caroling chipmunk toilet paper dispensers or glow-in-the-dark nutcrackers, I promise....


~

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Get Your 1,000 Words' Worth



There are so many gifts you can make with photos (including, um, framed photographs), but it is early enough in the season right now that there is plenty of time to have some cool gifts custom made with your favorite pictures (old or new).

Be sure to pick photos that will be meaningful and loved by the recipient (see if you can use a photo he/she hasn't seen for a while -- if ever). And please don't just slap a picture on a coffee mug -- think about what your giftee will use and enjoy!

Here are five ideas to get things rolling:

1. The photo book. If you have a lot of photos, it's easy to upload your pictures online to create a beautiful bound book -- ideal for capturing vacation memories, family history, special events, baby's first year, favorite sports shots, whatever. There are a lot of book producers out there now; I have seen good ones made by KodakGallery.com, Picaboo.com and Snapfish.com.

2. Photo memory box. Pick a favorite, meaningful photo and have it made into a tile on a beautiful laquered box. Bonus points if you fill the box with something special (jewelry, a gift card, cash, chocolate kisses or a personal note, perhaps). I just ordered a very nice personalized photo keepsake box from CafePress.com for $23.

3. A locket. You can use your computer and printer to shrink down a great photo and add it to a piece of jewelry to create sentimental, wearable art. UncommonGoods.com sells a pretty sterling silver and glass locket for $48.

4. Playing Cards. If you are finding a gift for someone who loves to play games (or your resident poker player), simply find a good (vertical) photo and upload it -- easier than a game of 52-card pickup! You can find photo cards for $20.99 at KodakGallery.com.

5. A Jigsaw Puzzle. This is a good idea if you are putting together a gift for someone who enjoys puzzles (duh), but it could also be a fun one if he/she will be spending the holidays with a group who could have fun working on the puzzle together during their downtime (apres ski, perhaps?). KodakGallery.com has 252-piece puzzles with matching box for $24.99.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Sentimental Journey...


Sentimental gifts can be a personal, meaningful way to share with family members or old friends...and there is still time this season to find:
  • Mementos from the company where one of your parents or grandparents worked
  • Souvenirs from a summer camp or family vacation spot
  • An old toy or doll someone loved (or coveted but never got)
  • Favorite books or comic books
  • A magazine from a memorable year (not necessarily a birth year - which we don't remember!)
  • A piece from your grandmother's china pattern
  • A toy model of the car your dad drove
  • A baseball card or pennant from someone's favorite team
  • College or high school memorabilia
  • Old record albums (Restoration Hardware has album-size frames for instant art)
eBay is a great place to find gifts that are oldies but goodies.

Some people on your gift list will be thrilled with a sentimental gift...others might be confused and ask you why you are giving them some old piece of junk. Your job is to know the difference!


~

Monday, November 30, 2009

Catchphrase Couture: Custom Tees


If you think about it, a lot of folks on your gift list have a catchphrase or some statement that they would be proud or amused to wear...the trick is to make their tee shirts into a reality.

There are a lot of websites devoted to creating tee shirts...here are three options to get things started:

1. CafePress offers excellent products and wonderful customer service, but it helps to have a little graphics expertise (can you convert a file to PNG format? I know you can...). They do a lot more than tee shirts (which we will get into shortly).

2. CustomInk features user-friendly design software that allows you to easily create custom tees (and much more) with very little computer know-how, but some items require purchases of 6+ items. Worth looking into.

3. Simply Colors specializes in custom tees and onesies in luscious colors for babies and toddlers. Very cute stuff, and easy to make online.

~

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Calendar Notes


Three important calendar notes as we move into the new week (and the new month):

1. Monday, November 30 is now referred to as “Cyber Monday” -- the online equivalent of Black Friday, with retailers revving up to offer great deals to deskbound shoppers. Get your mouse fingers ready (and don't be surprised if overwhelmed online retailers encounter technical difficulties).

2. Ready or not, December is upon us. If you are into advent calendars, it is worthy to note that Trader Joe's sells chocolate-a-day calendars for 99 cents...you can create a sweet tradition for less than 4 cents a day.

