Tag: gifts

Good Gifts

This post is probably more appropriate at Christmas but I thought of it now so there!

I have always prided myself on being a good gift giver.  In fact, several years ago my brother got me in the Christmas gift draw and his immediate response was ‘I got Rachel.  She’s not a good gift giver’.  I was heartedly offended by this statement and made sure to give him a great gift (perhaps his strategy all along!).   This sentiment came from a gift I had given him as  a child of a toy that I wanted but was in the guise of being meant for him, but who doesn’t do that when they are little?  Practically every gift I gave my Mother as a child in some way benefited me.  There was one year we all gave her perfume and she told me she wondered if she smelled badly.  LOL.

Since those days I have honed the craft of gift giving and become pretty good at it.  One of the best gifts I’ve ever given was to my sister Anna for her birthday before college (I worked for weeks on her birthday party planning decor and food for the whole extended family.).  I made her this book:

It was a guide book for BYU with restaurant recommendations, study tips and suggestions for a good social experience  I don’t know if she ever really used it but that doesn’t negate the value of the gift. I can’t control that!

I’ve also made it a goal of mine to try to bring a thoughtful gift to showers and birthday parties I am invited to.  A gift off the registry is so boring.  For years I’ve prided myself on having the cutest baby gift at the shower.  Rarely have I failed.

So here are some keys to good gift giving:

1. Try to be extra thoughtful.   It can be as simple as finding a book they will enjoy or will show you made effort. Have your ears open (and social media eyes alert) to clues for a movie they’ve been pinging for or a singer they like. Sometimes this is easier said than done.  For instance, I have not had great luck with my gifts to my little brother, but I keep trying.  One day  I will score.

2. Think of what they need in their lives and then try to work a gift around that need.  Gift certificates may seem unthoughtful but for a young Mom they may be just what they want most of all.  A gift certificate to get a manicure or to have their house cleaned may show a thoughtfulness to their needs which will make an impact.

One of my favorite quotes from Conference concerned gift giving and being aware of others needs.  Ronald Rasband of the Seventy said:

“If you come upon a person who is drowning, would you ask if they need help—or would it be better to just jump in and save them from the deepening waters? The offer, while well meaning and often given, “Let me know if I can help” is really no help at all.”

Already I have thought about this quote several times and instead of offering to help, found some way to help, even if its just chatting on facebook with a lonely friend.

3.  Ask them what they want.  Or even better sometimes they tell you want they want.  I love when someone asks me for something as a bit of a challenge.  Something that perhaps I’m going to have to find at a bargain or hunt websites for.  Recently I had one of my greatest gift giving triumphs when my Dad asked me to find him Lord of the Rings DVDs dubbed in German.  I was able to find two on amazon.de.  I had to google translate everything and only ended up with the 1st and the 3rd but it was very exciting!  My Dad can be a tough gift recipient to crack so the few genuine successes are all the more meaningful.

4.  Be a good gift recipient.  If you want someone to enjoy your gifts give them the same courtesy.  In the end it doesn’t really matter if you  hate the gift.  What matters is the thought and love that went into choosing a gift.   Even if it is clear they did not put a lot of thought into the gift, they won’t be likely to do so in the future if you are ambivalent to their current offerings.  Any gift should be accepted with gratitude and if possible a thank you note should be written.   Emily Post says thank you notes should be written “any time you receive a gift (even a ‘thank you’ gift)”.  Emails are sufficient but not quite as thoughtful as a short note in the regular mail.

5. Mention using the gifts you receive.  I have given hundreds of baby gifts out over the years and I always say ‘please send me a photo of your baby in the outfit’.  I can only think of once when someone actually did this and it was great!  If you genuinely receive a gift you don’t like such as an ugly painting suck it up and find a boring, out of the way wall for it.  Every time you see it you can smile and think of your friend and their attempt to give you a thoughtful gift.

6.  The best gifts are one’s that require a little bit of sacrifice. Whether it be a  sacrifice of time, money or creative talent it doesn’t really matter.  My friend and I were talking about how a bountiful basket would make a great gift for a family (or anyone) and at $15 a bargain.  The sacrifice comes in the time spent ordering, waiting, delivering the basket (not too mention the lack of sleep).

7. Experience gifts are often wonderful choices.  One year my friends and I surprised our roommate with Rascal Flatts concert tickets the night of the show.  We went to pizza and announced ‘after this we are heading to the show!’.  It was a great memory (better than the concert itself which was blase).

