Gift Ideas for Adults

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  • Good vacation for seniors or other gifts

    (15 replies)

    I am getting a very sizable bonus this year and besides paying off car loans and paying down the mortgage a bit, we wanted to treat our parents with some of it.  We already offered to give them the money to spend on whatever they wanted and both set of parents refused to take a check so that's out.  We think they will accept an expensive gift for birthdays/anniversary and thinking about what to get them.  We are thinking to pre-pay for a luxury vacation (something they won't splurge on themselves) but don't know where to and are also thinking about something else that is more tangible.  We are going to get them all new phones (with the excuse that we want them to have the latest model so they can take high quality pictures of our kids when they watch them, which they do regularly), but not sure what else we can buy them.  Both sets of parents are in their late 60s/early 70s, active, and are doing ok financially so they don't need the basics but have limited means in terms of retirement savings/income so do not splurge on themselves and we would like to treat them.  What would you have gotten your parents or, if you are parent of adult kids, what would you have liked to receive? 

    As a grandmother myself I would love a cruise with the whole family.We all went to Alaska one year and there was something for everyone.You may think you are not cruise type people but it is hard to travel by car in Alaska and we met all kinds of people that we liked.I would check out Royal Carribean and Princess.

    You're very thoughtful. But when it comes to travel and technology, the devil is in the details.

    I love to travel but like to make the arrangements myself and cruises (for example) bore me. So just make sure it suits their desires, interests, and personalities. And travel can be disruptive and unpredictable. So if you gift them with travel, it should be date-flexible and refundable. And with insurance!

    New phones means learning a new interface. Do they enjoy learning new technology? Do you know the features that are important to them?

    Some alternatives include ... booking a large family reunion for 4-5 days at somewhere like Sea Ranch or the Ahwahnee Hotel or a dude ranch or a hotel in Hawaii--something where they can spend time with you and the grandkids, giving you all precious time and memories.

    Another option would be to pay for something like a membership at a museum or or golf club or country club close to them, or a theater or concert subscription. That would be something they could use and enjoy for a year. Or you could give them gift cards to some favored local restaurants so they can enjoy a nice evening out and treat some friends (something they probably have little chance to do).

    Iceland and the Nordic countries are good for seniors, especially in Summer when it's not cold. I took my Mom when she was in her mid 60's to Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. Those countries are safe, clean, in general easy to navigate and locals can speak English, and so were low stress vacations. I was the guide, but there are guided tours for those places.

    You can also try the National Geographic Expeditions which are semi-guided tours. 

    Are your parents foodies? My Mom likes it when I take her to try new restaurants.

    And, lastly, this is not sexy, but save/invest the money for their long term care needs.

    What a great “problem” to have! I love the idea of gifting them a certain amount of money and asking them to use it for acts of kindness. About a month ago I read an article in the AARP Magazine where a woman gave a number of her friends a certain amount of money. She asked them to “spend it or gift it” in any way they felt would be an act of kindness. 
    As a senior myself, no trip or material item would make a difference. This country needs some love and kindness right now. Kudos to you for reaching out for suggestions!

    I don't know how you quantify "expensive" but my mom's main concern is having a really reliable car, so if that's within the range you are talking about spending and either set of parents has an older car, I'd think about replacing it. Otherwise, I think something experiential like a vacation is an excellent idea. Have you thought about suggesting a family vacation? We went on a cruise to Alaska recently and were a bit jealous of all the big happy extended families having a great time together.

    What great adult kids you are, and aren't your parents fortunate! I'd say go for the luxury vacations, so much more meaningful and fun than something "tangible". Perhaps get up with a good travel agent (see ) for help with laying the groundwork within your budget. As a senior traveler myself, I'd love having a seasoned agent suggest several possible journeys, then make my choice all happen like magic. 

    What we would love as grandparents is a family vacation with our adult kids and the grandkids. We babysit a lot but would love to have family time away with everyone!

    I wish I could have that money to treat my Mom to a River cruise in Europe... My business partner who is 80 and has been taking them for the last 10 years, love them. His wife is a travel agent and gave me 3 options: Viking, Tauck European River Cruising and Avalon Waterways. If you would like to talk to her, contact me. I don't like cruises, but this ones are small, sophisticated, great food and they stop in small ports where one could bike, hike or just go for a stroll, that way the whole family can enjoy..

    Very nice of you to share with your family. Enjoy!

    My parents’ dream gift would be a family cruise that includes their kids & grandkids. Or if there’s a trip they’re already planning, upgrade their flights/rooms. 

    My mother was happy to get her first posh designer handbag. She never would buy one herself 

    I just took my father on a European river cruise with AMA Waterways.  He wanted a cruise to make travel easier as a senior.  AMA did an amazing job.  Small boats since on a river, less people therefore.   Very little downtime cruising - we did the Seine and went to Normandy among other cities.  The food was delicious, and the daily excursions were interesting. This might be an option to consider. 

