GeekMoms’ Favorite Offbeat Gift Experiences

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Pick something different. Image: artteacher, publicdomain,

Here at GeekMom, we’ve been talking about gifts as we plan for our family holidays. Many of us are trying to cut down on the “stuff overload” as well as seeking ways to make our gifts more personal, which led us to share favorite presents we’ve given or received.

Jackie: When I was 23 and in that flat-broke stage of post-college single life, my mom gave me a calendar with small gift cards clipped to every month. Starbucks here, my favorite yarn store there. I’d save them as a treat each month. Still one of my favorite ever gifts.

Ariane: When my brother and I reached adulthood (and finally decent paychecks), we were buying our parents more and more material presents. Eventually, they told us that they would prefer “experiences” over “stuff,” so we started putting our gift budgets together to buy them tickets to shows. They’ve given us permission to buy tickets for things out of town even, so now I try to find tickets to a good show in a city not too far away so they have an excuse to take a weekend vacation. I try to put some thought into not only the show we are buying tickets for, but also what city they might enjoy, the time of year, and what other fun events they might be able to catch that weekend. It’s a little bit like playing travel agent!

Laura: We’ve traditionally asked extended family members to give toy alternatives. It’s not a hard and fast rule, just a suggestion. Over the years, this has resulted in great gifts like magazine subscriptions (everything from New Moon Girls to Muse), passes to the science center and natural history museum, experiences like skating/skiing/concerts/live theater, as well as a few contributions to some larger group gifts like outdoor climbing equipment. Better yet, we’ve encouraged relatives to give time together as their gift, just child and aunt or child and grandparent, like a movie night or wilderness hike or whatever is mutually fun. This has given our kids a wealth of experiences, built stronger relationships, and saved my four-kid house from a junk overload.

Judy: My favorite unique idea came from my dad, but isn’t holiday-related. He turned 70 a few years ago and ahead of time, he sent an envelope of cash to all five of his kids. The note said something like, “In a few weeks, I turn 70. I don’t need any more gifts. I’m very comfortable and happy in life. But I’m realizing more and more that life is about memories. So as your gift to me this year, I’d love for you each to take this $70 and go make a family memory. All I ask is that you send me a note afterward and tell me about your new memories.”  We loved it. Our kids were older teens, so we used the money to buy a bike rack for the car and spent the day down in NYC, riding through amazing neighborhoods and along the amazing greenway they had recently built along the river. We had just moved to NY and always had to rent bikes before that day. From then on, we had the bike rack and were able to go whenever we wanted with our own bikes and enjoy the experience, over and over. Greatest gift ever! My dad loved it!

Rachel: Twice now, I have given meals. My sister-in-law lives with my mother-in-law, so one year, I gave them 10 homemade coupons for dinners. It was basically 10 meals for 10 weeks. Each week, I would email them selections they could pick from… like a menu! Then, I would drop off the meal to them. Sometimes, it would be something all prepped and they would have to put it into the oven. Other times, I would put it in the crockpot, so it would be ready when they got home from work. Some weeks, I included homemade bread and/or ice cream.  It worked out so well, I did it for another family member another year.

Sarah: This year, I’m giving Ben an envelope each month, setting aside a game night for a particular game. With the two little kids, we don’t get that time as often as we’d like. So it’ll be gift cards to coffee shops or pizza coupons for staying in and playing Catan in January, Risk in February, Quarriors in March, etc.

Ariane : At every special family dinner (birthdays, holidays, special occasions), my mom sets the table and puts a little gift bag or box on everyone’s plate. It’s not usually anything expensive, but just a little something that she thought we would like. Our favorite candy, cute accessories, a gift card to our favorite places, etc. It really makes me feel like she put a lot of time thinking about each of us and what would make us happy!

Judy : I’m doing small photo magnets for the cousins this year. Pics from our reunion in NH this summer made into small magnets that Shutterfly often has for about five bucks. They’ve been a huge hit in years past.

Lisa: I made Molly a “gift card” bouquet one year, about five $20 cards from Barnes & Noble, GameStop…all her favorite haunts. She loved it so much, she had me make one for Rick for his birthday.

Laura:  After it became difficult for my husband’s grandmother to shop, we gave her a year’s supply of greeting cards each Christmas. She loved to send cards, so we customized the selection to include birthday cards specifically for each of her siblings, kids, and grandkids, plus plenty of cards for friends, and sadly, sympathy cards too. We included some lovely blank cards and stationery, plus enough stamps to send every card.

Cathe: We are repeating a gift from last year by making organic candy buttons (recipe isn’t for organic, but it’s easy to do) and giving them to everyone. A batch makes enough for about 30 people. They make great stocking stuffers and most moms are okay with giving their kids plant dyes and real flavors.

Rachel:  I love, love, love getting homemade jam for Christmas. Every year, my sister-in-law gives us jam and we love it. My son especially loves it, but I love that it’s fresh and delicious. And it’s something we use regularly. Plus, it’s made with love. One year, I gave a bunch of hot pepper jelly that I had made and paired with crackers. Crazy delicious.

Kay: My MIL loved giving magazine subscriptions. I got a needlecraft magazine subscription from her for decades and every time that showed up in the mailbox, I thought of her and her thoughtfulness even though she was half the continent away.  She also gave all the grandkids a natural science mag, Ranger Rick, then National Geographic. And she sponsored our subscription to Science News until we were making enough to pay for it. I never heard of it before that and now I love it.

Cathe: A constant hit with the grandparents is a set of magnets with pictures of the grandkids.

Judy:  I plan to do a “movie night” box for my grown daughter in Nashville with a Redbox gift card, popcorn, candy, etc. Cheap date night!

Kay: A good gift is a membership to a fun destination, if your kid or family will really go there. The local zoo or science center, natural history, tech, aviation, train, performing arts, museum, or other activity can be a gift that keeps on giving, and counteracts a video game sit-still impulse. My best friend and I both were gifted horseback-riding lessons one year!!

Judy: My MIL still sends a check this time of year for my kids to get ski passes. Because we are locals, we get them pretty cheap here in CO and she loves helping to pay for many weekends of skiing. That way, we “only” have to worry about keeping equipment current.

Rachel: One year, my son received Puzzle Buzz from my brother and his family. It’s by the same people as Highlights and it would come every month. It was awesome. Tons of mazes, stickers, and other activities.

Patricia: My husband came home from an Iraq deployment at 2:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve 2003. His parents didn’t know. The plan was for the family to get together at Dave’s brother’s house in Tampa for Christmas dinner, even without Dave. We drove in from about two hours away. Dave’s parents flew down from NY to FL.  My toddler, Jacob, and I showed up with Dave in tow and gave Dave’s parents quite the shock! Dave’s mom had picked up Jacob (age 15 mo.) for a greeting before seeing Dave and she dropped Jacob nearly to the ground upon seeing him. That’s our family’s coolest immaterial Christmas gift ever.

Lisa: Material gift: Not long after Rick and I were married, he gave me an Elenstar replica pendant. It wasn’t expensive, but he gave it to me via a “treasure hunt” of hints that led me throughout the house to an old tin container hidden in the kitchen. We are both huge Tolkien fans and it still means so much to me.

Lisa: Immaterial gift: It took us nine years to have Molly, so we figured that was all the children we would have, but seven years later—one year after the sudden death of my mom—we learned I was pregnant with Erin. Call it fate, call it coincidence, or call it God’s timing; it turned what would have been a sad time for all of us, especially my dad, into a reason to celebrate a new and beautiful life.

Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose.