10 Memorable Gifts for Family and Friends

One thing we don’t talk about often enough is that Christmas is a time of remembrance, a chance to share and create your own new memories and traditions. In a world where the holidays seem to be the only chance to truly make time for the people you care about, it seems more important than ever to uphold this sense of togetherness.

One of the ways you can celebrate the people you love is by giving them a meaningful gift that commemorates your relationship. Here are some ideas for memorable gifts that I’ve given, received, or heard about throughout the years.

(1) When we graduated from high school, one of my friends gave each of the girls in our group a picture commemorating a vacation we had taken together the summer before our senior year of high school. She personalized them with inside jokes and funny memories she shared with each of us using a Sharpie and a wooden frame. It was so simple, yet so special, and I still have it to this day.

(2) One of my favorite Internet trends is seeing all the people re-creating old childhood photos as a way of marking a special occasion. Getting a family portrait done at Christmas is one way of sharing memories with family and friends, but I happen to think that adding your own humorous flair makes the idea even more special. (Check out this site for some inspiration.)

(3) Can’t decide on just one photo? Commemorate a special event, trip or person by putting together a mini-scrapbook as a gift, or create your own professional-looking photo book using a service like Blurb or Shutterfly. I did this for my sister for her birthday a couple of years ago and it’s still one of my favorite gifts I’ve ever given.

(4) The only thing that a bookworm loves more than books is books about books, which is why I created a personalized reading journal for a friend of mine one year for Christmas. A big part of our friendship consisted of raiding each other’s bookshelves, talking about what we’ve read, and looking for what titles to pick up next. Using a blank notebook I created lists of virtually every category I thought would be of interest and included quotations from some of his favorite novels. Plus, there was still lots of space left over for his own thoughts, doodles and notes. I ended up liking it so much I wish someone had made one for me!

(5) If bacon is more your thing than books, consider taking the book list idea and fill a notebook with favorite recipes, or lists or favorite wines or restaurants or try. I’ve carried a recipe binder for twelve years now filled with the food my family and friends love. Some of the recipes from there have made their way to other people’s recipe binders, too. Don’t limit yourself to just a binder either- recipe cards, notebooks, duo-tangs or even your own self-published version could all work.

(6) All that work it takes to create a book can be daunting to some people. A time capsule is a great way of sharing memories that cuts down on the time and effort put into designing a book. For example, if there’s been a new addition to your family this year, get each of your relatives to write a letter to be opened at a later date to commemorate baby’s first Christmas. Some families turn this into a yearly tradition by gifting children their own dated ornaments, or instead create a ritual like buying seasonal pajamas each year to be open and worn on Christmas Eve.

(7) Put your kids to work by getting them working on their own Christmas projects for family and friends. My co-worker’s daughter painted portraits on canvas for all of the friends of the family one year; the portrait she painted of our other co-worker and the beautiful message she included with it brought me to tears. She also made me this awesome re-creation of my dog, Gemma, using Perler beads. (I love how she kind of looks like the Pink Power Ranger.)

(8) Can’t turn your kids into a Christmas craft-making factory? Make your life easier by re-purposing their artwork to make unique gifts for family and friends. Spoonflower is a great tool to turn your kids drawings into fabric, wallpaper or gift wrap, and sites like Society6, Café Press and Zazzle allow you to upload any image and print it onto apparel and accessories like iPhone cases, beach towels and tote bags. (And more! Honestly, none of these sites paid me to say that.)

(9) You don’t really have to feel guilty about re-gifting something you know that someone else has been coveting. One of my best book buddies unloaded a huge stack of books on me one Christmas because she knew how badly I wanted to catch up on the series we were both reading. Sure, I know it was something she already had but the fact that she wanted to pass them on to me so I could enjoy them as well was worth way more than the money she could have spent. Just throw in a gift card to your favorite local coffee shop and you’ve set the recipient up for a lovely afternoon.

(10) At the end of the day I think one of the nicest gifts you can give is your time. When I look back at my holiday memories, I remember the experiences more than anything-going skating with my friends, my Uncle taking my sister and I to The Nutcracker ballet, dancing around the Christmas tree with my fellow members of Toronto’s Swedish community. If you really want to do something memorable as a gift this holiday season, do something together. I guarantee it will be more meaningful than anything that can be bought in a store.

Happy memory-making!

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KBwB-Flower-50Holiday celebrations can be fun, but only if you can ensure that things go smoothly. While there are never any guarantees when it comes to social gatherings, there are still plenty of ways to get your holiday game on. Click here to read more of them, or click here or here to read about some of the other best practices I’ve been trying to put into my place in my life.

Kids Books to Read All Over Again

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A lot of people who have seen my movie collection sometimes make fun of me because it’s comprised mostly of movies that involve singing and/or princesses. I’m cool with that. I tend to hold onto the things that make me the happiest, or feel the most lighthearted, because I’m the type of person who is prone to fits of moodiness.

I guess that’s why every so often I return to some of the books that I loved as a child, because they evoke memories of a time when things were simpler, and my outlook on the world was just a tiny bit rosier.

That’s one thing that all of these books have in common: they all feature characters, who, against all odds, still manage to retain some kind of hope that the world is good.

To tiny people like the characters in The Borrowers, for example, almost everyone and everything in the big, wide world poss some sort of threat. You’ll have to read the book yourself (if you haven’t already) to see how they survive against the odds, but the real charm in this book for me as kid was the way in which this small group of people (pun intended!) managed to carve our comfortable lives for themselves and find happiness despite such large challenges. (That pun was also intended.) If you’re my age you may also remember the series, The Littles, about a similar family, although for some reason they had tails.