    What about a membership to something they're interested in?  Do they like the theater?  How about a berkeley Rep Subscription?  Do they like to take your kids to the zoo or kids museums or the aquarium?  Would they want a membership there?  

    My parents and my in-laws both loved a photo shoot with them and all their grandkids.  Or a photo with their whole family.  This is hard to coordinate but parents on both sides LOVED it and they cherish the photos. 

    As for the vacation, I have found that my in-laws and my parents want time with us or with their grandchildren.  Not sure that a trip together would really be a good surprise present, but maybe you could coordinate something with them:  you all rent a house or neighboring cottages somewhere.  Again, in my experience, any place you want to go, they want to share with you.  

    Your gesture of sharing your bonus is generous and commendable. I am a mother of adult children who has been in the converse position of giving money to my children to help them out or treat them. But I thought of your situation, your request for advice and believe the way to be most generous to your parents would be to ask them what would bring them the most meaning and/or pleasure. I think they should be included in the decision in some way. They may want a vacation that includes you, they may want you to support a cause close to their hearts. This is a great way to have a meaningful conversation about what your parents truly value and enjoy and for you to enjoy presenting them with options. Have fun with the process as well as the gift! 

    For the past few years my father decided to treat the whole family (myself and my sister, our spouses and children) to different vacations: Hawaii, Alaska cruise, Mediterranean cruise, and a few others. These were really special memories for us now. He passed away this year, and we are all so glad we had those vacations together. I recommend a cruise or all-inclusive resort for maximum fun with a big group (we were 12 - 15 ppl depending on the year) and minimum hassle. There are some less expensive/closer to home destinations that we also enjoyed: Asilomar, Graegle Lodge. I definitely recommend a whole family vacation. 

    My parents love cruising so we got them a cruise to Hawaii for their 40th wedding anniversary. They have no problem getting around but they enjoy the convenience of cruising to be able to see multiple locations and only unpacking once. Another recommendation is a Panama Canal cruise. Sailing the Panama Canal was a bucket list item for my dad. The cruise left from Fort Lauderdale and ended back in San Francisco. Easy splurges you can add on are upgrading to a balcony room or paying for shore excursions for them.

    It really depends on what they like -- a hotel in SF, and theater tickets might be perfect for some, Asilomar or Calistoga (not sure how it is post-fires) for others. Ashland and tickets to the Shakespeare fest might be good. Some people might like season tickets to Berkeley Rep or the Symphony. (I am clearly revealing what I would like in my answer :) . Would they like to go off by themselves or with you and the grandchildren? A trip is a lovely idea, but I think you need to ask more questions.

  • Ideas for gift for parents' birthdays

    (16 replies)

    My sibling and I tend to give joined gifts to our parents for birthdays and anniversaries.  Both of their birthdays are coming up in the next couple of months and it is my turn to come up with a gift idea (we take turns coming up with idea and share the cost 50-50).  The parents are in their late 50's.  We usually do experience type gifts, like cruises or vacation packages as a joined birthday present for both of them, but we already did this last year which they just used and they have another vacation planned for the spring, so they no longer have any vacation time in the near future to go , so we are looking for something else and I'm out of ideas.  The budget is about $500-600 for each birthday (so it can be one expensive gift or several smaller gifts), though we are both ok with going higher if it is something really nice that they would enjoy and be able to benefit from.  Our parents are on a budget and are proud so won't accept money from their kids so we are using birthdays and anniversary as a chance to gift them things they would not buy for themselves or cannot afford.  Right now I'm thinking something from electronics for our dad (like a nice camera or tablet) and designer purse or jewelry for our mom, but it seems generic and our usual go to when we don't gift vacations, so I'm wondering if there is something else out there that a man or woman in their 50's would like and enjoy.  Thanks. 

    How about a "staycation" - a night or two at a fancy hotel they could use over the weekend, without taking up vacation time?  

    I also thought small getaway that could be enjoyed on a weekend without taking extra time off.

    Another idea is a membership to museum or other cultural experience like the symphony or theater. 

    What about tickets to a play, symphony or other music for a night out near them. Maybe with a gift cert to a great dinner spot near the theater?

    Tickets to a play (Hamilton??) or concert--my kids gave us tickets to see Paul McCartney at the Stick a few years ago and we loved it! Go with them and have dinner first? Or a bnb?

    What a fun post and request! What about a weekend in San Francisco that includes a show or sporting event or a walking tour of the city and a couple of nights in a hotel? There are neighborhood walking culinary tours, history tours, ghost tours. Emperor Norton's tour is fun and informative. It's getting to be past the season, but whale & shark watching out by the Farallon Islands could be fun. Perhaps a nice hotel with spa or a day at Burke Williams. A weekend getaway at Whale Watch Inn in Gulala (Mendocino County) and a fancy dinner. The Ritz at Half Moon Bay and spa and dinner could be relaxing and romantic. Maybe add in horseback riding on the beach. I hope you find just the right gift for your parents!!

