Auntie Awesome needs help being Awesome
April 8, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I have no kids of my own, but I do have 24 nieces and nephews. The oldest one is getting married in a month. My husband and I want to start a tradition of giving them something really great for the big milestones in their young adult lives. More inside...

Herr Vortex and I have 24 nieces and nephews ranging in age from 1-19. Soon, they're going to start getting married/graduating from college/getting that first house/etc. Most of these nieces/nephews are on my husband's side. One of my family's traditions is to give all the new nieces/nephew a homemade Raggedy Ann/Andy doll. I'd like to continue a tradition along that line. I missed out on all these kids being born, so I'd like to do something for their first big adult milestone. Some snowflakes:

1. Yes, we're going to give them cash. I am asking for ideas in addition to giving them cash. Please do not suggest giving them cash, we are already giving them cash. We all want cash when we're 19-25 so we're giving them cash. Cash: we've got it covered.

2. 22 of these kids are being raised in very, very, very traditional Catholic families. We're talking homeschooling, Latin Mass attending, VERY traditional gender-role-having upbringings. The girls will likely marry young and not venture too far from home. Some of the older boys are already looking into trades. College is not likely to be on the menu for most of them due to cost. There may be a priest/nun or two amongst their ranks. Whatever we give them would preferably be good for all those situations. We aim to hit all of these kids with the Big Gift by the time they're about 25.

3. I stick out like a sore thumb in this family. I'm an artsy, overly educated liberal feminist agnostic that was brought up in a WASPy environment...but they've all been totally welcoming and fantastic to their new Weird Aunt. I'm glad to bring a new perspective to their family, but I'm not interested in trying to challenge their beliefs. I'm also not keen on giving them something super Catholic because I'm not Catholic myself.

4. I've made quilts for my siblings in the past and considered making quilts for the nieces and nephews, but I'm worried that if I start making them for everyone it'll be all I do for the next 20 years. I can knit and am pretty crafty, but can't think of anything that would be good enough for an heirloom and also appropriate for the boys as well as girls.

So, to recap:

- We're already giving them cash.
- Appropriate for the following occasions: wedding, college, setting up ones own business, buying ones own house, becoming a priest/nun.
- Appropriate for conservative Catholic people but not having anything to do with Catholicism.
- Crafty is okay but the craft should not take an eternity to make.

Thanks, Mefites. I appreciate it!

PS: we are already giving them cash.
posted by Elly Vortex to Human Relations (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My dad's go-to milestone gift like this for family members and close family friends is a AAA membership. I think he does a 5 year membership.

It's one of those things like giving people a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift. Not sexy, super practical, but everyone appreciates it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:27 AM on April 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Can you say what your budget is? My first thought, particularly for a traditional couple setting up household is a cedar chest but that might be more than you want to spend.
posted by Beti at 11:28 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you considered Cas..... Oh you did :)

Honestly though one of my cousin's got a nice glass casserole dish when she moved away to college. It had some nice verse etched into the sides and the bottom had a recipe of a dish she really liked etched on it....
posted by cirhosis at 11:29 AM on April 8, 2015

I think quilts sound perfect, honestly. Traditional, heirloom, useful for anyone (including priests/nuns who might take vows of poverty), and a tangible expression of love. My mom -- a quilter herself -- prizes the rather ugly quilt her aunt made for her when she got married.
Do you send your tops out to a longarmer to be quilted? That speeds the process up a great deal. I was kind of leery at first, wondering if I'd feel like it wasn't really my quilt or something, but I wouldn't go back now for anything. All of mine are longarmed -- if they weren't, I wouldn't be quilting.
posted by katemonster at 11:29 AM on April 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

a customer at my work gives everyone in their family a beautiful gold pinky signet ring with the family crest on it for their big milestone.

I think it's a cool tradition. we've probably made like 20 for her, and it's a neat way of saying "family."

My mom gave me a quilt when I graduated, and it's beautiful and amazing and a very cool gift, but for most of my young-adult life I had nowhere to put it and it took up a lot of space, and I think isn't a great gift for someone who doesn't own a house. so maybe for marriage, but graduation maybe not.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:35 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

We have friends who give all of their newly-married nieces and nephews a vintage-antique side chair. Who doesn't need a spare chair? They are avid flea-marketers, so usually they have refinished it, so it has a little bit of themselves in it.

The best graduation gift my husband got was a very large, handsome dictionary. We still use it, but then we are old and think of looking things up online as an afterthought.
posted by sarajane at 11:40 AM on April 8, 2015

If the women in the family are being raised in very traditional gender roles, then I would assume they'll do the majority of the cooking. Could you buy them a nice Le Creuset dutch oven, or a nice Cookware set?

