Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Experience Gifts" -- Joy of Giving Memories Instead of Stuff

(Greg --"Poppy"-- making memories with our grandsons. Teaching Nate to skip rocks in the ocean and Georgie to build a sandcastle on recent "Christmas in July" family beach vacation.)

My in-laws, Jim and Beverly, from my previous marriage, gave our family the most awesome gifts, that I have adopted their philosophy of gift-giving and added a little bit of my own to it. In a nutshell, they gave us and our kids...memories.

Never flush with money, but using their ingenuity and Bell Helicopter Employee coupons (!) Jim and Bev took their kids and grandkids (we produced 8 grandchildren in 7 years between us) to Six Flags, Barnum & Bailey Circus, a Christmas play at Ft. Worth's famous Casa Manana, The Harlem Globetrotters and at least one memorable camping trip to hear Blue Grass bands perform in the Texas Hill Country. Beverly would often forget the kids actual birthdays, but sometime during the year she’d call and say, “I’d like to teach Zeke how to watercolor” or “I’d like to take Rachel to the museum” or “I’d like to spend a couple of days teaching Gabe to swim.” She gave them random, but special and memorable gifts of her time and talent. As the grandkids got older, Jim and Bev gave the teens -- for Christmas -- a week at any summer camp they wanted to attend. (Within financial reason!) The friends, life lessons, memories my kids made at those camps (Jan-Kay Ranch in East Texas was a favorite) are among their most treasured.

My parents, too, would often rent a condo on the banks of Holly Lake in East Texas and give me, an exhausted mother of four, breaks from cooking and corralling the kids. Daddy would take the grandchildren fishing, mom would play puzzles with them. I could take a long, blessed, uninterrupted nap!

Now that Greg and I are parents (and step=parents) to a brood of six adult kids, almost all married -- and either in, or soon entering, child-producing years – we’ve made a decision to try give “Experience Gifts” to our kids and grandkids rather than a lot of material stuff. All are at a self-sufficient age and have the basic necessities of life, so now that the kids are out of college and gainfully employed (Thank ya, Jesus!) we’re channeling some funds toward experiences to remember.

“Like what?” you may be asking. Here’s a few of the things we’ve given our kids for birthday and/or Christmas.

1. Late Night Bite at The Melting Pot in Littleton, Co. We gave this to all my grown kids one year for Christmas, and we babysat the little ones so that the Sibs & Mates could enjoy an evening out. For $30.00 a couple they got cheese fondue, a salad, chocolate fondue and a bottle of wine. They still tell me this is one of the most fun times they’ve ever enjoyed together. Only hitch is that they had to go for a 9:00 dinner. But hey, they are young and stay up late anyway!

2. We gave Greg’s sons and their wives a night out at the Wynkoop in downtown Denver – a gift certificate for dinner and Improv comedy show after. Because they don’t have kids, we joined them! So much FUN just laughing together.

3. One year I purchased the Lunch Counter Cooking Class (at Denver’s Passionate Palette) for our grown kids who have an interest in cooking. (I think this group included Zach, Rachel, Troy & Steph.) I went along for the fun and it, too, was a deal. $20.00 each got us a personal cooking class – and we got to eat the delicious chef-prepared food for lunch.

4. Greg’s treated his boys to golf and lunch for birthdays; I’ve twice done a Girls Only meal out at Macaroni Grill with my daughter and 5 daughter-in-loves. They have round tables (essential, in my book, for visiting in large groups) and great pre-fixed dinners at reasonable prices.

5. Twice we’ve given each of our adult kids $25.00 to spend on a big Antique Store Outing during Christmas week. We’d all meet an a big antique mall and go our separate ways shopping for our “finds” then meet up at the counter and share our treasures. Drew & Gina bought a couple of old windows with panes that Drew turned into a unique coffee table. Zeke and Amy bought a big crate they turned into a very cool side table/storage box. Gabe and Rachel bought unique decorations for their new little nests. (Gabe was into Western stuff; Rachel into French d├ęcor at the time.) Julie bought a giant mirror to turn her dresser into a vanity.