    One thing that I would like that I'd never buy for myself would be a really nice rug. They're so expensive and I feel guilty spending money like that. But a 9 x 12 rug really transforms a room. A large piece of art would also be appreciated. 

    I don't know where your parents live, but season tickets to the symphony, a theater or dance group or something like that would be a great idea - or even sports teams.  You could add restaurant gift certificates to make a series of date-nights to celebrate their special days throughout the year.  Also a wine-of-the-month subscription would be nice.

    How lovely! here are a bunch of random ideas: a massage, a meal at a fancy restaurant, season tickets to a local theater/symphony/jazz festival/whatever, a cooking class, a session with a wardrobe consultant, private pilates lessons, tango lessons, a wine-tasting event, a photography class, a whale-watching cruise (not sure where they live so maybe something more location-appropriate!)... hope this is helpful!

    Tickets to Hamilton!! 

    ooh ooh ! or send them on an African safari ... in Sonoma!

    Get a gift certificate to a swanky restaurant they like (Maybe Chez Panisse main room?), also get tickets to a show or concert they  like, and then get them a gift certificate to a local spot for brunch. So same idea of staycation, but minus the hotel.  Another idea you could add on: a day at a spa (including lunch). They'll feel pampered without having to get on a boat or plane.

    A dinner at a restaurant that they would love and a hotel stay.   An memorable experience would be better at that age or a really nice set of family photos in a frame that they could hang on their walls.  Any idea is to arrange to have them stay at B Bryan Animal Preserve

    Twice my daughter has bought me a class or experience that we do together.  One day, as a birthday gift, we went on an all-day kayaking trip in Tomales bay.  Another time we paid for us to do an outdoor compass reading/ orienteering class together.  This only works if you and/or your sibling live locally.  There is no better gift than doing an experience or taking a class with one of your grown kids.

    If they are into food, treat them to French laundry. Definitely an experience to remember. Otherwise, there's Hamilton show (expensive on the resale market) or culinary, art (crucible, stained glass on 4th street) classes or spa package at Claremont. Good luck. 

    I just got a nixplay iris electronic picture frame and LOVE IT. Your folks, especially mom, might also appreciate it. $200, I think. 

    As a mom in that age range, I would rather have electronics -- a good laptop or phone rather than jewelry.

    In terms of experiences, sometimes we've gone to San Francisco on a pretend vacation -- you could get them theater tickets as well.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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Mom turning 70--gift ideas?

Nov 2012

Hi! My mom is turning 70 in December. I don't know what to give her for her birthday. She has money and plenty of stuff. Any ideas for a DIY project that I can do in two months? Any ideas? Nicole

For my mom, my sister and I had a similar challenge. When she turned 60, we promised her a spa day. When she turned 65, we promised wine tasting. By the time she turned 70, we hadn't paid off either we ''bought'' a house in Sonoma for the weekend at an auction and took her there and went to a spa, went wine tasting and hung out. Doing the activity together was really fun! I know that a weekend like this is likely over the top (we were covering 10 years of b-days), but perhaps some sort of activity? Hope you have fun!

What we did for my mom's 50th might be nice - we sent a letter out to all her friends and family (that we knew of) and requested they send a letter or memento to us so we could create a keepsake book for her. Of course, we got very few back compared with what we sent, but enough that it was still a very sweet gesture and she loved it! At 70 I imagine your mom would love something like this, the grandkids could draw a picture, write a story or share a memory, adults could do the same or even provide a small keepsake from some memory they shared. L

When my mom turned 70, I put together a book of letters, notes and drawings from her children, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law and grandchildren. She loved it. Carrie

For my mom's 70th birthday, I'm planning to rent a big house somewhere and invite her close girlfriends to spend the weekend with us. But if I didn't have the funds to do that, I would create a picture book for her. My mom make one from our wedding using her Apple computer. But there are a lot of other options out there if you don't have a Mac. These books look great and everyone loves them. anon

Consider giving her an experience instead of a thing, something you and/or your family can do with her and enjoy together. It doesn't have to be fancy - we took my mother to Stinson beach, had lunch at a restaurant there. She loves going to the ocean but is beyond going on her own. Or go with her to something she enjoys - the ballet, a museum. Or make a real nice dinner for her at your home and invite a friend of hers. I'm all done with gifts that are purchased and wrapped, we already have so many useless things! Jane

How about a nice book full of family pictures? For all of the parents in both my and my husband's families, that sort of thing is a hands-down favorite. If you have photos in electronic form, you can usually make such a book online and order copies with the size, cover, etc. that you want. Karen

My mom is also 70 and she loves using her ipad. That may or may not be an option.....or she might have one. Since you said DIY, my instant thought was photo books. I have no idea what pictures or stories of her life you may have access to but that could be a great idea. Or saving a bunch of photos on a usb stick and loading them up on an ipad she has and showing her how to do a slideshow so she could set it on a desk and turn it on when she wanted to. Good luck!

