A few months before my 20th birthday, my Grandmother asked me what kind of Birthday present I would like. At that time, I was away in college. I would call Grandma frequently to ask for this or that recipe as I ventured into cooking in the dorm. My Grandmother was an amazing cook. She had a hand-written notebook with her own recipes. Everything that she cooked, tasted delicious, even when she said she “made mistakes” substituting ingredients or changing measurements. Grandma took out her recipe notebook mostly to look up dishes that she made on special occasions; the rest of the recipes were ingrained in her muscle memory.
So, for my Birthday, I asked her for a copy of her recipe book.
The project started innocently enough. My Grandma didn’t even want to bother with a Xerox machine. She said that there are not that many recipes in the notebook, and she’ll just hand-write them for me. So, my Mom bought a blank recipe book, and my grandma started copying her recipes.
It turned out to be a bigger project than we imagined. There just wasn’t a recipe that could be skipped, and Grandma reported that she was writing for about 30 minutes each day, for many days.
Her original recipes often stated instructions like “add as much flour as it takes”, and “bake until ready”. I was lucky enough to have cooked with Grandmother when I was growing up, so I knew what she meant, since I’ve seen what her process and final products looked like. Still, whenever I came to visit from college, and looked over Grandma’s writing, I pressed for details:
“How much sugar exactly?”
“What do you mean “let the dough rest”?”
“When you say “a cup”, do you mean “an American measuring cup” or just a regular cup like we use at home?”
So, Grandmother kept refining the recipes and adding details. And I kept adding to the list of recipes that simply must be in the book: “What about the potato soup? What about the meatballs?” She would reply: “Oh, those are very basic, I don’t need to write them down; you just Know, don’t you?”
And still, she kept writing.
In February of that year, I got my hand-written copy of Grandma’s recipe book, with a big smile from her, and a commentary: “This is the hardest present that I ever had to make.”
In the fall of that year, my Grandmother died. My mom kept her original recipe book, and I had the hand-written copy, which I’ve been using almost daily for the past 15 years.
We all have stories about the perfect gifts that we got, and about the perfect gifts that we gave.
The question is: how do we make the experience of giving a perfect gift replicable? What does it really take to generate a perfect gift?
Here are some ideas to help you figure out whether you have generated “The Perfect Gift”:
1. Your gift has a story, and no matter how many times you retell the story, it is still interesting. So, when you are considering buying or making a particular gift, ask yourself: what is this gift’s story? Just like in the case with my Grandma’s recipe book, if the story is good, the chances are that so is the gift.
2. Your gift creates a connection. For example, a digital picture frame with photographs selected and uploaded by grandchildren creates more of a connection than a digital picture frame in a sealed box. Especially if that picture frame comes with, say, 12 hand-written vouchers for monthly uploads of new pictures by the grand-kids.
3. Your gift creates an unforgettable memory, even when there is nothing tangible to show for it at the end. Once, as a gift, we took our two older kids for an ice-cream making class. They were so impressed – they got to work with grown-up equipment and create their own whimsical flavors! Plus, we each got to take home four pints of ice-cream. Even after giving away some of the ice-cream, it took us about 1.5 months to finish the rest of it, and the kids were allowed to eat ice-cream every day until the batch was finished. We have nothing to show for it anymore – the ice-cream is long gone, but the memory of the experience is unforgettable.
4. Your gift inspires the recipient to reach for her dreams.One caveat to this is to make sure that the gift inspires the recipient in a playful way, without putting pressure or creating a sense of obligation. Several years ago I bought a gift certificate for a series of fencing lessons for my husband, since he wanted to do something athletic, but didn’t want to go to the gym. He has been fencing ever since, and he looks forward to his practices. I have a feeling that giving him weights or other workout equipment as a gift wouldn’t quite have had the same effect.
5. Your gift shows that you understand what matters to the recipient. This doesn’t always require deep knowledge of the person. Maybe, for a colleague who is always cold in the office, a scarf or a wrap that she could keep in the office would make a good gift. Or, perhaps, an umbrella with a unique, colorful design for someone who gets sad on rainy days? An unscented super-tough-but-not-greasy hand lotion that doesn’t have flowers on the packaging, for a guy who hides his hands in his pockets because they get so rough in the winter? When you care, you notice things that matter.
So, run your gift idea through this checklist:
– Does your gift have a story?
– Does your gift create a connection?
– Does your gift create an unforgettable memory?
– Does your gift inspire, in a playful way?
– Does your gift show that you understand what matters to the recipient?
If you get even one “yes”, you are on the right track. And if you are worried about spending time (or not spending time) with certain people over the holidays, take a look at the key to enjoyable holidays.
Also, if you will be in NYC on Saturday, 12/15/12, you’ve got to make time to attend a healing (and FREE) event, Holiday Healing Bazaar. Learn about getting un-stuck, rewiring your brain (on a very physical level), and overcoming pain. I’m one of the presenters for the event, and I hope to see you there!