In stark contrast, Mary, the main character in the novel The Secret Garden, seems to be determined to be miserable in her new home in her uncle’s lonely English manor- but who could blame her? Simultaneously neglected and spoiled from an early age, then orphaned and spirited half a world away from her homeland, Mary’s story starts out pretty bleak. It’s her ability to find beauty even when there seems to be none that transforms this book into a happy and hopeful one. I remember my mother reading it to me as a child. She still gets choked up when she re-reads it.

It would be remiss to talk about hopeful characters without including the infamous Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables fame, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was obsessed with the story of this plucky orphan when I was younger. I inhaled the rest of the Anne books (and pretty much the entirety of L.M. Montgomery’s work), but this one still remains my favorite.

You wouldn’t normally characterize Cinderella as an intelligent, spirited young woman but in Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine manages to do just that, framing Cinderella (or Ella, in this case) not as a good-natured, submissive servant to a cruel stepmother, but as the unfortunate victim of a curse that renders her unable to disobey a direct command. Ella’s journey to find her own free will is a terrific metaphor for a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her own voice. Meeting a handsome prince and finding love along the way are just happy coincidences. (For those of you who have seen the movie, I promise you that the book is totally different.)

But for me, the strongest and most hopeful character featured in any of these books has to be Mrs. Frisby, from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. There’s no tale of survival that’s quite like that of a mouse living in a farmer’s field, and in a world where rats and humans alike terrorize mice, and predators lurk around every corner, Mrs. Frisby’s love for her children shines like a beacon of light through the darkness. (If you’ve read the book, or seen the movie as a kind growing up in the 90s, you’ll know what I mean.)

So what if I’m old enough to be having my own kids instead of reading the books that I enjoyed as a child (and still do?) Being an adult can get pretty tiring, and reading about adults also tired of being adults doesn’t always provide that much of an escape. Instead, I can pick up a book and pretend I’m a mouse, or at least small enough to fit underneath someone’s floorboards. I could be an orphan in a new place, or a servant in my own household, held captive under a spell.

When you’re a kid- and a reader- you can be anything. And that’s kind of the joy, isn’t it?

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What were some of your favorite books as a kid? I had a terrible time trying to narrow this post down to a few, but I’d still love your input. Comment below or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and let me know if there’s any I should add to a future kid lit list. Who knows? Maybe we even loved some of the same things.

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) Don’t forget to friend me on Goodreads either! Btw: These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company.

Where to Read Books

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Books: they’re my favorite portable past-time. They’re light to transport (unless you’re like me and lugged the last installment of Game of Thrones all over public transit) and are easy to access and put away at a moment’s notice. If you have an e-reader, you even have the advantage of having hundreds of titles at your fingertips within a moment’s notice, as my Internet friends have so lovingly pointed out. (Read about why I’m still not entirely convinced here.)

People who are true readers read everywhere- it’s so much to live in a big city and see how many conversations you strike up with strangers about the books they’re carrying. From bars to cafés, from buses to subways-I have met the friendliest readers bopping around the streets of Toronto.

In the summertime especially it’s fun to see so many of the readers finally come out of hiding, like they’re following the beckoning of the sun. The neighborhood in which I live is very pedestrian-friendly and filled with parks and hidden green spaces where I catch people on the strangest variety of perches, their noses buried in their books. There’s even a waterfront with a man-made beach where you’ll often find me in the summer, lost in some tomb and working on my sunburn.

This season in particular reminds me of one of my favorite places to read as a child, in the crook of a Manitoba maple tree that sprawled wildly over the fence of my back garden. The tree itself was in the parking space behind the garden; going through the gate and ascending into its greenery felt like entering into another world. If I was feeling ambitious I’d bring provisions along in a knapsack and sit up in the tree for hours, every so often peering up from my book to look at way the sunlight danced through the leaves.

My parents told me that the Manitoba maple is a pesky tree- its seeds propagate and travel on the wind until they happen to land on a place where they may hopefully root themselves and grow into a real plant. In essence, the Manitoba maple starts its life as a weed, and it amazed me to think that such an inconsequential little seed had grown into such a magnificent tree. When I was up there it made me think that if one little weed had such enormous potential then maybe I could too; I was still growing, and didn’t know what I could become. Books were my windows into all of those possibilities. I could go anywhere in time, do anything I wanted. There was power in that tree.

I still think of that tree often, and still count it as one of my favorite places to read. Although I’m sure you’ll catch me with my face full of book at one time or another while behind my desk at work, or on the bench outside my favorite coffee shop, please know this: in my mind, I won’t really be there. Instead I’ll be miles away in some far-off land, or solving a mystery in another era, or just remembering the sound of my mother’s voice calling me for dinner as I crawled with cramped legs down from my tree perch. Books just do that for me.

And, my dear readers, I hope they do that for you too.

KBwB-BFlower-50Books, books, books. Books all the time. I just love reading, and if you’re reading this blog, maybe you love reading too. F.Y.I., sometimes I review books here, I share my what’s on my bookshelf here, and I get all philosophical about reading sometimes here. If that’s not enough books for you, I list all of the million, gazillion books I want to read over on my Goodreads profile here. I’d love if we could make that list a zillion, trillion.

P.S. I am no tree expert, but what I say about the Manitoba maple is truth. If you’re a tree nerd, click here to get the real deal.

Manitoba maple image courtesy of Herman, D.E. et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Admin., Bismarck, ND. – USDA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1008755.