My children did the most wonderful things for my 70th birthday:

Each arranged his/her schedule and traveled home so that we could all be together. They divvied up the courses and served me a fabulous meal (and cleaned up afterward.) Even without a lovingly cooked meal, their presence still would have meant the world.

Their personalized gifts were promises to do specific things with me, activities that I love but don't do alone anymore. These promises were accompanied by small token gifts, items that would be useful, some amusing, when we eventually did these activities.

If you can do nothing else, spend some time enjoying your mother's company, doing things she loves with her. That's worth EVERYTHING. Seventy plus

For my father's 75th I'm making a book of photos and quotes from his family & friends. I asked them to contribute a quote -- one thing they love about him or a birthday wish for him, and a photo from past or present. Anon

Flamenco dance classes. I began classes at 70 & am loving it. Best to dance while you still can.

You might want to check out 11stories. They do beautiful, custom books to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, etc - they interview your mom about her life stories and create a book with her words, treasured photos, etc. You can see some examples at adam

I've been watching the suggestions for a birthday gift to give a senior with interest. Here's my two cents, both as a daughter and a gift-giving professional.

I love the idea of the ''memories'' book BUT as one of eight siblings, I know how difficult it can be to pull together. We gave my mom one when she turned 80, but it was largely my sister's love of scrapbooking that made it happen. Another way to approach such a book is to start with family photographs - holidays, trips, events, etc. - with small captions identifying the people and places in the picture. MUCH easier to put together, especially if you use a service to scan the photos to CD first. Enlarge the photos if poor vision is an issue. (Plus digital printing means copies are easy to make for other family members.)

The second thought is that many seniors really don't *want* stuff - if anything, the river of material goods has reversed itself out of their homes after, say, age 60. When I'm asked for gift ideas for seniors, I want to know a couple of things: gender, favorite foods, dietary restrictions, and style of decor (traditional, modern, nautical, cats, whatever). Then I combine their favorite best-quality delicacies with a plate, platter, bowl, premium kitchen towel, etc. - some small item that's useful and/or an upgrade to an existing item they now own and use. That way, they still have a reminder of your thoughtfulness long after the goodies are gone.

My mom is 81 now, and I'm *that* kid who sends her the best treats I can find from Northern CA - fine olive oil + vinegar, nuts and fruits, cheese + breadsticks, caramels, chocolate sauce, even custom soaps... and I found out my gifts are the only ones she doesn't share! Go Mom, LOL!

Present for a birthday party for a colleague

Nov 2010

I grew up in another country and I am trying to learn what is culturally appropriate in the US. I was invited to a birthday party for a male colleague who I really respect, and would like to know what is appropriate to bring as a birthday gift. I understand it might be different from what we used to do where I grew up. I am a female, most of my colleagues are males, we all are physicians. Is it appropriate to bring a gift card for a store or restaurant? For what amount of money? I do not know the taste of the birthday person very well and I have never been on a birthday party of a male colleague. What to buy for a 45 or so years old man? Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated always learning

Some gifts that are might be appropriate for an adult you don't know well:
A house plant
A fruit basket
A couple of jars are nice jam wrapped together
A nice bottle of wine (if he is a wine drinker)
If he is someone you work with, a small gift related to work is also appropriate:
A fancy clipboard
A canister to hold pens, etc.

If the event is at his home, it is also polite to ask if you can bring anything, like dessert or other dish or beverage. (This is not necessary if the event is at a restaurant or is catered.) Gifts are hard

You sound like a very kind and considerate person who anyone would enjoy having as a colleague! What I would do is talk to another female colleague and tell her exactly what you wrote in your query----you'd like to bring something but you don't know what is appropriate. Ask her (and maybe another female colleague as well) what they would do (or will do) in such a situation. I think that, for example, a really nice bottle of wine could be an appropriate gift if you can find out whether he prefers red or white. Go to a wine store and ask someone there to suggest a good $25.00 bottle. Or a bottle of champagne. With a nice card, of course. If your female colleagues know what his hobbies are, you could think about a gift card although that may be a little awkward in terms of the amount. Is there an author you love who has a new book out? A new book could be nice if he likes to read. Men are harder to buy for anyway so it's not as easy as a female colleague but i'd keep it on that level---wine or a book---something he'd enjoy but not too personal (like cologne). I know how it feels to be foreign and not know the expectations; my experience is that being honest with others and asking their advice is the best way to go. Hope you enjoy the party!!!! good luck

In a work setting, IF a present is given, it is often a group present. Everyone donates and one person colects the funds and buys a gift. Ask around to see if a group gift is planned. If not, tell a trusted co-worker your situation (from another culture, need help understanding the norm here) and ask what is typically done in your particular work setting. Each oiffice is different. If all else fails, a $25 to $40 bottle of wine in a gift might work, if they drink. anon

I recently relocated too. I actually used a coach who specializes in Life Transition Coaching. It was a wonderful experience and she supported and assisted me in positive ways. I am very happy with my move and I am very happy with my new locattion. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to talk more about any of this. Rachel

I would NOT give a gift card -- I think that is not appropriate for a colleague (for a subordinate or your niece, yes). I don't think gifts are expected, but you should bring something, like a bottle of wine. I wouldn't spend more than $40 since you don't know him very well. It tends to make people uncomfortable if you are not good friends and you get something too extravagent. But then again, you may want to ask your other colleagues what they are bringing. Have fun! -anon

A book! You can leave the gift receipt inside so that he can always exchange it. I think any book by Atul Gawande would be a great idea for a doctor. enjoy

Original present for dad's 75th birthday?

