Seeking gift ideas. Edition #659.
November 21, 2017 7:44 PM   Subscribe

My oldest sister (B) and I are hung up on what to get as a holiday gift for our middle sister (C). The fact is, C has been so distant from B and me for so long that neither of us know her very well. But since our parents died, C has been at least trying to stay connected with us and that's a huge improvement that we want to nurture.

B and I have been recognizing her at her birthday and Christmas for only about four years. Before that, several months or sometimes even years would go by between contacts with her, by C's choice. Even our parents would be out of touch with her for long periods of time. C has never married and is pretty much alone in the world.

I've shared these painful details to make it clear that neither B nor I really have a clue what would be a welcome gift without being so impersonal that it underscores how distant she still is and how little we know about her.

We've generally stuck to food and other consumable types of gifts because they don't require us to really know her tastes beyond what she likes to eat/drink. But when I look at the gift selections on Harry & David and the like, they all seem so carefully inoffensive and impersonal that I cringe.

So I've been thinking that something that's quirky, unusual, or regional would be just the thing. I'm sure there are such things out there but I'm drawing a blank. And that's where you come in: make some suggestions, please! (Ideal price range would be $50 - $100 or thereabouts.)
posted by DrGail to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it cold or warm where she lives? Is she in her 20s? 50s? If we know some basic details about her, maybe we can narrow it down.
posted by silverstatue at 7:54 PM on November 21, 2017

Nobody likes paying cash at the movie theater: theater gift certificate(s; sometimes you buy per-ticket).
posted by rhizome at 7:56 PM on November 21, 2017

I've never known a woman who couldn't use at least one more beautiful scarf. I've seen some lovely ones in our local craft and handwork hops, in both wool and silk, in your price range. I just did a quick Google and saw some other nice silk ones at Macy's and Nordstrom. You can also find lovely cashmere shawls or pashminas in that range. It's a little more personal, but still general enough that you probably don't have to worry that she'll never get any use out of it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:13 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also came in to say scarves, they're so trendy right now. Etsy has an endless supply of handpainted silk scarves and infinity scarves and so on you can look at.

Personally, I adore Cyberoptix and have been shopping with them for more than a decade, and their vegan pashmina scarves with silk screen prints are by far my favorite scarf-shawls ... and I own an absurd number of scarf-shawls. They're warm, they're soft, they're durable, they're big enough to use as a chair-blanket on an airplane, and the prints are awesome!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:56 PM on November 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Something that speaks to your childhood, perhaps a framed photo of the three of you as kids?

You mention knowing what she likes to eat and drink. Tea, coffee, wine and liquor open the door to some interesting gifts and quirky accessories.
posted by bunderful at 9:02 PM on November 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I know you have the best intentions but, if I may: a lot of the language you use to describe your sister is slightly negative and critical, which is OK but something to watch. I come from a big, complicated family so I totally get where you're coming from.

Rather than worrying that your gift might seem too impersonal, I'd start by giving her things you know she likes to eat and drink. You'd be thoughtful and low pressure: I'd make sure that whatever you give doesn't seem too expensive or have strings attached because those gifts can make people feel awkward or uncomfortable if they can't or don't reciprocate. I'd also consider having you and your older sister each give small separate gifts so it feels more chill. However, you know the situation best: maybe getting matching monogrammed tote bags is a type of bridge-building that would absolutely touching to your middle sister, even if the bag weren't her style or something she ever uses. I'd also reconsider the Harry & David gift baskets: I don't like most gifts but I'd sure like to get one of those and wouldn't consider it an impersonal gift!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:03 PM on November 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a half-sister who I have kind of a similar relationship with - she is estranged from my father but has kept kind of a minimal relationship up with my sister and I, and in the past couple of years has seemed to stay more in contact with us and start getting together once in a while (we're spread over the Midwest and DC area). Maybe this is totally not a fit for your situation, but would setting up a short trip for the three of you over, say, a weekend be a possibility? If she is really "alone in the world" as you describe then maybe she would appreciate some more personal time with you than she currently has. If you and B live close to each other, you could invite her out and pay for a couple nice meals during the visit.