8.   Finally, the best advice is you can’t control each others gift reactions- especially where children are concerned.  One year my Mother made my little brother the most adorable doll because he kept playing with his sisters dolls (yes, there were attempts at a gender neutral home; although, we all couldn’t behave more stereotypically of our born sex).  He only wanted to open one gift on Christmas morning and after that was tired of the whole fuss.  (he was around 4 I’m guessing).  We forced him to open the doll and he took one look at it and threw it across the room! Eventually he did end up playing with it but that certainly wasn’t the initial reaction we all anticipated!  Just be glad for your efforts even if they are unappreciated and try again the next time.  Eventually it does pay off and relationships are stronger for the effort made.

9.  Try to work in traditions into gifts.  I have a tradition with my nieces of giving books.  This doesn’t take up much space,is affordable, easily personalized (easy to ship with amazon!) and encourages reading.  Occasionally I will stray from this tradition but its worked well so far.  My niece Olive and I have a little shared love for Fancy Nancy and since I don’t get to see her often its fun to have some connection with each other.

10.  Have your eye out all year. There is no reason you can’t set aside a gift in a closet for later in the year.  This will help you save money, ensure the gifts thoughtfulness, and help reduce stress during the holidays  Sometimes you will forget you bought a gift like a pinhole camera kit I got for my brother in law one year and it took me over 2 years to remember to give it to him! At least it didn’t spoil!

So those are my tips.  Maybe they will be helpful as Mother’s Day approaches.  Even just a thoughtful, well written card, can be all that is needed.  Last year a girl in my ward, who is now my good friend, brought me over cookies because she knew I had competed in my open water swim.  She just wanted to say congrats.  What a lovely gesture.  Gifts have the power to make someone feel remembered and that can be the real gift.

Good luck!


Something a Little Sweet at Christmas

No friends I have not gotten off of my sugar fast…what I am referring to is a talk by President Hinckley years ago that has always stuck with me.  It was given at the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional in 1998 entitled The Testimony of Jesus. In the talk he spoke about the festive time of the year and how it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.  At the time Hurricane Mitch had just happened and President Hinckley had been to visit the ravished Honduras people and check on church humanitarian services being performed to help them. 

As he describes the devastation he mentioned a  little girl  he met who had been rescued from the rafters of a flooded home.  About meeting her President Hinckley said:

“They now have beans and rice, powdered milk and cooking oil. That will sustain life but it is not very tasty. I would hope that at this Christmas season, when there will be no gift‐giving among these devastated people, this small orphan girl might receive perhaps a little taste of candy, something sweet and delicious. I must and will see that that happens.”

Evidently after the story the church humanitarian department was flooded with more candy than they could handle!  The reason why this quote has stayed with me all these years is I think it is easy to only stretch so far in serving others, to feel that giving more would be excessive and unnecessary.  Certainly if there are rules for a particular organization or project we need to stay with them but if not, we should try to stretch a little out of our comfort zone to help someone. (I have a 1 up rule in life.  Meaning if I feel I can serve 1 person I will try to serve 2, if I can do nothing I will do 1 etc).

I like this quote at Christmas because as I’m picking out presents it is easy to think- what is the most sensible gift I could get this person?  When really sometimes they need something a little sweet and delicious, something to brighten their day.

I used to have a debate with my Dad about the essential vs. non-essential aspects of our society.  There are many things that are frivolous nowdays but also many that while not technically essential provide a breadth and happiness to our life, which make it sweet and happy.  For instance, music may not be a requirement for sustenance and human survival but I can not imagine being happy without it.

I hope the next example I will use will be taken in the way I intend.  For years I was involved in Sub 4 Santa’s for various organizations.  Literally from high school to my mission I was a leader in gathering presents, trees and food for families in need.  I always found it very rewarding and particularly in college when we delivered the gifts it brought the spirit of Christmas deeply into my heart.

A couple of years ago I was shopping with a group from my ward for our secret santa and I became very frustrated.The gifts being purchased seemed tacky and cheap.  Not something that would last or be special at all.  I’m not denying the good intentions of the gift-givers but I knew we had more money in the budget to spend and even if we didn’t why buy junk that won’t last?  I left the whole process feeling depressed and cress-fallen.  I couldn’t get the image out of my head of 3 little kids that would wake up with plastic, throw away toys and clothes poorly made.   Anyway, it has always stayed with me that if you are going to give then look for items that will truly create joy- not that this has to cost a lot of money.

Like President Hinckley says, “It is His influence in our lives that stirs within us a little more of kindness, a little more of respect, a little more of love, a little more of concern. It is because of Him, and His teachings, that we reach out to those in trouble, distress, and need wherever they may be.”

