Archive for the ‘Gift ideas’ Category

Signature gift

June 19, 2010

Another gift idea I’m keen on is scoring an autograph of somebody the gift recipient keenly admires.  A sportsperson?  Actor?  Politician?  Astronaut?  The list goes on.

Helen Gurley Brown writes:

The best present I ever gave David was a handmade birthday card with glossy photos and personal messages from each of twelve women he once told me he thought sexiest in the world.  The messages took some doing because several of the women didn’t know David, but I started early sending photos and asking for personal messages from them; all came through.

Having It All, Helen Gurley Brown, 1982, Simon & Schuster

Okay, not all of us are Cosmopolitan magazine editors like Helen, but with a bit of beavering away, usually you can obtain something, although it may take months.

Years ago I had the happy accident of meeting Australian race driver Peter Brock while he was in town, guest speaking at a conference.  Right there in the hotel corridor I explained about how my friend Bruce was his biggest fan, and was currently battling cancer (Peter was also a cancer survivor), and would Peter please write a message of support?  He did, right there on the spot on a piece of memo paper, even though the incident must have been a pain in the neck for him and his busy schedule. 

By the way – Bruce beat his cancer too, and loved the autograph/message from his hero.


Christmas 2010: let the shopping commence!

June 14, 2010

Well, I didn’t quite intend it to happen so soon…but on Saturday I bought my first Christmas gift of the year!  Not that I had set out to do so.

I was in a pharmacy/drugstore, waiting to buy some contact lens fluid, when I noticed this cool set of lip glosses.  Cool for a younger woman, that is.  Much younger.  Like: 15.

We have a 15 year old friend of the family.  She is a sweet girl, but she is 15 going on 25 (or would like to be), as is the way of many teenage girls.  So buying for her has become rather difficult.  You just know that what you buy her is going to be wrong – either not cool enough, not expensive enough (this is the girl of $400 cellphone lust), or somehow just plain wrong.

So my eyes lit up when I saw this Lip Smackers collection.  It seems to fit around the demographic, and is a practical gift (who doesn’t need lip gloss of some sort, at any age?) that will also appeal to her girly, feminine side. 

Although it’s still only June, I thought I’d better snap up this set because a) there was only one left on the stand; b) I’ll come back another time and there’ll be none in stock or; c) I’ll forget all about it.  Then in December I’ll be scratching my head, going, “Now what the heck should we get Fern this year?”

A gift shower – for yourself

June 4, 2010

Long before thirtysomething Sex In The City character Carrie Bradshaw threw herself a shower, another single New York writer, Helene Hanff, did the same (except it happened for real – Helene was penniless and about to move into a humble unfurnished studio apartment), as follows:

“What you need,” she [Helene’s friend Maxine] said finally, “is a kitchen shower.”

“I’m not getting married,” I said.

“You’re marrying New York,” said Maxine.  “You’ll have to write a cute invitation.  We’ll have the shower at my house.  A luncheon.  A Saturday luncheon.”

“I couldn’t!”  I said.  “I can’t send out invitations asking people to furnish my kitchen!”

“You’re not sending the invitations.  I’m sending them.  You don’t know anything about the luncheon,” said Maxine.  “It’s a surprise.  Showers are always surprises.  You’re just coming to my house for lunch.  When you get there, be surprised.”

[A list is drawn up and invitations duly despatched.]

And so on the appointed Saturday I wandered into Maxine’s parents’ apartment for lunch – and there was my sister-in-law come all the way from Garden City and a simple host of friends.  And sitting in the middle of the floor in a large wicker basket, each item brightly wrapped and tied with flossy ribbon, were frying pans and double boilers and mixing bowls and kitchen knives and pot holders and dish towels and a roasting pan and a Revere Ware teakettle that sang.

Helene Hanff, Underfoot in Show Business, 1961, Andre Deutsch Ltd

Personalisation – taking it further

May 31, 2010

A popular gift idea is to get something made with the recipient’s name on: as a rule, people love name-personalised gifts, especially if they have unusual names or names with unusual spellings. We all like to see our name in print.

I like to take it one step further, when possible, and personalise a gift with the recipient’s nickname. For example, many years ago I had a gift for a friend personalised with his family nickname, “Romanoff”. He adored the gift – much more so than if I had simply personalised it with “Michael”.

The only catch here is that the gift recipient should actually like their nickname. Not everyone dubbed with a nickname necessarily relishes it, and they may not be outspoken about their dislike of it – they may simply be resigned to it. So do check this angle out first.

