Is it still thoughtful if I had to ask MeFi for help?
November 20, 2013 6:29 AM   Subscribe

My best friend is taking her quals in a few weeks (or comps or whatever you want to call them--the thing that makes you ABD). I thought I would send her a little present of the stress-reducing variety, but I'm kind of stuck for ideas (or way overthinking the ideas I do have). Help? What would you have wanted?

My answer would have been a gift card to a coffee shop so I could buy lots of cups of tea. However, the last time I tried to be thoughtful, I sent her a Peet's gift card and it was a bit of a bust because she hadn't managed to use it when I visited eight months later and a Starbucks gift card would suffer the same fate, I think--she doesn't go to either often. This still leaves actual tea or coffee as a possibility, but it's not like she doesn't have the kinds she likes already.

I also thought of 'things you put in the bath to make it smell nice', but I don't even know what those are called, let alone how you'd pick them for someone else.

My budget is probably ≤$20, including shipping. I'm in Minneapolis, she lives on the Oakland/Berkeley border. I potentially could enlist one of her friends or roommates to go buy something locally, but something I can send is probably easier.
posted by hoyland to Shopping (16 answers total)
Order some Aromatherapy items from Bath and Body Works. They have BOGOs and deals, so you can get a body wash and a candle or something like that.

If it's not her bag, super-easy to regift for the holidays and one less person she has to buy for. And you've done an errand for her!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:36 AM on November 20, 2013

I also thought of 'things you put in the bath to make it smell nice', but I don't even know what those are called, let alone how you'd pick them for someone else.

ha...When I finished college ALL I WANTED TO DO was take the world's longest bubble bath. I'm not a bath person. I'm not a bubble bath person. But all I wanted to do was take a bubble bath. I warned my roommate a day in advance, went and turned in my last paper EVAR, and then came home and camped out in the tub for three hours watching Six Feet Under on my laptop. It was very cathartic.

Where I'm going with is that if you think there's a possibility she might like bath-related stuff, that could be pretty great. I would recommend a few small things from Lush. The fizzy bath bombs are fun.

If she likes tea, maybe a sampler set of really fancy teas from some fancy tea place, stuff she wouldn't buy herself.
posted by phunniemee at 6:36 AM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

How about just a box of goodies that say "i'm thinking of you". Go to a supermarket and spend your budget on good munchies and stuff. The kind you like to have around when studying.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:39 AM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Chocolate-covered espresso beans. Chocolate, caffeine, portable one-handed snacking with no dishes -- what's not to like?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:45 AM on November 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

This may sound counter-intuitive, but if she's in the humanities, or another reading-heavy field, she might really, really appreciate a book (or a gift card for a book) that she can read entirely for her own leisure enjoyment. When you spend your life reading things you have to, you sometimes forget how much you love reading just for fun (*cough* not speaking from experience here at all *cough*)

I know that the first thing I will be doing when I pass (touch wood) my comps will be curling up in my favourite chair with my favourite teacup (possibly filled with bourbon) and reading a book that I've been saving for TWO YEARS, and which is completely unrelated to my field, and JUST FOR ME!!!!

But, ya know.....YMMV.
posted by Dorinda at 6:52 AM on November 20, 2013

Hmm, I was going to suggest food (either actual snacks through the mail or a gift card of some sort), but your experience with the Peet's card complicates that somewhat. Quals studying meant a lot of living on takeout and microwavable meals, which is stressful in itself when you're living on a grad stipend and suddenly have to spend more on food because of not having time to cook. Are there some Minneapolis-available treats that you know she likes?

But, honestly, anything you send will be a big deal, because the other thing I remember about that time was feeling like this was what my whole life had winnowed down to, and I really came to appreciate anything that reminded me that there I still had people outside of the whole insane academic bubble who cared about me. You're a good friend.
posted by kagredon at 6:53 AM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding snacks and especially the chocolate espresso beans. In the couple of weeks before my orals, I basically abandoned sleep and meals so anything that required zero effort to consume at my desk would have been much appreciated. Granola bars?
posted by pemberkins at 6:56 AM on November 20, 2013

I defend my comprehensive exam in a in December. If alcohol is okay, then I'd send her a bottle of wine. There are lots of lovely bottles in your price range.
posted by 26.2 at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Trader Joe's nearby? A care package with tea, microwave popcorn, sea salt and turbinado chocolate covered almonds. And the chocolate covered espresso beans. And maybe throw in a little hand lotion with a calming scent like lavender.
posted by ms_rasclark at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I developed a huge sweet tooth studying for comps and many of my peers did too. My mom sent me a package full of candy and ibuprofen the week before, and it was much appreciated.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

What does she enjoy? If you use GMail or GChat to talk to her, maybe scan through the backlogs of your conversations and see if anything sparks an idea.