Sept 2007

Anyone have suggestions for an original gift for a dad who insists on nothing major, does NOT want a big party (we are going to respect this and just do family BBQ), and really is somewhat of an introvert so doesn't have a lot of his own friends, outside of my mom. Just want to do something a little special in addition to our family BBQ. Thanks! anon

For my father's 70th birthday, I got a very nice looking blank journal and took it to a family event. I got all of his sisters and brothers still living and as many nieces and nephews to sign it with birthday wishes and special notes. They all lived in a different part of the country from him and so he only saw them maybe once a year or so. They loved being asked to do it, and he loved the gift. Other kinds of memory books I have seen done ask people to send photos and/or notes and then you assemble them into a journal. For my father-in-law's 80th we bought a photo mat and had the family sign in, then we took a family picture at the party and got it framed with the mat. These are all fairly simple, not expensive, but very, very personal and special. People might not need or want another ''thing'' but they often want to know how much they are loved and have something to remember people by. anon

For my parents 50th wedding anniversary, we hired a professional photographer and had the whole family pose for a formal portrait. It was their idea and the only gift they wanted. They hung it in the front hallway of their home where they could see it every day and show it off to friends and family. Ann

How about hiring a photographer to come out to the BBQ and do a family portrait? My in-laws are hard to shop for, and they loved this as a 40th anniversary present! Kristine

For one of my mom's major birthdays, we contacted everyone we could think of to write something to or about her. Memories, funny stories, how she had influenced them, etc. Then we bound them all into a book with a nice cover. She cherished this, and it wasn't a lot of work for anyone. anon

Something personal, like going through old family photos and putting together an album, or creating a video with music and a slideshow type presentation would be a couple of ideas you might consider. I did a dvd slideshow with 60's music for a school reunion of my very alternative 60's private school (I got alumni, teachers and parents to send me photos) - it was a huge hit. Good luck! Melanie

I've never given this, but I've read about a 'journal jar.' You find an attractive vessel and fill it with fortune size slips of paper with questions on it that allow the recipient to share their past/family history. You can provide a beautiful empty book and pen, or promise to bind the wordprocessed results. Questions range from ''How did your parents meet?'' to ''Who was your best friend when you were nine?'' etc. If you attribute the questions that kids think up it can give the writer an 'audience' which may help them let go and write. Another idea is to have family members decorate a platter or set of dishes at a ceramic studio, or to have them decorate quilt squares and produce a wallhanging or quilt. The latter get the kids involved which can be touching even for those who 'don't want a fuss.' Jessica

How about something personal that lets him know how much he means to you? Maybe a scrapbook of family photos through the years with various family members writing in captions of special memories; or a video where family members tell favorite ''dad'' stories; or a slide show (high tech or low tech) with live or recorded narration. Or if your family isn't into media, just a collection of stories, best wishes and family jokes could work. This could be as simple as asking each family member to contribute one favorite memory and putting them all together. Have a great party!

We took our mother for a weekend at The Homestead Hotel in VA (that is where she lives). It's very upscale and has wonderful amenities. It was just two nights and we had a wonderful birthday dinner celebration and then during the day we took her for a falconry experience, high tea and a swim in the natural spring pools. It was low key which she wanted but she was thrilled to also be treated like a princess.

It depends on what kind of a man your father is. A once in a lifetime experience, such as the above stated falconry, was truly amazing! That is one suggestion, but there are other things you could find with a little imagination. Unless you really want to go more low key.....

if he is a grandfather, get a pitcher or a serving dish and have all the grandkids do hand prints in different colors with their names and ages and then fire and glaze it. You can do this at any of the pottery art places all over the place. It's simple, yet nostalgic and sentimental. anon

How about a donation to a good cause-like to help people in Darfur. We have so much in this country, and that would mean something to someone else as well. m

I just ordered pillowcases with my kids photos on them and they are the cutest darn things. You could take a group family photo and have it put on a pillow case for about $20 at It sounds weird, but when I put the cases on and put the pillows on my bed I laughed so hard. It was hilarious to see my kids huge, smiling faces staring back at me. I thought it would be a great gift. Maybe your dad would too! A in Alameda