If this is super off-track for where you're at then definitely disregard it, but having had a similar sister-relationship it has been a really positive thing for us to all see more of each other in person, even as just a once yearly thing if that's all we can afford.
posted by augustimagination at 10:38 PM on November 21, 2017

Just a thought - it's sounds as if the two of you are thinking of buying a gift together/between you? Given the history I would avoid that as it might enhance the sense of exclusivity and her separate-ness. I know she chose to be separate but as one of 6 sisters I can say for sure that this sort of thing is a sensitive issue in my family! Two different separate gifts is also a bit more neutral and individual in terms of re-incorporating her into a family dynamic- sort of eases her in a bit more, even if she's not jealous of the two of you as a relationship.
posted by jojobobo at 11:18 PM on November 21, 2017 [16 favorites]

I like the idea of a photo in a nice frame + a safe food or drink related thing. If you’re not recent graduates there is a very good chance that she has all the stuff. So consumable or event would be nice. If logistics permit perhaps tickets for an event the three of you can attend together?

Personally I’d stay away from personal items like scarves - my extremely well intentioned family sometimes goes down the scarf/costume jewellery route and they invariably hit on something objectively nice but not my style that then gets no use until it makes its way in a charity shop bag.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:36 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm putting Jeanette Winterson's Christmas Days in everyone's holiday gift box this year. (It just came out in paperback and it's a really delightful plum pudding of a book.) Also, nice Moleskine or Leuchtturm notebooks in interesting colors and (if available) dotted as opposed to lined or graph paper. And pens, and some candy. Some pretty dish towels tied with a ribbon. A little Christmas stocking type of box in other words. Almost everything is more or less consumable and there is something friendly about a package with a lot of little things in it.

You could also get some ideas from the secret quonsar thread.
posted by BibiRose at 3:50 AM on November 22, 2017

I'm sorry to have gone radio silent. Sleep beckoned. C is 65 and lives in the PNW, B is on the east coast and I'm in the Midwest. Even an event as meaningful as getting together to scatter our mom's ashes fell apart and never happened, so visiting or traveling together is best left to another universe.

In years past, Omaha Steaks have gone over well, but we've done that twice now. I'm probably beanplating this, which is an occupational hazard where C is concerned, but I was hoping we could get her something consumable that should would enjoy and think was cool, especially something quirky or regional enough that she (and we) had no idea could be purchased and sent to someone.
posted by DrGail at 4:57 AM on November 22, 2017

Ah, I have a great option for consumables. Check out FoodyDirect. They ship food from famous local joints in various cities.

Example: MyPi deep dish pizza from Chicago.
posted by duoshao at 5:47 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you already done King Arthur Flour? They have some lovely gift sets and I've purchased more than one this year. I will personally vouch for the scones.

What about a membership to a local museum or something similar? (Botanical Garden, Aviary, Zoo...)

Something like this Latitude/Longitude jewelry with coordinates for each of your locations? That may demonstrate to her that even though you're apart, you'd like to be together?

And honestly, if all else fails, when someone says PNW I immediately think Powells, and then immediately think about how I'd probably move into the store if I lived out there, so a gift card from there?
posted by librarianamy at 5:55 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

How much do you talk? Because it's possible that she's looking forward to getting steaks again this year. Can you check? You could make the steaks more interesting by tossing in unusual BBQ sauce... or... an assortment of dried mushrooms. (Admittedly the PNW has plenty o' mushrooms.)
posted by puddledork at 7:16 AM on November 22, 2017

I don't know where you are in the midwest, but various food gifts from Zingermans have been fun to send as a former Midwesterner.
posted by ldthomps at 7:33 AM on November 22, 2017

An L.L. Bean Bag (or Land's End) with her initials? Gift Basket from Dean and Deluca or Eataly. A really fun place to get useful gifts (in my opinion) is Fishs Eddy. Lots of fun and quirky dishes and other housewares
posted by momochan at 11:35 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Local food from where you live or where you grew up. Or maple syrup, a fresh wreath. Really nice chocolates and a great book. I have mild prepping tendencies and if I had the cash, would gift solar/ crank/ flashlight/ usb charging emergency radios, especially to anybody in a hurricane/ tornado/ flood/ fire zone.

Most of all, a card with a note. Chris went to Cool Event, can't believe I have a kid that old. I've taken up knitting, so watch out, there's a scarf coming. I'm happy that we're in closer touch. Have a wonderful holiday. and I would start sending postcards and cards every couple months just to say hi. Real mail is a tangible way to connect. Postcards, especially, are easy, often cool or beautiful, and you don't have to say much.
posted by theora55 at 12:24 PM on November 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

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