I love love LOVE to cook, but I'm not sure I could justify spending that amount of money on a Pot! (Even though I'd really love one)

For the boys, if they are getting into trades, then some nice tools might be nice? That way, you've given useful gifts that can be utilized on a regular basis, keeping you constantly in their thoughts!
posted by JenThePro at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

What's your price range on this?

My first thought was a blanket, but you could commission them from a professional (nearby?) instead of making them yourself so they don't take over your life (good thinking! this happened to my mom and embroidery projects in the 90s. Never again.)

Depending on some things, a vase correctly sized for a bouquet of flowers might work. Everybody needs at least one vase because it's important not to let flowers die when someone shows up with them unexpectedly. You could get them engraved with each person's name or it could be the kind of thing you hunt for on travels and amass a collection of and they could call dibs?

In my family it's apparently become a thing that around college age kids get given a binder full of family recipes. It sounds like this family you've become a part of might have something like this already, but if not, could you gather & type up all the important and most favorite recipes and have them printed into a cook book?
posted by Mizu at 11:42 AM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wool Pendleton blankets? They come in a lot of patterns so you can personalize it a little bit, and they last forever.
posted by metasarah at 11:48 AM on April 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

<I know afghans are kinda old fashioned but very practical and long lasting. I am looking at one right now that my Aunt crocheted for my Grandmother that is about 35-40 years old. I plan on passing it on to my 2nd cousin who is named after her great grandmother. The colors and pattern could be tailored to each individual.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:48 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

My mom made quilts for me and my brother, my three cousins, and her younger brother when we all graduated from high school in relatively quick succession - we brought them to campus with us, and they were useful and nice and lovely (I still sleep under mine, despite the fabrics being very much a product of my tastes in 2006). She overdosed on quilting and hasn't made another one since 2010. I agree that you should not lock yourself in to large, time consuming projects that will then make niece and nephew 17-24 sad when you inevitably burn out and can't bear to buy another fat quarter. On the other hand, what about something like a small or relatively simple cross-stitch sampler relevant to whatever milestone you are commemorating? (wedding, religious, house, graduation, babies, etc.)

My parents give all newly married couples really big, nice, thermal blankets, which is the only wedding present they received that they still use 30 years later, if you want to go the practical route.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:49 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is there a particular household item that you love in your own home enough to give to others? My mother gives small antique silver candlesticks or vintage pyrex bowl sets. The first is special and heirloom if not practical for every family, the second is quite practical and usually appreciated for family use (I have my grandmother's pyrex bowl set). A family friend always gives a set of waterford glasses for weddings (not my style but it's her thing); her daughter gives Irish linen napkins. I don't know that these gifts are exactly the awesome thing you're looking for but for the right person they do last a lifetime. (This seems most appropriate for weddings).

On the quilt topic, you could to more simple lap duvets with minimal patch work/quilting. I do these for baby gifts - they aren't as complex as a full-on quilt.
posted by vunder at 11:52 AM on April 8, 2015

We give everyone money and a good kitchen knife.

Maybe a nice clock of some kind?

In general, I think this is hard because what makes you an awesome aunt to a 20 year old is not necessarily the same thing that's going to be a lifetime lasting family heirloom, and not every kid is going to appreciate the same kind of stuff. My dad gives everyone in our family a piece of waterford crystal - a frame, a bowl, whatever. You can have them engraved. Some people love it, others it isn't their thing, but they love it because it's from dad. You could do similar with something else - nambe, or wood, or whatever. My mom gives all the women a teacup from my grandma's tea sets. We love the things we got for our wedding for the kitchen (that's why we do the knife). Pots, pans, cast iron skillet, kitchen aid mixer, china. Those have all lasted 11 years so far.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:06 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

A nice watch?

My aunts gave us luxury versions of everyday items - silver handheld mirrors, nice combs, crystal candlestick holders and vases, porcelain cups and frames, linen tablecloths, etc. For the young men, perhaps nice shaving kits?
posted by umwhat at 12:10 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

You and Herr Vortex both love to go hiking (and possibly camping, maybe?), right? How about a weekend camping/hiking with their favorite aunt and uncle? Or just a day trip, even? The memory will last a life-time. Plus you'll get to know them better. (Maybe some would prefer a train trip to go shopping in Duluth instead, it could be customizable.)
posted by jillithd at 12:11 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just speaking for myself, the gifts I've been given that have really stuck around and still remain meaningful:

-- handmade quilt with squares donated by different people in my life (although, I totally understand not being able to make THAT many quilts, and organizing different people to make squares would be a huge undertaking as well)
-- recipe box full of family heirloom recipes (in the modern age, you could also collect this into a book you would print up). so many recipes from my mom's side were lost because no one wrote them down - i am super grateful that a relative from my dad's side put together this box for me so i can still make grandma's pies, etc.
--a really fancy pen. sounds random, but upon graduation a relative gave me a pretty fancy pen and said i should use it for signing really important documents. indeed, i have kept it around and used it for things like signing my doctoral dissertation and new job-related documents. it's pretty cool to remember this relative when signing "big deal" things.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:14 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Handmade quilts are lovely, also kitchen gear like sets of pots & pans. How about a couple good cookbooks or a collection of favorite family recipes?

