Personalized Gifts

With all the time and money you spend picking holiday presents for friends and love ones, you want your gifts to be special.

Here are eight surprises you can assemble yourself that are guaranteed not to end up in the back of the closet. Plus, a bonus: The container is part of the present.

To the gift's ribbon attach a handmade coupon for dog sitting, bathing, or walking.

Even if there isn't a new puppy under the tree this year, any dog owner will appreciate this practical present. Bundle up essential supplies in a galvanized tub, which will come in handy at bath time. To the gift's ribbon attach a handmade coupon for dog sitting, bathing, or walking. What's inside: a wool blanket, useful for covering car seats when you travel with your pet; a grooming brush and conditioning shampoo; rawhide chew bones; personalized food and water bowls (many pet supply stores will add names for you); specialty dog food; leather collar and ID tags; a leash; and a journal for keeping track of medical records and amazing tricks your pet learns.

An old-fashioned metal mailbox makes a charming gift container.

A varied supply of beautiful papers, note cards, and writing implements should help motivate a faraway friend or relative to keep in touch. Just be sure you have enough paper on hand to pen your replies. An old-fashioned metal mailbox makes a charming gift container. If it isn't used outside, it can be stored on a shelf or a desk to stash incoming mail or office supplies. Some things to include: an address/date book that is prefilled with addresses of family and friends as well as birthdays and special family occasions; a variety of greeting cards, postcards, and note cards (plain and thank you); some engraved stationery; a beautiful fountain pen and colored inks; a letter opener; sealing wax and stamp; and decorative postage stamps.

The gift box can be used later to store records, photos, or other mementos.

In Great-Grandmother's day, families kept track of births and deaths by recording them in the family Bible. These days, there's computer software to help you trace your lineage. For the historian in your family, gather the tools for making a family tree and for preserving family memories in an unforgettable fabric-covered container. In addition to the software, you might include: copies of family photos (photo processors can make copies from prints, even adding sepia tone if you'd like), antique-looking picture frames, acid-free mats, mat cutter, photo album or scrapbook with acid-free pages, and histories of your family's senior members (do interviews on audio or video tape). The gift box can be used later to store records, photos, or other mementos.

This gift is sure to warm up your holiday season.

Few things warm the heart more on a cold winter evening than a roaring fire. Packed in a galvanized ask bucket, these tools and supplies are sure to keep the home fires burning all season long. Some handy stuffers: heavy-duty suede gloves, shovel or other fireplace tools, wood kindling (available from garden stores or where you buy firewood), treated pinecones that burn in different colors (also available at garden and hearth stores), peat pots filled with paraffin and a pinecone for starting fires, and extra long matches. Here's a tip: To make gifts more attractive, remove some items from their original packaging and rebundle with ribbon, raffia, or clear cellophane. Stuff containers with newspaper and/or excelsior so that items can be displayed at varying heights.

This gift includes everything necessary to take care of your home.

Okay, it may not be very romantic. But the next time the faucet is dripping in the middle of the night -- and the plumber charges $100 for house calls -- the recipient of this gift will thank you. Just about everything necessary for basic home repairs can be stashed in a sturdy red toolbox. A few suggestions: hammer, screwdrivers, wrench, utility knife, paintbrushes, carpenter's pencils, assorted screws and nails in labeled jars, assorted tapes (masking, duct, electrical), rope and twine, work gloves, folding rule, shop cloths, sandpaper, a book of simple home repairs, and -- just in cause -- a box of bandages.

Help a special friend find a real treasure with this gift.

If you know someone who's up with the roosters on weekends and hits every yard sale, flea market, and antiques show in town, this will be a welcome gift. Organize a treasure-hunting kit in a charming old container, such as this vintage lunch box. What to include: a map marked with sites for good antiquing; brochures and business cards from favorite haunts; journal for wish lists, room dimensions, etc.; calculator for tallying purchases; magnifying glass for close inspections; flashlight for pre-dawn forays; tape measure; magnet for testing metals (it won't stick to real brass); pocketknife; and antiques and collectibles price guide.

A sturdy box with a secure-fitting lid and rope handles keeps everything neat.

Ever notice how kids are often happier playing with wrapping paper, boxes, and bows than with the gifts inside? Encourage children's creativity by assembling a "make-believe" box filled with craft supplies and costume-making materials. A sturdy box with a secure-fitting lid and rope handles keeps everything neat and out of sight until playtime. Enclose any of the following: nontoxic washable paints; paintbrushes (you may also want to include a roll of craft paper for painting scenery); paper lunch bags for making hand puppets; face paints; funny hats, masks, animal roses, and other disguises; assorted embellishments, such as pom-poms and chenille stems and a book of kid's plays -- or encourage them to write their own.

Include an umbrella in your gift -- just in case cabin fever strikes.

Being stuck inside doesn't have to be bad, especially if it gives you an excuse to spend quality time together. We've stashed a rainy day's worth of diversions into a pretty metal bucket, which can be used to catch drips or to hold your favorite snack. What's inside: a classic family movie on videotape, a board game (pick one that takes a good long time to play), dominoes, playing cards, a book of rainy-day activities (we purchased ours at a bookstore but you can make your own), assorted sizes of inexpensive jackets, and an umbrella -- in case cabin fever strikes.


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