How to plan that gift

May 28, 2010

Good gift planning focuses around the recipient’s likes.  A way to focus your thoughts on an upcoming gift-getting occasion is to make a list of what that person likes, over a broad range of options.  For example:

  • What do they like to eat?  (Not every day, necessarily, but as a treat.  Think: gourmet food; traditional food; sweets; fruit; cheeses)
  • What do they like to drink? (Both alcoholic and non.  And for alcoholic, think beyond beer, wine and spirits; for example: boutique and imported brands, mixers, liqueurs, glasses).
  • What music do they like?  (Think: CDs, DVDs of live shows, tickets to performances; posters or T shirts of favourite performers).
  • What movies and TV programmes do they like? (both currently and in the past – for example, DVDs of a favourite TV series or classic movie)
  • What sports do they like to watch or participate in?
  • What books do they like to read?
  • What do they like to wear? (T-shirts?  Silk scarves?  Sandals?  Earrings?)
  • What hobbies or interests do they have?

Grab a notepad and start making a list.  Just five minutes of your undivided attention, devoted to recalling that one person’s particular likes, will often be enough to get the ideas flowing.  I think the dearth of gift ideas we sometimes experience is because we expect the perfect gift idea to simply pop into our head without any effort on our part, or be conveniently glimpsed in a shop window display as we pass by. 

The other part of this exercise is to not only consider what does the recipient like, but what might the recipient like?  Push out slightly from the known, and gauge whether you can take a leap of faith and try out something that you think might work.  Your best friend loves Rieslings?  Try getting her a Pinot Grigio for a change – close enough for comfort, but introducing her to something a little different.

Sweet enough

May 24, 2010

One of the great failsafes of gift-giving is, as everyone knows, something sweet – a box of chocolates, candy or the like. And nothing wrong with that at all.

But I’d like to make a case for the other team: savoury treats. Or at least the non-sugary kind. For not everyone has a sweet tooth.  And a box of candy, especially if of a leading brand, can be both an ‘easy-out’ (“Gee, how much thought went into choosing that gift?”) and a cliche (“How original, a box of chocolate creams”).

A good friend of mine, for example, regularly hankers after salty, savoury snacks – which is why (note to self) I must buy her something yummy in this line for her next birthday.

Some other examples: a friend of mine once mentioned in passing that he is so crazy about the taste of passionfruit, he reckons he could eat dozens in a single sitting, given the opportunity. I sent him a kilo of the fruit for his next birthday.

And another friend, who had a penchant for grinding startling amounts of black pepper onto her meals (I’m serious – the woman was like a crop duster with the stuff) received an ‘in joke’ gift from me of a half kilo of black peppercorns, giftwrapped.

Other suggestions: caviar, pate, cheeses, olives, chutneys, pickles, pesto, beef jerky, fresh steaks from one of those gourmet meat delivery services, or fresh in-their-shell oysters from a similar service, edible snails for lovers of French food, tropical fruit baskets. Mmm – I’m getting hungry just writing this stuff! 

Take a stroll along the shelves of your local delicatessen and shop for some inspiration – and pay attention to the kind of food (rare treats especially) that your loved ones adore.

Gifts for the sole

May 8, 2010

Yes, sole.  I’m a big fan of foot-related gifts, partly because I have sensitive feet that can easily get cold or sore. 

Most of the gift-type products on the market seem to be luxury things like foot spas and pedicure sets.  On which note: I have no issue with foot spas (although I do notice how many near-new spas seem to end up in second-hand shops).

Here are some different gift ideas for friends and family, particularly those who are on their feet for most of the day:

  • Wool or fur insoles. Incredibly warm and luxurious, and ideal for those living in a cold climate.  I recommend Kozitoez’ sheepskin and possum fur insoles. (I’m not usually a fur wearer, but possums are an introduced pest in New Zealand, and cause massive damage to the natural wildlife.) Walking on lovely warm, fluffy insoles is a luxurious experience – the recipient will be singing your praises with every step s/he takes!
  • Padded or orthotic insoles.  In recent years these have become available in most pharmacies.  I’ve found orthotic insoles offer arch support that may be missing in shoes, meaning your foot hurts more and more as the day goes by.  Great for people who are on their feet all day.  Not a very glamorous gift, but would make a good ‘stocking filler’.
  • Foot massage voucher.  For those of us who love foot rubs, the idea of a half-hour foot massage is sheer bliss.  However, there are plenty of others who would run a mile at the thought. So be sure you know which camp your loved one is in!