One I've been doing for all my own nieces and nephews is, in addition to any other baby gifts I give them a video camera before their first child.
posted by easily confused at 12:25 PM on April 8, 2015

I understand where you are coming from on not wanting to get locked into quilts. I used to do hand-crocheted afghans for wedding gifts, and honestly, I was almost relieved when I developed tendonitis and had an excuse to stop. (I miss knitting and crocheting. I DO NOT miss afghans. But on the other hand, I know the folks who got them loved them -- including my roommates who did not get married but demanded them as graduation presents!)

As far as quilts go: Long-arm quilting does speed things up quite a bit compared to quilting yourself... but you're still piecing the top and binding, and you're also spending the money for the long-arm work. I send my quilts to a long-armer but I'm still pretty sure I'd burn out if I tried to make 24 of them. If you're a quilt-blogger or something, and quilting is your full-time job, I guess it might be do-able. Short of that... I dunno.

If you do go the quilt route, do lap-size.
posted by pie ninja at 12:29 PM on April 8, 2015

Beautiful, artistic carved wooden crosses. Bear with me, as an agnostic in a sea of catholics - I see these kinds of crosses more as decorative art than religious symbols. And these kids would definitely keep their crosses as family heirlooms - I swear, nobody gets rid of a cross. Bridges your artistic side with an important aspect of their family culture, without actually going into specifically Catholic gifts.
posted by lizbunny at 12:31 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

A great chef's knife.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

The "milestone" gifts that ended up being really useful for me were luggage. A good weekender or carryon bag is useful to have on hand, even if you don't travel often.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:45 PM on April 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

Whatever you do, please make sure that all nieces and nephews will get the gifts at roughly the same ages. In my family, there have been some gifts that only go to those who are getting married (despite the gift having nothing to do with marriage), and for those of us who are unmarried, it can feel like a slight.

(Even worse is "Well, I would give you this gift, but you're not married yet, so let's wait five/ten years, and if you're still not married, I'll give it to you then, since we can pretty safely assume by then that you're never getting married." That's a paraphrase, but still.)
posted by ocherdraco at 12:45 PM on April 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

How about a trip? It could be really cool to start a traditional trip-to-family-heritage site. Bonus points if it has both historic and religious value, I'm thinking Ireland/Vatican/Holy Land. But it could be a huge bonding experience, and you could potentially double up so you take all of the cousins who are within a year and a half of turning 21 every 3 years or something.
posted by fermezporte at 1:11 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

A nice set of tools might be appreciated even given the very traditional gender roles, and would naturally pair with moving out of the house either by marriage or otherwise. I've admittedly used the awesome cordless drill my dad got me mostly to do "mom" things like hang mirrors and anchor furniture to the wall in my son's room, but it's not like it's wasted by not doing heavy-duty construction. (I don't know that much about how very traditional gender roles really work in religious families, but presumably a mother who's raising and homeschooling a bunch of kids does a lot of housework including fixing/mounting/otherwise using tools on stuff.)

Another idea would be gardening tools/equipment, depending on interests and location.
posted by cogitron at 1:19 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am generally against the idea of giving anything decorative because you never know what a person's tastes are, and tastes change as we get older. Throw a spouse into the mix and your thoughtful gift might end up at the back of the linen closet, or worse, on a Goodwill store shelf.

Everyone can use a really quality chef's knife, paring knife, and sharpening steel. Those are gifts that will last a lifetime, can be used daily, and will probably endear you even more to the recipient as the years go on and the knife (or knives) continue to stand the test of time.
posted by vignettist at 1:29 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I always fall back on books; I would couple a really nice heirloom-quality Bible (think, like, something that's practically a coffeetable book in terms of design and beauty) with a different backup book that suits each person best; something about that person's unique interests. Or something that has to do with spirituality and each person's interests (i.e., for the nephew who's sort of been a little artistic, you get him the Bible and a coffeetable book with art photos of the Holy Land or "Medieval Church Design" or whatever; for the niece who loves cooking you get her the Bible and a good cookbook, for the niece who's the animal lover you get her the Bible and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, etc.).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:34 PM on April 8, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. A few notes:

All of the quilts that I have made in the past have not only been hand pieced...but hand quilted. I am SO DONE hand quilting. I'd be fine with sending it out to a longarm quilter, or even doing just a hand-tied patch quilt.

