Unique gift ideas they’ll love

Sometimes “the usual” won’t do — we want a gift that has a little something extra. Need some hints to jump-start your hunt for the perfect gift? These ideas are sure to inspire:

Recordable books. Sometimes you just want to hear a loved one’s voice. If there’s a youngster in your life you love to read to, Hallmark’s Recordable Storybook lets you share story time no matter where you are. The books — whose titles range from classic stories to special occasion themes like Mother’s Day or Christmas — have a built in recorder to play back your voice anytime. The books are available for $29.95, but keep your eyes open for the $5 off coupons.

Looking for another way to capture holiday memories? Around Christmas, Hallmark also offers a line of recordable ornaments.

Personalized books. Want to take the book idea to the next level? Use your own photographs and writing — not to mention your creative juices — to publish your own book. Put together a scrap book or album of your children’s photographs and memorabilia, or use a self-book publishing service like Blurb or Lulu to collect your favourite photographer’s works or family recipes, or create a baby or wedding album. For the tech savvy, you can even create e-books too.

Another option: become a character in a book. Services such as Personalized Books Canada put youngsters in the centre of the action for not much more than the cost of a children’s book at the store. Believe it or not, there are a number of websites for adults as well including detective novels, thrillers and romance novels.

Hometown puzzle. Ready for a scene that close to home? This puzzle puts your hometown front and centre. Using an excerpt from the National Topographic System map base of Canada, the 400 piece puzzle uses the gift recipient’s home as its centre for a map of their hometown. (Available through the Museums of Canada online gift catalogue for about $40.)

If local trivia is more your style, try the Book of Everything and Book of Musts series written by local experts and historians.

Custom jewellery. A little sparkle doesn’t have to break your budget. Jewellery making has become a popular hobby in recent years, making unique and stylish items more affordable. There’s a large selection of handmade items for sale via websites like Etsy.com, or you can also deal directly with artisans both local and online to order a custom piece.

For instance, HeartwoodGifts.com has a selection of pendants made from the fallen branches of West Coast trees starting at $25. Sugar Accessories can create custom pendants or rings using your mementos — like a piece of fabric from a special gown. (Items start around $30.) Winnipeg’s Vintage Bling uses vintage jewellery to create one-of-a-kind, hand-made pieces, many of which are under $100 or $200.

Sporty cufflinks. Need an idea for the sports fan in your life? Shopping club OrangeFish.ca has a line of cufflinks made from recycled sports equipment — like hockey puck cufflinks made from hockey pucks that saw some action at Madison Square Gardens, or baseball stitches cufflinks made from game-used balls. There are football and golf ball versions too, and each cufflink set start at $150.

Not a cufflink fan? Try a tennis racket bottle opener or iron bottle opener instead, each $75.

Gourmet goodies. Send a taste of home: home-grown fare and homemade goodies, that is. Every area has its specialities, so you don’t have to do the work to share. For example, Edible British Columbia offers gift baskets and gift packs containing local fare like seafood, wine, preserves, sauces, seasonings, syrups, chocolates and much more. (Check out the EBC online store for details.)

If you’d prefer a gift that keeps on giving, look for local monthly clubs or packages for wine, chocolate, and beer from Canadian companies. MonthlyClubs.ca has a list, including a Kidz Club and Hot Sauce Club.

Locally made bath and body products. Gourmet foods aren’t the only places where local ingredients and craftsmanship are showing up. With more people paying attention to what goes in their grooming products, it’s time to think beyond the store shelf for this popular gift item. Choose a basket to suit your recipient’s preferences, or select your own items for the ladies, gentlemen and pets on your list.

Not sure where to start? Stanstead, Quebec’s Bleu Lavande — one of Canada’s major lavender products — offers gift baskets featuring items like plant-based soaps made with olive oil and a line of home, body and even pet products with essential oils. Likewise, Tiber River Naturals has a variety of personal grooming and home products made from their own ingredients, like the antioxidant “Grab Life by the Pomegranates Cleanser”. The Rocky Mountain Soap Company lets you “give love, not chemicals” with its gift packs of all natural soaps and body products in scents like “Vanilla Candy Cane” and “Alpine Air”.

Custom footwear. Nothing says “comfort and joy” like warm feet. Sweet Pedtooties creates hand-made, custom mukluks (a traditional soft boot made from animal skin) and “sweet dreams slippers” from genuine furs and skins, and many are adorned with Swarovski crystal for some sparkle. There’s a wide range of options available to suit any taste and age — and they’re also available in fur-free and faux fur options too. Expect to pay a little more than you would for an average pair of boots — these foot warmers can run up upwards of $400 a pair.

Looking for something a little easier on the pocketbook? The Canadian Museums Association gift store offers Deerhide Ballet Slippers for around $65.

A unique experience. You’ve read the research: memories make us happier than “stuff” in the long run. If you’ve already done the museum trip, weekend away or gourmet tour, why not take it up a notch with something a little unusual? Perfect Day Experiences offer a variety of adrenaline-rush opportunities — like Drag Racing Full Day Adventure, Stunt Driving Course or Indoor Skydiving Experience.

Of course, it isn’t just about the adrenaline rush. There are a variety of packages to suit any interest, like having a Classical Music Concert in Your Home, shopping and gourmet tours or private archery and sword fighting lessons. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars — there are many options for less than $200.

A chance to help others. Still wondering what to get for the person who has everything? How about a chance to help someone who doesn’t. Relief organizations like UNICEF, Plan Canada and World Vision offer a wide range of gifts to help others around the world. For instance, help a family in a developing country support themselves with a gift of fruit trees or farm animals. Provide life-saving food, water, medication and preventatives (like malaria nets), or help a child grow with school supplies, storybooks and toys. Even something as simple as a birth certificate can save a child from exploitation.

While charities both at home and abroad need support all year long, the holiday season is prime fundraising time. Don’t be shy — find out what causes your recipient supports and look for gift opportunities. When in doubt, a simple donation in their name will be appreciated. We’ve got more ideas in Gifts that give back.)

Got some ideas we didn’t cover? Keep this list going in the comments!

Updated November 2012. Please note that links and prices are subject to change.

Additional sources: The Canadian Tourism Commission

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ diego cervo

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