Holiday gift ideas from the heart

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve republished posts I wrote last year about compact-y holiday gift ideas: experiential gifts, handmade gifts, and super-frugal gifts. I thought I’d tell you about some of the gifts I’ve been giving lately.

The memory book pictured above is a labor of love for my parents from my brothers and me. We lived in several different houses while growing up, and we had a pretty happy childhood, so I think my parents will enjoy reading some of our favorite memories. We each wrote a page of recollections and stories from each of the houses we lived in, and included some photos as well. We inscribed it “thanks for filling all of our homes with love and laughter.” I’m really excited about this gift, and it cost us a lot of time but very little money (I already had the album). We have all been hit in different ways by the recession this year, so none of us had a lot of money to spend on a gift. I think this might be more appreciated than anything we could have bought.

For one brother, I’m putting together a handmade recipe book filled with simple favorites. This would be a good gift for anyone moving out on their own, a college student, or newlyweds. I know I treasure the handwritten recipes from my grandmother, and this will be filled with go-to standbys.

For my other brother, I used Shutterfly to create a photo album from a trip we took together this year. I think he will enjoy having a picture book of our adventure to look through. I also used Shutterfly to make a mug for a friend, which is not strictly compact-y, except that I know she will love it and will never get rid of it.

One of my favorite gifts (both to give and to receive) are books, and they’re also one of the few items I allow myself to buy as an exception to The Compact. I want to support the literary community and writers I admire. If you buy them at a neighborhood bookstore, you’ll also be supporting the local economy. For friends I know will enjoy it, I’m giving my favorite nonfiction book of the year, but I can’t tell you what it is because a few of them read this blog. For others, I’m giving my favorite fiction selection of the year, which was Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (it’s my favorite I read this year, he wrote it several years ago). If the people on your list aren’t readers, there’s usually some kind of more practical book you can give that they’ll be able to use, like a cookbook or a travel guidebook. My 13-year-old nephew says he doesn’t like to read, but he loves to draw cars, so we found an excellent how-to book about drawing cars for him. And picture books are my go-to gift for kids under four, and Dr. Seuss for four-and-five-year-olds.

Food is the gift of choice for many people in my life. I bake shortbread for one friend and pumpkin bread for several others. Last year I started giving my homemade granola as a gift and it was well-received. Naomi Seldin of Simpler Living wrote up my recipe as a post, you can check it out here. While you’re there, stick around to read about other ideas on her fabulous blog. I made homemade egg nog the past two years, but that recipe takes a minimum of three weeks in the refrigerator so I’ll try to be organized enough next year to give you that recipe earlier. There’s one new recipe I’ve got to try this year because it sounds so amazing and also simple: spicy chocolate bark. It will make a great gift for the chocoholics in my life. And finally, my husband and I generally exchange fairly simple gifts that we both love like books and liqueur, and I also always give him a box of hand-picked See’s candy, which I consider the perfect gift for anyone you know well enough to choose the particular chocolate they covet.

Cate at Liberal Simplicity wrote a great post about Homemade Gifts that includes two of my all-time favorites I’ve received over the years: a photo album and a quilt. She’s got some other cool choices that you can put together more quickly, including some chic tile coasters.

And finally, I’m a big fan of rethinking the regift. I agree it’s tacky and cheap if you’re regifting because the item was lame in the first place, but there’s nothing wrong with passing along a really nice gift that you know you won’t use. I’ve had great success with this (it helps if you have a mother with really good taste like I do). You might have the perfect thing for that difficult-to-please relative, like a hand-knit scarf that you’ve been holding on to for years, because it’s too nice to get rid of but it’s just not quite your color scheme.

What are some of your favorite gifts, to give or to receive? Please share in the Comments section.


  1. says

    Well, as a knitter all of my gifts this year were hand knit :-) I made felted slippers for both sets of parents/step parents. And I made quick knit scarves for all Secret Santa gifts. With all the misc. yarn I have laying around, whipping up a quick scarf in neutral colorways (red/grey/black is a favorite) is a $0 gift I can make and comes from my heart and my talents. I also made up a crockpot full of sugar free apple butter so I can put some of that in a pint jar, tie a ribbon around it, and package it with a loaf of homemade bread for another really nice gift that everyone appreciates and total cost to me is somewhere around $1. As a broke college student who is also concerned about the environment and rampant commercialism, anything that is cheap and heartfelt is a good thing!

    • Angela says

      Tina- I love hand-knitted gifts! And I would be so happy to receive slippers as a gift. It’s one of the few items I still have to buy, my Chinese slippers that I love. And the apple butter is a fantastic idea- can you share the recipe? I would love to make it because I love to use the crockpot and I love apple butter- I think that’s a great gift.

      I think a hand-knit scarf is way more than I would ever expect from a secret santa gift. And I agree that anything cheap and heartfelt is a good thing.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • says

        Here is the link to the blog post I did on the apple butter along with all my silly comments because I am incapable of just typing a recipe – LOL. It is really good! I hope you get a chance to make some and let me know how it turns out.

