Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gifts without Exchange

Giving is one of my favorite things to do at Christmastime. I know this is not popular in some circles, where folks adopt the family tradition of giving to those in need, not ourselves. I love this, but have realized that for me personally, gift-giving is one of my love languages. I wait all year for the chance to scheme, whisper, and wrap.

So, we give gifts in this family. We do NOT "exchange" gifts, which implies you get something in return. That's not the focus at all.

In our extended family, sometimes we draw adult names out of a hat, sometimes we just give to the kids, and sometimes we go all out. I think the best guideline for giving gifts is this: give a gift if you can't help yourself and have a great idea for someone specific, but agree that if there isn't a good idea for someone, it's okay with everyone to forego the gift tradition instead of giving simply out of obligation. If you have a family of thick-skinned folk, this works pretty well. There's no pressure or obligatory giving, just genuine gift-giving.

That being said, I've got a few gift ideas I thought I'd pass your way. Feel free to take 'em or leave 'em. Another source for great gift ideas is here - at the bottom of the page, there are underlined recipients - women, men, children, grandparents, and other special people. Click on any of these and get hundreds of clutter-free gift ideas.

For Husbands: Real Gil always says he doesn't care about Christmas gifts, but in this one area, he married the wrong girl. He's stuck with all that inconvenient unwrapping and knotted ribbon, whether he likes it or not. Here are some of my favorite gifts for him over the years:
  1. Last year, I went to Costco and had all of our old home videos converted to DVD. It was surprisingly cheap (about $30) and simple to have done.
  2. When he first started drinking coffee on his commute, I had a travel mug customized with our childrens' pictures on the sides.
  3. A blurb book is another clutter-free gift that is always a hit.
  4. Vacations are the ultimate gift for hubby! We often plan something for early in the next year and leave it at that.
  5. Real Gil loves Brian Regan, so I made quick work at the official Brian Regan store last year and a few t-shirts found their way under the tree.
  6. Real Gil enjoys reading, if it's not bills, textbooks, or politics. So, books he has enjoyed and given to others are Manhunt by James Swanson, The Same Kind of Different as Me, and anything by Philip Yancey.

For Our Parents:
  1. One year when our Christmas budget was very tight, I made my parents a "memory box." Inside the box, I wrote out memories I had of growing up in our home. Some of them were really light and funny, others were more personal. The tag on the box said to pull one out each day. I think they totally disobeyed, but they did enjoy the gift. Surprisingly, it did not take me very long, especially after I skimmed some of my old middle-school journal entries. A friend of mine adjusted this idea by partnering up with her brother and sister and together, they made short work of 365 memories.
  2. A custom-made calendar. We do one every year in a matter of minutes (or hours, depending on how particular you want to be!) here for $10 (standard size) or $18 (11.5 x 14). It comes in the mail and you're done!
  3. If you didn't have enough time to make a blurb book for someone, you can always give the a Blurb gift card so they can go create one themselves.
  4. There have been a few years where we simply give our parents concert tickets. Now, that gift would also come with us being on-call for the grandparents who live with them while they go out on a much-deserved date.
  5. And my mother-in-law loves Christmas, but dreads decorating for the holidays. That's when I jump in and decorate for her.
  6. One year, we put together "Grandma's Bag of Tricks" after reading about one in Parenting magazine (all ideas come from Barbara Rowley's article, which I cannot find online!). Included in the small kit of entertaining tools for her purse to use with grandkid was gum, mints, a pen, a comb, a small pad of paper, a few crayons, a pair of cute reading glasses, a small package of tissues, one rubberband or hair tie, and a marker pen. Then, we gave her an intricate list of ideas for what to do with kids to entertain them with these items. Our instructions were from the same article (which I typed verbatim for you since I can't find the link online)!:
  • Let your toddler slip credit or business cards between the tines of your comb to make them stand up in a row.
  • Give the first player a pen "microphone." She begins a story and when she passes the pen, the next person continues it.
  • See how many things in your purse can roll, and which rolls farther or faster or straighter: pens, coins, mints, lipstick.
  • Set an open pair of eyeglasses on a table. The arch under the nose bridge is the goal; use a mint, dime, or folded-up pieces of paper as a puck and flick it through.
  • Lay out credit cards, photos, and business cards in rows. Hide a dime or paper scrap underneath one card and give your child three chances to find it. Then trade roles.
  • Show your child how to fold paper into a fan, accordion-style; make two fans. Roll up tiny balls of tissue and see who can fan her ball the fastest across the table.
  • Search for all 26 letters in the contents of your wallet.
  • Draw outlines of four or five objects in your purse. Then, let your toddler match the pieces to this "puzzle."
  • Stare at the contents of your purse or even the opposite wall. After 60 seconds, all players except the "memory master" look away, and you quiz them on what they've seen.
  • Lay a piece of paper over a coin, credit card, or key, and rub a pen or pencil back and forth over the surface to reveal what lies beneath.
  • You both close your eyes and draw wildly on a piece of paper, then exchange scribbles. You can finish each other's drawings or color in the closed shapes.
  • Hold keys, credit cards, or your child's hand on a piece of paper and help him draw around it. He can color the outline.
  • Have kids take turns shaking a coin in their hands and guessing heads or tails.
  • Play hangman!
  • Close your eyes and let your child hand you things from your purse. Guess what they are (penny or dime, Visa card, or driver's license, and so on). Then give him a turn. Or have your child take an item from your purse and try to figure out by elimination what he has.
  • Guess the color of the next passing car, the shirt of the next person walking into the room, and so on.
  • Give three verbal cues about a food, a color, or animal that you like and see if the other person can guess what you're thinking.
  • Suggest three or four characters and challenge your child to create a story that uses these characters.
  • Scrunch a tissue into a ball, and drape another tissue over it. Twist it below the ball to make a floaty body. Tie with a rubberband. Draw a face, and stick it on a pen or your finger. Have a puppet show!
  • Fold up tissue into a tight square. Color on one or two markers with a marker that bleeds through. Open to see your design.
  • Accordion-fold two tissues together and secure the center with a hair tie. Gently pull each ply apart to form a flower.