3. 12-month photo calendars for 2010 make a wonderful gift for grandparents, adult kids (pull up pics from their childhood), pet owners or friends of great photographers (like you?). Bonus points if you customize your calendar(s) with birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates. Super-bonus points if you order now to avoid the rush! I always create my calendar gifts at our local Kinko's (Fedex Office, whatever), but a friend of mine has had great success ordering calendars online via Snapfish. Compare for yourself. Cost is less than $30 for a year's worth of lovely gifting!

~

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Photo Notecards with Matching Postage Stamps


We all need to send thank-you notes after the holidays and throughout the year (ahem, right...?). Here is a gift set that is a wonderful combo for anyone who appreciates the art of the hand-written, snail-mailed note -- perfect for any season.

This is a two-part gift, ideal for pet lovers, newlyweds, new homeowners, parents, grandparents, artists or travelers who have shared their photos with you. All you have to do is have one or two photos on your computer, and then get busy uploading and creating:

1. Notecards from KodakGallery.com

2. Matching or related photo postage stamps from Stamps.com

These websites both make the process very easy, and the personalized gifts are a lot of fun to receive and use. Plan ahead to have both items shipped to you so you can combine the goods (with a lovely pen, perhaps?) to give them as a set in a beautiful box / basket / gift bag.

~

Friday, November 27, 2009

A good gift? It's in the bag.


Chico Bags are the best reusable shopping bags ever. These roomy nylon bags tuck into their own little attached pouch to make a tiny little pillow you can easily stash in your glove box or pop into your purse (I carry four, and I don't have a big purse).

They also, happily, make easy and inexpensive gifts. For about $5 apiece, colorful Chico Bags make festive stocking stuffers or gift toppers, or even can be used to wrap another gift. The company does make holiday-themed Chico Bags, but I'd advise against buying them (The whole point is that the bags are reusable -- and who wants to carry a bag decorated with snowmen to buy groceries in July?).

Chico Bags are a good giftlet or gift add-on for anyone on your list who shops and/or cares about the environment (which is, of course, everyone you know...right?). Chico Bags are also a quick and easy unisex gift for low-budget secret Santa gift exchanges or those extended family gift drawings.

Check the online store locator for retailers near you, and stock up for the holidays ahead. Chico Bags will never expire or go out of style, so if you don't give away what you buy this December, you'll always be ready for future gift-giving opportunities.

Paper or plastic? Better choice: go Chico!

~

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fit to a tee...


Tee shirts are an easy, practical, personal gift -- especially for kids, teens, athletes, and anyone who thinks Hanes = comfiness = fashion.

So...know your giftees' color preferences, know their sizes, know their sense of humor...then get creative!

I like tee shirts that are a little obscure or ironic. If someone is a fan of the TV show Gray's Anatomy, for example, don't just go to the ABC website -- instead, get him or her a tee shirt from a Seattle coffee shop or restaurant. Your friend who is planning a trip to Australia might appreciate a shirt from an Australian pub or rugby team. The UCLA fan might love something that refers to Bruins or Johnny Wooden or Westwood...see what I mean?

My favorite source for random, seemingly customized tee shirts is CafePress.com. Just enter your key words there, and I bet you will find some choice gift options.

If you can't find the perfect tee shirt for your giftee, jot down any ideas or catch phrases and we'll talk later about ways to create (actual) custom tees.


~

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Trawling for ideas


If you have been a good detective and figured out what make your friends/loved ones/co-workers happy, now you can use that knowledge to start honing in on some great gift ideas -- best of all, you can do so without waking up at 5 a.m. and battling the hordes of people who choose to shop the day after Thanksgiving.

Here are two steps to get you going…no guarantees that you will find your gift yet, but this can help rev up your creativity to help you come up with some up with something exciting.

1. Make a list of key words for the giftees on your list: their names (first and last), kids’ names, pets’ names, hometown, their passions, their histories, and their futures (what they are looking forward to?).

2. Go online (aka shopping in your jammies) and use those key words to search. You are just trawling at this point -- gathering ideas and options, and getting the creativity started. Some of my favorite sites for this kind of research are CafePress, eBay, Amazon and the favorite search engine du jour (Yahoo, Google, Bing, whatever).

Once you start trawling, one idea will lead to another…and you just might get lucky. Think (carefully) before you buy anything -- if you find a cute “Jerry’s Pub” t-shirt but Jerry doesn’t wear t-shirts or drink beer, that’s not a good gift idea. But if you find a vintage model of the 1968 VW he drove and loved when he was 16, you could be on to something good.