        Fortunately I can whip up a decent scarf in about 6-10 hours total of knitting time and my yarn stash is overflowing with bits and pieces that work well for misc. stuff liek this. So in 2-3 evenings in front of a movie or a couple of recorded tv shows I can have a pretty scarf for a gift. The slippers take longer which is why only parental type units got those! Now I just need to find an really good stash of yarn at a thrift store instead of always having to order online or go to the fancy and beautiful local yarn store (love supporting local businesses, but the prices are tough to swallow sometimes).

        BTW – after reading your blog for the better part of 2 years I am finally taking the leap and doing The Compact for 2011! Wish me luck!

        • Angela says

          Tina- I just found this in my spam. Thanks for the link, and best of luck with The Compact! I hope it will be as good for you as it has been for me. Thanks so much for commenting!

      • says

        Darn – I wrote and posted a reply when I was at work and it appears to have been eaten by the cyberspace monster! I guess blog comments are to cyberspace like homemade truffles sitting on the table at work are to me 😛

        I posted the recipe for the apple butter on my blog, I am linking to it below for you. I hope the recipe isn’t too convoluted, I tend to add too many notes when I type things up because I am always thinking about how I want to do it differently next time!

        The nice thing on scarves is that I have a massive amount of remnants from bigger projects that go well together and with a basic striped pattern I can usually whip up a scarf in 8-10 hours. So 2-3 nights in front of a movie with my knitting and I can have a scarf ready for someone without too much problem. Then for someone I want to make it extra special I will find a nicer pattern and put a little more time into it. But they always seem to turn out nice and I love giving something I made rather than bought.

        My mom has been asking me for a pair of these slippers for a year, I have just been making her wait to make the present that much more special 😉

  2. says

    I love your memory book idea! I bet your parents will love it.

    Food and books are two of my favorite things to give. They’re inexpensive, always appreciated, and it’s usually easy to match the gift to the person. My mom and stepdad love having fancy breakfasts on the weekends, so this year we’re giving them some nice hot chocolate mix, scone mix, black cherry jam, and biscotti. They’ll love it and they don’t need to store it. My siblings are starting to have kids now and I think we’re going to start putting together “book kits” for the nieces and nephews for Christmas: several books (probably purchased from Half-Price Books with my husband’s teacher discount!) wrapped up in pretty paper/ribbon with a little treat–like some candy or a small toy. I think they’ll love them, and it’ll be an easy, thoughtful gift for us. I love picking out the perfect book!

    Thanks for including a link to my homemade gift ideas, by the way. :-)

    • Angela says

      Cate- I love the fancy breakfast ingredients idea. And the “book kit” is my favorite gift for babies or toddlers. A friend of ours just happens to be an award-winning children’s book illustrator, so my favorite thing is to give signed copies of his books. His latest is called the Sea of Sleep and has wonderful drawings of otters. Here’s the amazon link, I hope you’ll check it out:
      I just sent that to my stepsister for her new baby girl and she absolutely loved it. Some other favorites are A Story for Bear, The Raft (he also wrote that one), and The Rainbabies, which won all kinds of awards.

      Thanks again for your great homemade gifts post, I’m only sorry I saw and posted it so late. The holidays got away from me this year!

      Thanks for commenting, and have a lovely holiday.

  3. Katy says

    One book I’m giving this year is The Crying Tree by Naseem Rahka. A wonderful novel about redemption and forgiveness, although it’s also sad. She is an Oregon writer, where I am from, and I always shop for Christmas books at my local Broadway Books in Portland. Yay for great local book stores!

    • Angela says

      Katy- I also love to give novels I’ve read and loved during the year. To me it’s a special gift, because they may not find out about or read the book otherwise. It’s sharing something that meant something to you. And you’re supporting your local business as well- yay for great local bookstores, indeed!

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Marie-Josée says

    Thank you Angela for the great post and ideas; I especially like the gift you’ve prepared for your parents. I loved the comments from your other posters as well. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones !

    • Angela says

      Thank you Marie-Josee. My parents loved the gift, they were talking about it for days and very excited. My dad told me it was one of the best gifts he’d ever gotten, and that’s saying a lot, because he’s 75!

  5. Katie says

    Another Shutterfly idea for kids: My sister made a “Family” Shutterfly book for her daughter (20 months), with a page for each of her grandparents and aunt/uncle/cousin families. She loves looking through it with someone, saying “who’s that? who’s that?” and telling you who everyone is. It’s especially neat for those of us aunties/uncles that live far away. Since she looks at the book so much, she recognizes us when we come to visit!

    You could probably make a similar book without the Shutterfly service, too, but the Shutterfly books work pretty nicely for little kids who aren’t too careful with books yet.

    • Angela says

      Katie- I absolutely love that idea! We try to keep ourselves in our niece and nephew’s mind by always sending them funny packages with drawings and photographs and unusual things they’ll remember. I love the idea of them having their own photo album of relatives.


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