I would highly recommend making him a photo book on Shutterfly. If you have family pictures, either old or recent, and you can upload them from your digital camera/ computer onto the Shutterfly website, the rest is really fun and easy. Choose a nice, maybe leatherbound photo book where you can pick and choose which pictures you want, in any order. You decide how many pictures go on each page, and can choose to write text also, if you like. I've made many photo books for many people in the past few years, for all different occasions, and people LOVE LOVE LOVE getting this heirloom-type, very personalized gift. heidilee

For his 80th, my father-in-law was completely tickled by a gift of a DNA analysis! He's always been somewhat obsessed by family history and frustrated that he couldn't trace his paternal line beyond 4 generations. So I arranged for a DNA kit from Family Tree DNA, Since all four of his kids chipped in, we went for testing both maternal and paternal lines, with the maximal number of genetic markers, for $489 (''YDNA67 & MtDNAPlus''), but you could just do a minimal number of markers from either line for about $129.

The results assign him to an ancestral ''haplogroup''. My father-in-law was happy to find that his recent paternal origins pointed to Scotland, as suspected, and before that a likelihood of Viking origin. So he's running around in kilt and helmet...

Another option is to join the National Geographic ''Genographic Project'' For $99, your father would have his Y-DNA tested (the minimal number of markers, 12), and also get a DVD, map and other goodies. If the results are intriguing, he can pay a fee to bring his data over to the Family Tree DNA project (which uses the same lab) and have more Y-DNA markers tested, and/or his maternal line.

For my father-in-law, this was a particularly meaningful, if somewhat poignant gift, making him feeling connected to his ancestry and to history. Unfortunately he has yet to find close genetic relations who share his last name, thus solving his genealogical dead end. On the other hand, my brother's results yielded distant cousins in Switzerland, confirming our family history.

If your father is curious about more than just his paternal or maternal line, but wants some clue as to what his particular ''mix'' is....such as wanting to check out a family story that his mother's paternal grandfather was Cherokee, or that his father's maternal ancestry is from Ghana, both of which would not be found in his Y-DNA or mtDNA, since these are zig-zag branches (male to female to male, etc) could order an ''autosomal DNA'' test from DNATribes, AncestrybyDNA or FamilyTreeDNA. These are purported to give you some indication of genetic ''admixture'', comparing the results with world populations. There is some controversy about the reliability of these results but it's fun to speculate. You can also hone in on specific areas of origin for European or African DNA through sub-tests at AncestrybyDNA or

If you choose to do this and have any questions about interpreting the results or taking it further, feel free to contact me - with the caution that I do this strictly as an amateur and am not a genetic genealogist by training. Natasha Beery natashabeery [at]

My father is turning 80 in October, so we were going through the same problem; he is adamant about not receiving ''things'' and never wants my brother and I to spend money.

So I decided that we all, including the grandkids, would put together a booklet called ''Why We're Glad You Were Born.'' It's just a jumble of the meaningful as well as the silly, ie: ''You taught me how to whistle,'' ''You were a role model in what to look for in a husband,'' etc.

Basically, it was when I started thinking about how old he's getting and that he might be gone soon, and all the things you say in appreciation at a funeral. Why not tell him now? We are going to have it printed up and (inexpensively) bound. We know for sure he's going to love it and bawl like a baby! _ Happy birthday to your dad, too

My husband who is in his 80b80>Special gift for my mom's 80th birthday s was recently given a subscription to The New Yorker. I donb80>Special gift for my mom's 80th birthday t know when he has enjoyed a gift so much. When it comes, he immediately looks at the cartoons, the political columns, etc. If your father has some specific interests, see if there is a magazine he might really like & get him a subscription to it. If he likes movies at home get him a subscription to something good like Netflix. We donb80>Special gift for my mom's 80th birthday t have much time to watch TV, but have many friends who love being able to pick out exactely what they want. You could also (depending on what you want to spend) get your parents gift certificates to restaurants they have wanted to try. That is always fun. By getting a gift that works over a period of time, you all extend the fun of giving your dad a special gift. lila

My sister just gave my stepfather the full length New York Times from the day he was born for his 70th birthday. It was a great present...quite fun to look at all the ads and the costs of various things. She found it on Anon

If your dad is anything like mine, he is a tough one to get gifts for. I'm thinking of getting mine a digital frame that i can load with photos of his grandkids etc. You transfer photos onto a card and into the frame, and he has a slide show without having to do anything; it's good even if he's computer illiterate. They seem to range from $90 to a few hundred (search google or amazon for 'digital frames'), depending on the size, memory and features. Then i'll be able to change his slideshow when i visit. anon

Well, this may not be original, but it worked for my father, who also said ''I don't want anything!'' when he recently turned 70. My sister and I made $70 donations to two or three different organizations that we knew he cared about. He liked this a lot. Good luck and happy birthday to your father! Anon.

Sometimes a special outing is a great gift. Is your Dad a veteran or a history buff? The USS Hornet in Alameda (WW II aircraft carrier) is a historic landmark. They have an Apollo I exhibit there too. We've taken my Dad there twice and it's filled with historic exhibits. A real treat to have someone who lived through these things give you their perspective.