For Grandparents:
  1. My favorite gift for my grandparents is the ice chest full of homemade, frozen meals. I start working on these in November (although it's not too late if you are just getting started). All I do is double my dinner recipes and freeze the meals in small dishes. I also include small freezer bags with all the toppings, like a cup of swiss cheese to melt on top of ham crepes, tortillas for fajitas, or half a cup of cashews for cashew chicken stir fry. Then, I add a few batches of cookies - either frozen dough balls or fully baked cookies. Finally, I make a list of what's inside that intimidating ice chest with instructions for preparation. Favorites have been individual chicken pot pies, homemade spaghetti sauce, homemade bread (sliced and frozen), fajita fixings, individual servings of soup, and Italian beef for sandwiches.
  2. How about a gift certificate for grandma' favorite salon?
  3. Or the small, local diner where Grandma loves to eat has gift certificates, thus guaranteeing she gets a healthy dose of biscuits and gravy for the year.
  4. Our newest favorite gift idea for one of our grandmas is a Netflix subscription. Grandma loves old movies but doesn't know how to find them. So, now, she watches one and waits for the next one to come in the mail. Make sure to set up the account for your loved one and help them construct their queue.
For Kids:
  1. My personal favorite gift at Christmas for my children is Magnatiles. They have played with them for the last four years, and I'm convinced, they were the most used Christmas gift I've ever given someone. If you are looking for a great toy for your children, this is my #1 recommendation. Just make sure that you order a large enough package of Magnatiles so that they can really work with them. These will be in our family for the grandkids.
  2. One year, we bought the kids a bouncy house as their only gift from us. It was so much fun! I do not get it out that often (it's huge), but when I do, we are guaranteed lots of laughter and squealing.
  3. We love giving books. There are so many favorites. For really little ones, Goodnight Gorilla is an all-time favorite around here. For little boys, our son's favorite is The Little Red Train by Benedict Blathwayt - the illustrations are much better than Thomas the Train books.
  1. For toddler boys - and it seems, we've had our fair share of these - we always love the construction fork, knife, and spoon set found here.
    5. One year, we printed lots of fun pictures of our oldest daughter. Then, I shopped the clearance on scrapbook supplies, including a small scrapbook, and packed them all into a box. Punkin loved it! And still pulls it out to work on her scrapbook pages.
For Siblings & Friends:
  1. One year, I put together a gift bag for each of the special women in my family titled "My Favorite Things." It's not quite like Oprah's favorite things, but it was still fun. I had all kinds of little favorites from the year - my favorite lipstick, music CD, office supplies, and even my favorite brand of underwear! It was a fun, personal gift to put together.
  2. Date nights are cheap and become a playdate for our kids. Parents get to go out and we make memories with their children.
  3. The year my younger sister married, I typed out every recipe I loved. I printed the pages at Kinko's and put them in her own personal binder. And I made extra copies which I have given over the years to close friends and family members. Of course, it was a gift to myself too because I made one for me and my recipes were finally organized.
  4. For a family gift, I made "Family Conversation Kits" which were about 100 questions to ask at the dinner table (or anywhere for that matter). I printed these, cut them in strips, and put them in a cute, Chinese-food takeout box with a bow and a label on the top. I'll try to convert my conversation questions over the weekend so you can steal the questions I came up with.
Whew! Well, there you have it. I know I'm forgetting a few of my favorite gift ideas, so feel free to add your own in the comments section.

In the meantime, it's off to our town Christmas parade!

Resting in Him,

P. S. If I can figure out how to make a pdf file, I'll soon attach the printables needed for the Grandma's "Bag of Tricks" gift and the "Family Conversation Kit."


Summerlyn said...

This post makes me wish I hadn't shopped yet! I bookmarked it for next year, though. Thanks for the ideas!

Kris said...

Since you are being so open we have a few requests. Steve would love a bounce house and vacations are always a hit. You always do great in the gift department and I know you will continue this year. Ha! (Totally kidding) I think the next post should be about the worst
Kris (the twin)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the gift of ideas. Can you rerun this in August?

And I'm sure it would be a great idea for Kris to do a few guest blogs. There are things we really "need" to know. K