I'm not sure about the amount that I am willing to spend. We're going to give a cash (did I mention that?) in the several hundred dollar amount and I was figuring on the gift being more of time and skill than of cost. I would be comfortable with somewhere between $50 and $100...having a quilt finished would fit into that, I think.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:36 PM on April 8, 2015

How about a set of very plain, personalized stationery? One of my cousins gave me a set when I graduated high school that is just plain white with my name in cursive on the front of the cards. It's now 20 years later and I still use them (although obviously not often enough to have run out). Plain is key here, because the more basic they are the more they work for use in a broad variety of situations.
posted by MsMolly at 1:54 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

How are you with painting? My mom gives my brother and I a custom Christmas ornament each year (a tradition her great-grandmother, and then grandmother started). Nothing crazy -- buy an already-decorated, nice china ornament (usually relevant to the event of the year like a bride and groom or a new house), then just handpaint "Niece & Husband 2015" (add "First Christmas" for the first year wedded or baby name plus 1st xmas for first year with new baby).

Oh, also, it usually says "Love Mom & Dad" (or previously "Love Grandma & Grandpa").
posted by melissasaurus at 2:16 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I got married, my aunt and uncle got the pot/pan set I had on the registry.

I was a little shocked that they chose something so expensive. Then my aunt explained to me that when they got married, her aunt had bought them the pot/pan set she registered for. She was the first girl in her family to get married, and she wanted to pass on the tradition to me, her first niece to get married.

I will be passing that one on too.

With so many nieces and nephews, it could get expensive, but it was one of the most amazing gifts I was given. I still use those, and now that my aunt has passed away after a fight with cancer, it's even more meaningful.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Blankets of some kind is a good idea - wool Pendleton or other; afghan, quilt, etc - who doesn't need a throw blanket for the couch? We got a handmade throw blanket from a family friend, and it's probably the wedding gift that we use and think of most often. If you made it from granny squares it would be easier to keep one always on the go, if you made it from really big yarn/big gauge needles, would go faster. 24 of them is an awful lot, I grant you.

For quilting/sewing of more manageable scope, you could do a wall hanging (maybe a Christmas one, so it comes out once a year?) or an advent calendar, or a perpetual calendar (maybe with all the family's birthdates marked).
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:04 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about a cross-stitch with a meaningful quote about milestones/family/growth/change, framed?
posted by girlpublisher at 3:41 PM on April 8, 2015

For permanence and keep-sake quality, I like to give a clock. Huge variety out there like mantel clocks, wall clocks, antiques, even a Grandfather, as well as price ranges to suit any wallet. I inherited one and then purchased a mantel clock for us on an auspicious occasion. For both, I had small brass plates engraved and attached on the backs to identify the when and how of how I came to have them or their history. "Wedding Gift to George and Rita Wise, 12/21/1938" is now on the one I inherited from Grandparents. But I'm a sentimental goose...
posted by Lornalulu at 5:36 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

My uncle gave all his nieces and nephews up to $2500 to go on a (tax-deductible) trip that would be educational for us, through an organization such as Earthwatch. My husband and I went to England and spent two weeks on an archaeological dig along Hadrian's Wall; one of my cousins went and counted frogs in Costa Rica. IT WAS THE BESTEST. THE VERY BESTEST. A couple of my super-Christian cousins went on a mission trips with it, which is less cool, but within the "rules" and they liked it.

Same uncle, for weddings he gives very nice olivewood Nativity sets (from the Holy Land, OBVS). The nice ones start at around $150. He picks different styles that he thinks suit us; mine is minimalistic and modern-looking, with simple shapes for the bodies and no faces ... one of my cousins has a very hyper-detailed set, and another has a sort of naif-style chunky carved one. They last forever, they're meaningful, they're sturdy enough for my kids to play with, and they're really lovely. People always comment on mine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:49 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could give something practical and useful, but slightly unusual in keeping with your status as the Weird Aunt. Assuming they like coffee (who doesn't like coffee? yeah, yeah, I know) you could get them a moka pot, which is basically a stove-top coffee-maker. The original makers, Bialetti, make them for USians too - you might be able to find them at gourmet kitchen type places or there's always their website. I'd never had this kind of coffee before I moved to Australia, where it's quite common to see them, probably because there are many Italians here. It's a really good cup of coffee, way better than horrible nasty drip coffee, and less gritty and bitter than plunger/French press coffee. If you think an electric coffeemaker is more likely to be useful, they do those too - same theory, just plugged into the socket instead of stove-top. If you do go this route, I recommend a bigger one - you don't have to fill it all the way up but gives you more flexibility.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:34 PM on April 8, 2015

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