Does he like model railroads or trains? Walnut Creek has a great model railroad exhibit and the steam trains at Tilden Park are very low key and fun, and you can do a picnic there too.

Does he like classic cars? The Blackhawk Auto Museum has an amazing collection and there are some great restarants just steps away. Also it's totally indoors, handicap accessable (if he's not in the best of health) air conditioned and you can be in and out in a couple of hours. Maybe brainstorm with your mom on some old hobbies or interests of his and plan a special day. Good luck!

How about a photo album or a scrapbook that collects family and other memories and milestones from over the years? You can do it the old-fashioned way (cut and paste) or use an online service ( is one of many out there) to which you upload photos and create an album or scrapbook that the service then prints and binds for you.

Or, put together a slideshow of photos on CD. It can be very basic or you can add music and captions. Even more high-tech? Have someone put together old home movies and more current video. anon

Okay, maybe this is not the most original idea in the world, but how about a family photo in a nice frame? If the family will be together for the BBQ, you could hire a photographer to come there and get a portrait of all of you, or you could organize everyone go to one of those Sears/JCPenney/PicturePeople type studios. Do one with just you and your siblings, or one with you, your siblings, spouses and kids together, or get your mom & dad in the portrait too if it doesn't have to be a surprise.

Another photo-related idea is to put together a nice photo album or have old home videos consolidated into something that he might enjoy watching. L

I heard about a unique idea for a b-day gift/party for someone that has everything. Instead of a party, organize a service day with close family and friends doing something in honor of Dad for a cause that he cares about (e.g. cleaning up a park, serving meals at a shelter, planting trees, etc.) I thought it was a cool idea and I am considering organizing something similar for my dad's upcoming 60th b-day. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. I'm sure he will appreciate it as it is the thought that matters. mindy

In reading between the lines I recognized that you and I have someting in common re: gifts and fathers, so wanted to respond. There are surpise-loving gift givers like you and me, and there are people who simply want what they want, like our fathers. Your father doesn't want a big party, and hasn't asked for any gift. He probably has recognized the gift he has already, his family and the time they spend with him. Relish it as he does. As an idea, simply ensuring everyone gives him a big hig and spends three minutes talking to him alone may be the best gift he could want.

My Dad is my best friend. He is active, many friends, and loves his grandchildren! He turns 75 in two days. He'll be pretty much alone though, and no party. My Mom has to go overseas this week to watch over her dying brother (a priest, himself alone). Earlier this summer I had tried to plan a party for my Dad, but my Mom counseled against it. The BDays don't mean so much to them now, and tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the death of my brother, a painful reminder of time. I only wish we could have a small family BBQ! Enjoy the time with your Dad, and pay attention to his joy.

We hired a professional photographer to come for my Dad's 75th just to take one big photo of the entire group. We had a large print made and framed and my father loved it. Ann

Special gift for my mom's 80th birthday

August 2005

I would like to give my mother a special gift this fall to celebrate her 80th birthday. She has hinted broadly that her preferred gift would be for me to plan and host a large 'surprise' party for her, but my financial circumstances (we live on one moderate income), parental resonsibilities (I have a toddler and a preschooler), and geographic issues (she lives in SoCal) make that impossible. I know that she'll be disappointed by this. After reading responses to an earlier BPN posting, I considered having a quilt made from pieces of fabric that I would provide to her friends and ask them to decorate in a way that symbolized their relationship with her. But she has been depressed since my father's death seven years ago, and I'm worried that having this quilt would only deepen her depression each time one of those friends passes away. I'm wondering whether anyone in the large and thoughtful BPN community has other ideas for a gift that can celebrate this important milestone without reminding her of the painful losses she has incurred along the way. (And yes, I have urged her many times to seek therapy for her depression, but so far to no avail.) j.

I don't know how big your family is, but one nice thing might be to get the children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, friends, etc. to make a video that you can present to her at a nice, but intimate, dinner party, and then all watch together. A good friend of mine did this for her mother. In their case, there were several grandchildren, ranging in age from 7 to 20, and with the help of their parents, each grandchild produced a segment (cute, idiosyncratic mini-skits). These were then edited together and capped with a final scene where they all wish her a happy birthday and blow her a kiss. The nice thing about it was it gave her a sense of the future, what she's given to the world, and how much she is loved. If there aren't enough grandchildren, I think the same thing can be accomplished with other members of the family, and friends. It was a huge success, with grandma and everyone laughing and crying at the same time. Everyone ended up wanting copies for themselves... hoping this helps