Snacks and tea are lovely. Trader Joe's already has a lot of their Christmas stuff out -- if she eats candy, the chocolate oranges and peppermint truffles are both quite nice.

It sounds like she isn't getting out much. Could you enlist her roommates to buy her a meal or some easily prepared food?

New sheets or towels? You could pre-wash them so she can trade them out for her current set and skip a round of laundry.

I'm always reluctant to suggest scented things, unless of course you know she likes them. A growing number of people are allergic to those (myself included) and I feel like getting a smelly candle is actually an anti-gift for me, since I start getting stuffy before opening the box and then feel guilty about disposing of an obviously well-intentioned gift.
posted by pie ninja at 7:22 AM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

This might sound weird, but when my sister was similarly situated, I sent her some coloring books and some nice colored pencils, on the theory that she would enjoy doing something completely mindless (and why do only kids get to color?!). Dover makes some that are really nicely illustrated and intricate, plus they are cheap and there is a wide variety. Probably totally depends on the person, but my sister liked them (I think).
posted by hovizette at 8:04 AM on November 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

When I was writing my undergrad thesis, one of my best friends started texting me encouragement in the form of terrible and hilarious short poems. Just having the random surprise if knowing that someone was thinking about me, usually just when I was ready to give up and procrastinate (thus checking my phone) helped enormously. Maybe send snacks with a short message written on them? Or some of the stupid plastic games where you try to balence all the little balls in circle or something, to give a short, easy break from studying.
posted by raeka at 9:46 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in that situation, the pre-washed towels would have been the bee's knees. Particularly if they were tied up prettily so it ticked all the "I got a present" boxes. While I would have definitely enjoyed a box full of candy or Cheetos, one of the things that was hard was to maintain good self-care in between working on my seminar and proposal, studying, and practice exams with my group. Take care with this -- I don't think you'd want to undermine her if she's trying not to devolve while prepping.

I'm not suggesting you send her a toothbrush, mind. Getting a few meals catered for her would be cool (or getting a roommate to bring her back some higher-grade takeout).
posted by janell at 9:49 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

During the lead up to my quals (comps), I would have been hard pressed to get out and go to a coffee shop. I think what I would have really appreciated was if you'd called a local friend of mine, gave them the cash and had them stop by with some basic groceries or some easy to prepare meals. I know you've mentioned not doing a gift certificate, but perhaps one for a place that delivers would work - delivery pizza is an awesome thing when you're at home and stressed out.

The suggestions of snacks like chocolate covered espresso beans and the suchlike is good.

I've found that nerf-like guns with suction cup darts are excellent stress relievers. Ditto a big roll of bubblewrap.

My only concern, and this may not be a problem for your friend, is that if you send her a package, it will have to be picked up at the post office. Depending on the post office, this could be a hellish ordeal (I'm looking at you Kingsbridge PO)
posted by sciencegeek at 9:49 AM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

While I was getting ready for them/during the writing part of my quals, my biggest problem was that I didn't want to take the time to cook for myself like a normal person, so I ate terrible things. A package with some snacks or a $20 credit on Seamless (or the Berkeley equivalent) would have been great. After I finished, all I wanted was to immerse myself in a dumb novel or some tv. So if I were doing this, I'd make up a box with some healthy-ish snacks and some cookies and a paperback, and wrap the paperback separately with a note that says "not to be opened 'til you're ABD!" so that she gets something sweet and useful now and something delightfully useless later.

If you do want to send bath products, I'll second the Lush recommendation. Their stuff is amazing.
posted by dizziest at 6:27 PM on November 21, 2013

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