There have been years I have done big projects like  Sub 4 Santa’s and the Festival of Trees and other’s where I found 1 person to secret santa for (this year my friend and I did 2 girls, so fun!).  Whatever it might be it is a stretch for that year, at that time and I’m always blessed as a result.

This Christmas I hope you can each think of ways to serve and bring sweetness into the lives of those around you.  Like President Hinckley can we all be the person who will recognize the needs and desires of our loved one’s and then ‘see that that happens’?   Even if it is just with a smile,  conversation, favorite dish made or an extra shoulder to lean on, you can change the hum drum into something truly memorable. A few years ago I did a blog post on my Dad saying thanks and that meant a lot to him, so like I said it doesn’t have to cost money to be very meaningful. Its all about digging a little deeper and filling a happiness void in our loved one’s lives.  That sensation is Christmas to me!

What’s the best gift you have ever received or given?

Merry Christmas!

Wonder of Cellophane

So this year I don’t have much money to spend on gifts (I’m afraid I spent all my money this year on trainers, races, doctors, and eye surgery…sigh).

Fortunately I don’t have a ton of gifts to buy being single and all.  I also have made a deal with my trainer- no cheats carb-wise or sweet-wise with at least 4 days of exercise a week, and I can have the entire time I am home (9 days) off!  This doesn’t mean I will go crazy but just knowing I can take a breath and not be so strict is super motivating.

This fitness goal combined with my budget created a challenge for my friends gifts.  Where I would usually give a plate of cookies and homemade candies I had to come up with something else?  Here’s what I did:

Included in this little package is:

1 honeycrisp apple (from Harmons.  THE BEST APPLE EVER!)

1 good quality navel orange (also from Harmons)

2 apple and 2 berry Clif Fruit Ropes (I buy them in bulk from the Clif Bar’s website)

What do you think? Would you be disappointed or grateful to get something instead of the traditional Christmas sweets? My friends seemed to enjoy it (in fact, one of my visiting teaching girls was looking forward to my monthly honeycrisp apple!)

I personally learned from making these gifts that anything looks better wrapped in cellophane with a nice bow on it.  Nice to know…:) I’d love to hear what budget and diet friendly gifts you come up with this year. Please share!

Ok.  Its way late.  Better go to bed!

Anna’s Present

I know it is not good to brag about oneself, but let me just say I can be a great present giver.  In fact,  a few years ago my brother claimed I was a bad present giver and I made sure to give him the best present ever- nice strategy Ben! Maybe it is because I don’t have that many presents to give, being single, but I treat it as kind of a game to win or lose at.  My dad was always a hard one to buy presents for (and still is) and so I learned to probe deep for ideas and to try to give from the heart. I have a long track record of giving the best bridal and baby shower gifts- including the longest ahhh! at all of the baby showers I attend (trust me, if you are having a baby then you want me at your shower!).

This last month I was faced with a gift giving dilemma.  What to get my about to go to college sister Anna. She and I are very similar, and she is coming out here to BYU (my Alma mater!). Naturally,  a number of possible gifts such as gift certificates to the theater or a cookbook came to mind.  I also thought of things for her apartment, to help study, or a keyboard practice music on.  All of these gifts would have been fine, but I wanted something more personal.  As is natural, she has been somewhat stressed-out about the beginning of college (even though I know she will do amazingly well).  It is a big change, and as I very well know big changes are scary.  It means saying goodbye to some family, her high school friends and California. (although, she pretends like she is dying which is not true either.  What drama!) I began to think- what could I give her that might be comforting and provide real guidance? Then it came to me- a survival book, full of the advice  I would have wanted when I was in college!

I gathered materials and made the book out of 5 by 7 scrapbooking cardstock and then printed out all kinds of quotes, study tips, Provo restaurant recommendations, coupons for meals/rides/clean room, suggestions such as attending BYU athletics and more.  It ended up being 24 laminated pages with a binding and stickers as illustrations.  Of course, I ended the book with a letter of congratulations and encouragement.  She’s such an awesome sister, and I feel privileged to know her.  In many ways she makes me feel complete and understood in my family- something I often didn’t always feel while growing up (does any teenager?).  I love chatting with her, getting excited about David Archuleta, singing our favorite Broadway songs and giggling over the Office, Glee or some other show.  I am so grateful for all she does for me, and I hope my little present actually helps increase her happiness while at school and provide real concrete guidance when she struggles.  It will be like having her big sister in her pocket whenever she need’s it.  (Of course, I will be here in real life as well- just around the corner- despensing hugs, laughs and sister-filled fun). Good luck!