6. Gabe loved all things Elvis and so he and I took a mother/son trip together to go “walking in Memphis” when he was fifteen. It was a tender time for both of us – my marriage had come apart and we were both trying to navigate what our relationship would look like post-divorce. A place called “Graceland” seemed the perfect spot to do that. The time was so sweet that I also saved money to take another mother/son trip with him to see Billy Crystal perform his spectacular, moving, hilarious one man Broadway show -- “700 Sundays” in Chicago. There were portions of that show (I’d seen in NYC) that I just knew Gabe would love; which he did. We also went together to see “Wicked “last year, as he’s my kid who most loves music and theater.

7. Rachel and I went on a mother-daughter trip, alone, to the Ft. Meyers when she was going through a soul-wrenching time several years ago. We were able to drown her sorrows, together, in pool-time, shopping time and eating fresh shrimp on the deck overlooking the ocean. Since she’s married Jared (who is so much like Greg) they have become one of our favorite vacationing partners. It is so great when your kids grow up to be such fun friends.

8. Last October, Greg took his son Drew (Troy, sadly, broke his wrist and couldn’t go) on a trip to a very special reunion of the WW2 paratroopers from Easy Company, portrayed in the HBO series, The Band of Brothers. Greg represented books for two of the men, now in their 80’s, and got a once-in-a-lifetime invite to their private reunion. He wanted to share this experience with his sons and so paid for their airfare and hotel to make it happen.

9. The last two summers – for everyone’s Christmas gifts -- we were able to splurge and rent a beach house – one in San Clemente, Ca. and this year in Neskowin, OR. (We have had great luck using www.vrbo.com to find affordable housing.) We rented the house and also helped with travel expenses paid for food we would cook. The kids paid for any rental cars, entertainment and dining out themselves. We book the house and they can come and go as their schedule allows.

We will probably take a year or two off from big family beach vacations (we’re saving for and dreaming of a couples trip to Italy …) – but will definitely do it again in the future.

The type of bonding that happens when extended families have a few days to talk, fish, cook and clean together, play card games until midnight, go for ice cream at quaint country stores or walks along the beach …. have deep and lasting impact on all.

Before you say, “We can’t afford that!” – I have to brag on myself. I am the Getaway on a Shoestring Queen. Using priceline.com to bid on hotels, watching for weekend getaway specials from travel sites, we’ve been able to enjoy “experience gifts” for a song. There’s a getaway for everybody’s budget. But it takes someone willing to think, plan, shop and save for a deal in order to keep “making memories” a priority.

I don’t know if my old crumbling white tile counter or my aging Pontiac Aztec will ever be replaced. Because every time Greg asks, “Should we get new countertops, upgrade your car, or go on a trip?” I always answer without hesitation, “Take me away, Baby!”

Things will fade, break, or loose their sheen. But memories remain forever golden in back roads of a family’s mind. I cannot think of a better investment.


  1. Becky,

    I LOVE all of this. Our family has a saying, "We're making memories!" Things get goofy (or should I say our family members--kids and adults alike!) and we just have FUN! There are too many wasted opportunities in life and I want to fully enjoy all those who God has placed in my life. I desire fully to make memories with our children--and, someday, our grandchildren--and I want those memories to be precious to them.

    Thank you for sharing your life,

    P.S. I, too, am DYING for a Tuscany vacation. John and I are discussing the possibility of meeting in Europe during his next deployment mid-tour leave. Tuscany is my destination of choice! =)

  2. I love this philosophy and employ it when trying to decide how to spend my own money. I give greater value to experiences than to "things". For example, I will forgo new clothes or a "toy" for tickets to, say, the Stanley Cup Finals. Many of those experiences are just unforgettable!