Happy searching!

~

Monday, November 23, 2009

I spy, with my little eye…


Another note as we gear up for Thanksgiving: if you are spending time with family / friends, take advantage of this golden opportunity to sit back (or stand up and help with the dishes, darn it) and be observant.

Pay attention. Be snoopy. Who are these people? What do they like? What makes them tick?

This is a good time to realize that gift-giving really is not about you – it’s about the person who is about to receive your gift (which is, of course, still TBD). Seems obvious, but folks have been known to spend lots of time together and still miss this opportunity for heavy hint-dropping.

So, here’s your challenge: think about them as individuals and consider their history (with you and without you). Who are these people? And why are they forcing you to wash their dirty dishes?

But seriously...take note:

- What are they passionate about? (Causes, sports, fashion, music, colors, TV shows, movies, celebs, travel, animals, history, books, careers, self-improvement…?)

- What makes them happy? How do they spend their free time? Or what do they wish they could be doing?

- What are their fond memories? What did they love when they were a kid?

- What do they do for a living now? Or what did they do when they first started working? What would they like to do for a living someday? Or what do they want to do when they retire?

- Where would they like to travel…or live? Where were they born?

- What are they wearing? (There will be a quiz on this later, so pay attention.)

- What is your favorite memory shared with this person?

Yes, it seems like I am being nosey. But you will thank me later (and your friend / family member will be under the impression that you find them fascinating, so everybody wins).


~

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It’s not stealing, technically.


If you are visiting your family or friends for Thanksgiving, chances are they have some wonderful photos lying around -- there for the taking and just waiting to be made into holiday gifts.

So…if you have a chance to sneak away or the nerves to do a little sleight of hand while in the presence of loved ones, take advantage of this opportunity to spend some time looking through old photo albums or boxes of pictures, and snag some that you think might maybe somehow, some way, make good gifts. You'll need to be a little creative for this part. Find pics that you think will make your prospective gift-getters happy, sentimental, suprised or some combination thereof.

If you are a good citizen, you can just ask to borrow the photo and make up a vague excuse as to why you need it. Or you can just take the photo and leave a note where you borrowed it, promising to return it (and do). Better still, if you are sneaky and your folks live near a Kinko’s (FedEx Office, whatever) or large chain drug store, you can have high quality digital copies made (as large as possible, please) on their little self-serve kiosk and then return the photos before anyone even knows they are missing. Tricky you.

Guard the loot carefully, and we'll figure out later on how to transform it into a great gift.

~

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pack your camera…


Just planning ahead a little bit, here…with today’s digital technology, there are some very cool presents (and more than a few lame ones) you can create with photographs. The trick is to have the right photos to make the right gifts special…and Thanksgiving can be the perfect time to set yourself up for some choice gift options.

If you are visiting family or friends for the holiday, get busy and grab those Kodak moments – we can figure out what to do with those pictures later on.

- Most important thing: make sure you have your digital camera set for a high or medium-high resolution. The bigger the better – you can always reduce the file size later.

- Closeup shots of small groups or individuals are best for future gift creations.

- Aim to capture some good shots of pets, multigenerational moments, traditions (Touch football game? Walk on the beach?), or even special aspects of the house itself.

~

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gift ideas to spare (and share).


It is absolutely true that giving great gifts can be even more fun than receiving them. When you are thinking about giving a present to someone, there's first (hopefully) that "aha" moment when the idea starts to emerge...followed by the adrenaline that goes into making your idea a reality...building up to the anticipation of the final presentation. Without a doubt, it's a thrill.

Not for you? Well, let's see if we can change that.

My goal with this little blog is to give people ideas, examples, links, tools and motivation to help them buy or create gifts that (a) they will be excited about giving and (b) people will be happy to get.

I also figure I can use this site to collect and share some advice, opinions and war stories from my friends who have been giving and getting gifts (good and bad) for a long time.

Bottom line: if I can rescue one person from getting a lame gift, my work will not have been in vain.

Before I committed to starting this site, I challenged myself to write down enough easy gift ideas to post one every two or three days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After I cranked out a list of 80 memorable presents, I figured we had enough to get things going.

So let's go.

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