Best FREE Birthday Gifts

Since today is my birthday, I’m offering you 3 things:

  • The best ever birthday gift idea for your child
  • The best ever birthday gift idea for adults with milestone birthdays
  • A self-indulgent birthday reflection from me that puts this blog well over my attempt to stay under 500 words ~ with no apology!

First,  in no particular order, here are 20 Gratitudes for the year just past.

I’m deeply grateful that I ~

  1. Started a private Relationship Therapy Practice in Auckland ( a whole new hemisphere, continent, country and city);
  2. Hiked the Tongariro Crossing with Mark
  3. Visited Hobbiton, Rivendel, Mount Doom & The Shire
  4. Became a vegetarian (too many cute lambs in NZ – am confining myself to plants and fish)
  5. Celebrated 30 years of a darned good marriage to Mark by renting a “Wicked Camper” and exploring New Zealand’s South Island for 10 days
  6. Grew even closer to Mark, Charlie and Mona
  7. Stayed in touch as best I could with dear friends and family far away
  8. Started to learn to sail
  9. Celebrated some fun July/August and December/January family adventures in NZ
  10. Tried fishing (NZ’s national sport, up there with Rugby). Didn’t catch a thing, felt  sea-sick, and now I can “retire” from this sport
  11. Made some dear new friends in New Zealand
  12. Became a regular guest on a weekly, national Live Radio Show
  13. Created a native bush front garden in our Beachlands home
  14. Started some regular clinical conversations with Dan Wile
  15. Swam many times in a turquoise ocean with my dogs at Shelly Bay Beach
  16. Started SUPing (Stand Up Paddle Boarding)
  17. Created a 4x1x1/2 meter raised bed filled entirely of grass clippings and horse poop which has yielded fabulous toms, spinach, courgettes and several unrecognizable brassicas  (I bought a bunch of starts)
  18. Hand fed the Lemurs at Auckland zoo
  19. Started this blog (thanks to the Radio Show’s nudge)
  20. Made some blogging friends (Hi Guys!) . So wonderful to make friends with no geographic limitations.

OK – now my TWO BEST GIFTS EVER ( I am not prone to hyperbole). One for children and one for adults. They are free, meaningful, build community, are easily stored, will be enjoyed into future generations,  and guaranteed to leave everyone involved feeling terrific.

KIDS ~ The “Bound” Birthday Letter

When Charlie turned 14 I realized he’d grown so much and while I kept family scrapbooks, I was worried I might forget who he was on the inside.  So Mark and I wrote an extended letter to Charlie. I started simply with ~

My Darling Charlie, Today you are fourteen. Somehow this seems so much older than thirteen.

And off I went. I spoke about what I had seen him struggle with, and overcome. I remembered funny quotes he’d come up with,  observations he’d had about life, school, our family, his future. I noted his interests – books, movies, games.  Mark spoke about things they shared – becoming a man, music, skiing and snowboarding and the values Mark holds as important for life: expressing feelings, being thoughtful, becoming a good listener.

I wanted to make the gift a bit more interesting than “just” a letter, so I printed it on card stock, and found some photos of Charlie through the year.

Around lunch time I took the pages and photos over to Kinkos. I asked to have the pages laminated in a particular order and then spiral bound.

“And you need this when?”

“By 6:00pm tonight” I pipe up – “It’s Charlie’s birthday dinner and this is our gift.”

The 30 something employee looked at his watch, looked at the backlog of work, looked at this funny collection of pages and photos and sighed.

“I dunno lady. Call before you come. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Oh thank you – it will make the whole event!” I beamed.  And set off to make the lemon poppy-seed cake Charlie loves.

I came back at 6:00pm I didn’t call first.

As I walked in I saw my helper beckon to me, so I sidestepped a long line.

“Hey” he said, thrusting the brown bag over to me with no obvious  invoice. I looked up – there were tears in his eyes,

‘Tell Charlie Happy birthday from me. He’s one lucky kid.”

He turned away before I could pay.

Before dinner,  as we sipped sparking apple juice from champagne flutes, I told Charlie the story of his gift before Mark and I read it aloud to him. This was the first of what has become a treasured tradition for both Charlie and our daughter Mona.  We Charlie's Booksall wiped tears from our eyes at the kindness of this Kinkos worker who – granted he had read the letter (wouldn’t you?)  –  understood the simple value of a loving letter, and added his gift into the mix.

The first Kinkos bound book is there on the upper center. His books for ages 15, 16 & 17 are there too.

Mona's BooksSince Mona is 4 years younger, we started her Bound Letters with her 10th birthday. Here’s her current stash to the left.

In early preparation for his 18th, we asked Charlie what he wanted. Mark proposed a new guitar. Charlie said no – he couldn’t think of anything he needed or wanted beyond a “Dad’s famous meatloaf dinner” with family and a few friends. Maybe an art book.

I saw a possibility for  “More letters”! I wrote to  extended family and friends who’d been special to Charlie over the years. Charlie's 18 I let them know he was turning 18. I sent them a one page summary of who he was now – and a photo (some folks had not seen him since he was tiny). I asked if they could please use the addressed enclosed envelope to send something for Charlie’s 18 – a poem, some advice, a comic, a funny anecdote. Maybe a photo.

Over 30 letters, cards, notes and a few gifts turned up. It took almost the whole day to go through them all. Some made us laugh. Some cry. Charlie 18 Album

Charlies 18 album babyI turned them into a larger album which had one page dedicated to each year of his life, with the letters stored in the back. To the immediate right is the Birth to One page, and to the right of that, Charlie s last year of high school complete with Prom photo.

Mona turns 18 this June 2nd. Her only request so far? “Mum, can I have the letters?”

ADULTS ~ The Birthday Retreat

Why wait for the wake?

For my 50th I took the liberty of letting my friends and family know – as I sent out our  Annual Christmas letter – that I’d be turning 50 on March 20th. My plan was to spend 4 glorious days in solitude (well – with the 2 dogs) at Rocky Ridge Yurt and I’d love to bring in any letters anyone felt inspired to write in return for a long, hand written response.  I said I’d love anything along the lines of “Now you are turning 50 here’s what I want you to know…”  or whatever anyone felt moved to send. In all honesty, I figured I’d have 12 things to bring in (I counted on the loyal aunts, immediate family and a few close girl friends). This would have been bliss enough. I adore snow, silence, chopping wood, and the company of wild things.  No letters would have been fine too actually!Into the Yurt

In the end, I hauled 55 letters and packages into the Yurt. I skied in, pulling an unwieldy sledge – here I am staging things in our front garden.

And all unpacked at the Yurt (below) . I apportioned the letters out over the 4 days I was there – reading and responding to each, one at a time. I had 55 mini tea-parties and birthday conversations, all alone up there with people I love.  Bliss! This too has become a simple album – with all the letters in plastic pages.

50 Largesse50th Album

Too much more to write.

I could dedicate a small book to how these letters have impacted our years and lives. I’d love to think the idea might catch on.

I would adore to hear of other non-material, meaningful gifts you’ve thought of for yourself or others.

Happy (un) Birthday to you all.

2 thoughts on “Best FREE Birthday Gifts

  1. Lisa Tener, Book Coach

    This is so beautiful and inspiring. I got all teared up and can’t wait to do this for my kids. My 50th and my husband’s 50th are coming up, so together we are turning 100. This is such a nice idea. Thank you for sharing. I think this would be a great little e-book or even a kit you can put together, Gemma. Really special.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s