Biancheria intima – a tale of mistaken identity!

April 23, 2010

Here’s a cautionary tale about buying lingerie as a gift when in a foreign country – although I’m not sure exactly what the moral of the story is!

Alan, a 50-something former colleague of mine, went on honeymoon to Europe with his new bride.  While in Italy, he was taking a stroll when he noticed a lingerie boutique that had some rather lovely ensembles in the window. 

As a romantic gesture to his wife (who was not present with him at the time), he went into the shop and tried to purchase one of the garments.  Although his Italian was poor, he figured that the international language of money would suffice.  Surely all he had to do was point to the shop-window dummy that was displaying the item he wanted to buy (in my mind it’s a violet silk teddy, trimmed with beige lace), and indicate with his credit card that he’d like to purchase it?

Well, you would think so.  However, the shop staff put up strong objections, which Alan of course couldn’t understand.  Why on earth wouldn’t they just wrap up the damn garment for him?  Weren’t they in the business of selling lingerie, after all?  Eventually, the answer become clear.  What they were trying to say to Alan was: But Sir, it’ll NEVER FIT YOU!!!  (Alan was/is a portly gentleman.) 

Evidently the shop was frequented by transvestites, and the shop staff assumed that Alan wanted the outfit for his own use – thus were encouraging him to buy a much larger size than the one on the display dummy!

Alan was sufficiently amused by this episode to share it with his friends and colleagues when he returned to work.  All I can advise, by way of learning, is that if you are a male purchasing gift lingerie while abroad, perhaps also teach yourself the local words for “It’s for my wife”!

Gingerbread musings

April 19, 2010

Paying their way: my numeral cookie cutters make a batch of "2" biscuits

I did it!  I made a batch of “2” shaped gingerbread cookies for the slew of second birthday parties coming up, using the numeral cookie cutters I bought a couple of months ago.  

I frosted them in different ways and personalised some of them with messages like “Cory is 2” and “Happy Birthday!”.  I thought they looked great, and suitably festive, especially when packaged.

However, my confidence dipped when I went to the first party.  It turned out to be a full-on, almost-no-expense-spared sort of children’s party.  (I mean, there wasn’t a clown or magician, but I think next year there will be).  I had felt pretty good about my special cookies gift, until I saw the hordes of other people all turning up with big flossy parcels.  Then I began to feel…cheap.

I couldn’t help it.  But then again, I reminded myself, this little boy is little more than an acquaintance.  We haven’t seen Cory in probably four months.  It seemed like madness to rush out and buy a $15 – $30 toy for a child we barely know.  Plus, his wealthy parents seem to have purchased him every toy his heart could possibly desire.  What on earth could I have found that he didn’t have already?

So I found myself in a “But it’s the thought that counts!” kind of moment.  Maybe the gift was a little cheap (?).  Certainly it only cost me a few dollars instead of the dozens I’d normally have to have shelled out. 

But despite being relatively inexpensive, it wasn’t an easy gift.  Baking the cookies, frosting them in various ways, including hand-frosted messages…that took a lot of time and effort.  It would have been much simpler to just visit a local boutique and have them giftwrap some puzzle or train or something – done in a matter of moments. 

All the same, I couldn’t help wondering what the parents thought about it, later on after the party trimmings had all been swept up.  Did they comment to each other, What a charming and original gift, and that homemade gingerbread sure does taste good! 

Or did they say, Cheap bitch!

Charitable gifts

March 21, 2010

I love the way that you can buy virtual, ‘charity-based gifts’, like these ones from Oxfam, to bring much needed supplies to the Third World, and a good feeling into people’s hearts.  These gifts are ideal for “hard to buy for” types, in particular wealthy people who already seem to have everything.

It’s a creative move on the part of charities, most of whom now seem to have a virtual gift range.  Twenty or more years ago, the only way you could give to a charity was to give it money.  Then some of them started opening gift shops and publishing gift catalogues, so you could buy products and the profits reaped would help fund the charity.  Then, within the past few years (it seems to me), somebody had the brainwave of saying: what if we had a range of ‘virtual gifts’, which would allow people to give money towards a specific item, like a live chicken or goat, or rubber sandals for leprosy sufferers, or an eye operation for a cataract sufferer?  Whoever it was, they were one clever cookie.