My mother just had her 80th birthday. She lives in central California, and like you, it wasn't practical financially or timewise for me to go there and host a party with her friends. Instead, I asked her to come visit me and I invited some of my friends for a circle honoring her. I had a piece of bamboo I'd cut years ago that had a lot of character to use as a staff and I asked everyone to bring something small to tie on the staff. We decorated a comfortable chair for her - she was a bit shy at first to be the center of attention, but she relaxed and got into it. Each person tied their gift onto the staff with ribbons and yarn and shared what they appreciated about her or what they wished for her. It was really very simple, but beautiful and she did feel honored. The staff was a magical creation that held all these well wishes. She told some wonderful stories about her life -- stories I'd never heard -- and her granddaughter videotaped. Afterwards, we shared a potluck meal. My friend hosted us because my home is very small. I was amazed to see how something so simple could lead to interactions very deep and loving. Good luck in creating something meaningful your mother. It can be simple and doesn't have to cost a lot. My friends were grateful to have the opportunity to honor my mother with me and get to know her better. Claudia

Are you sure it is really impossible to give your mom a party? You don't have to break the bank to give her what she wants. She is clearly depressed and at 80, you don't know how many opportunities you'll have to make her that happy. I don't want to make you feel bad, but if you can phone friends and family who live near her and arrange an informal potluck at one of their houses, it wouldn't have to take too much effort and it would be priceless for her. She's saying that's what she wants for her ''special present''; I would just find a way to make it happen. At her age, she doesn't want any more stuff, no matter how personal. She just wants the ones she loves around her making her feel special. As for your little ones, let them know you're working on a birthday party for grandma! They need to learn now how important it is to make the people in their lives feel truly loved. -- Wish I still had parents to celebrate with

If my 80 year old mother wanted a party for her birthday, I would do it no matter what, but I think you're thinking it has to be fancy, when it doesn't. It's really not that expensive to rent a place for an evening, there are community centers that rent space out (off the top of my head, try Live Oak Park, El Cerrito community center, for starters), and if you had a potluck, while you provide some food, drinks (non-alcoholic is fine), and a beautiful cake, while friends/family bring other dishes to share your mother would have a lovely party. Decorations can come very cheap via Paper Outlet on San Pablo Ave in Berkeley, and you can get lots of inexpensive drinks, etc. at Grocery Outlet. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be a commemoration of your mother's long life!

Alternatively, you could have a wonderful picnic party at one of our local parks -- Again, Live Oak, Tilden Park (call them to reserve space), Ohlone Park, Rose Street Park -- those are in Berkeley, but surely you could find a nice park to take a picnic near you or your mom. Again, you could do potluck, or just make it very simple.

I helped my son cater an appetizers-only event for 100 + people, and we did it for around $300 -- and that was FANCY stuff -- If you only invite 25 - 50 people you could do simple finger type foods which wouldn't cost that much.

A couple of ideas for gifts (your quilt idea is great, but having been a part of one of those ''gifts'', I'd say no thanks! I hated having to design a quilt patch, and ended up hiring someone else to do it for me - which was expensive. I had NO idea what the heck I was supposed to do!)

Have people bring a written poem story, memory, or something about your mother or her life to the party and have them bound into a book. At the party, each person (or those who wish to), could share the piece they've written by reading it aloud.

Create a photo collage of older and recent photos that she can hang on her wall.

Your mother is only 80 once, and you don't know how much longer she'll be here. If she wants a party, please, have a party for her! It doesn't have to be fancy, and you don't have to have catered food, and you don't have to invited the hundreds of people she probably knows. Make is festive, make it personal, and most of all, make it for her. You'll both appreciate it.

If you do pursue the party, and would like some ideas for relatively simple food for a nice party, please email me. I've got many ideas that have worked well for parties on a budget. heather

Gift for my sister's 50th birthday

June 2003

Hi, My psychologist sister 50th birthday is coming up and I'm stumped for a gift. She concentrates professionally on holocaust victims and is a talented singer. She also resides overseas so that a smaller item is preferable. Any ideas would be muchly appreciated! Thanks! Noa

How about an MP3 player with lots of memory? You would have to find out what kind of computer she has. Maybe it's just because I want one, but I think these gadgets are one of the neatest things. They are extremely small and light and can hold an enormous amount of music which one can listen to anywhere. Irene

If your sister is a singer (as I am), she will no doubt enjoy receiving a CD of other wonderful singers that she is not familiar with. Someone once gave me an Eva Cassidy CD and now I own the entire collection. Eva died of cancer at a young age (early 30s?) and never signed a recording contract. However, her parents found her home recordings and released them after she died. She became more successful after her death than anyone could have imagined and her voice is like an angel. If you don't want to go with one artist, you could also make your sister a collection and create the cover art yourself with simple tools on your home computer. It's a nice gift, because it will be homemade and something you took time to do, as well as something that will touch her musician's spirit.

I just turned 50 and the present I wanted was a nice dinner out with my family. This sounds dorky but it was special, and something I can remember for a long time. My college kid came home for the weekend, the kids put on dressy clothes that they would not wear under any other circumstances, and we all went to Chez Panisse downstairs on a weekend night. Everyone was on their best behavior. It was great!
Signed, I don't look 50 so I'm not giving my name!