+ Gift Guide

2016 Gift Guide, for Parents and Grandparents



Shopping for parents and grandparents is the most complicated part of the holidays.  What do you buy for people who usually 1) don’t need anything, 2) could buy their own gifts, and 3) have been buying your presents for decades?

My go-to parent gift is to donate money to charity in their name.  You can use a website like No.Gifts or Paypal Giving.  I also recommend charities like Heifer International, Charity Water, and Mercy Corps, which let you donate static items (a flock of ducks or sending a girl to school, for example) to people in need.  Combine your charitable giving with a heartfelt card, and you’re all set.

Need an actual gift to go under the tree?  See you after the jump.


The only thing my Nana ever wants as a gift is a new picture of me.  So, while it may sound cheesy, a nice photo in a nice frame makes a good gift.  This is especially true if you have children of your own.  I like this Copper ‘Ashlyn’ Frame from Era Home ($20) or this ivory ceramic and bronze frame from Target ($12).

A few years ago, my Aunt bought my Grandfather one of those digital frames where the picture changes, and he loves it.  It’s a real space saver, and she can always upload new photos for him.  The Polaroid Digital Photo Frame runs $89.


Linens are a good choice for parents or in-laws.  This lovely DwellStudio throw ($99) can be used to spruce up a living space or guest bedroom.  We love Glacier National Park, so this Pendleton blanket ($229) would be perfect for my Mom.

A few years ago, a co-worker bought his parents very luxurious 800 thread count sheets for Christmas.  He said it was the best gift he ever got them, and that they still talk about how soft they are, years later.


Some of you asked for ideas for edible gifts, so here it goes.  Williams Sonoma sells the best frozen pastries ever.  EVER.  I love the Caramel Croissants ($49 for 12) and Sticky Buns ($45 for 12) because when people come to visit, I can take them out of the freezer, pop them in the oven, and make like an 80s Rice Krispy Treats commercial and pretend like I slaved away over brunch.

For other food related gifts, I recommend Goldbely.  It’s a delivery service that allows people to order regional delicacies like Zabar’s bagels and Maine lobster rolls.  I confess that I sometimes order Ben’s Chili Bowl when I need a taste of D.C..  They also offer subscriptions like the Sandwich of the Month or Cake of the Month.


My Nana, content buy L’Oreal from King Soopers, would never splurge on a decent moisturizer.  So this year, I’m getting her a tub of Fresh Black Tea Age Delay Cream ($90).  At 85, it may be too late for the ‘delay’ portion of the aging process, but this is certainly a gift she would never buy herself.  So if you need a gift for Mom or Grandma, pick out a splurge-y beauty product that they would never buy for themselves.  I also recommend Creme de Corps Body Lotion and Leonor Greyl Hair Masks.


Tervis Tumblers ($20) keep drinks super cold, are made in the USA, and can feature any sports team logo, college or pro.  I have a couple, and they are a really great product.  They even have coffee cups to keep your morning joe hotter, longer.


You know when I said above that the only gift my Nana wants is a picture of me?  That’s not entirely true.  All she wants is for me to come visit her.  So if you’re at a complete loss for what to get your parent or grandparent this year, start with your time.  Pick a weekend, use some frequent flier miles and go visit.  If they live close by, take them to dinner.  If you can’t afford to fly, just make a point to call them more frequently or send them a letter (senior citizens love to get snail mail).  Because all your relatives really want for the holidays is your time.



  1. Kate says:

    A quick comment about donating to groups because you can donate a static item – most of the time you are not actually donating the item. They use those as representations. Any time a group uses the phrase ‘$X can provide…’, your money is probably not providing that item. Can vs. will.

    Mercy Corps actually has a disclaimer at the bottom of their gift catalog stating the gifts you purchase are examples of what we do, not what you are providing. Heifer International is a mix of actual items and representations.

    December 15, 2016/Reply
  2. wellfedfred says:

    Heifer International screwed up the message on a “gift donation” so badly that the (human, stateside) recipient thought we were telling her she was a pig.

    December 15, 2016/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Funny, and not funny all at the same time.

      December 15, 2016/Reply
  3. Lauren says:

    Gift certificates to restaurants. My parent’s go out for weekly date nights and I’m happy to introduce them to new places that pop up around DC

    December 15, 2016/Reply
  4. Jennifer says:

    Not for parents or grandparents, but I’ve donated in the past to the American Red Cross in co-worker’s names. I live close to a Red Cross office, and have gone in and had them type up personal letters that I give to my co-workers along with another small gift, like chocolate. As these come out of my persona funds, I generally restrict co-worker gifts to those on my immediate work team or those that I supervise, and pick a meaningful, but affordable denomination.

    December 15, 2016/Reply
  5. Jennifer says:

    And while I’m on the topic, I’ve had fun giving chocolate over the past few years. I gravitate toward Lolli & Pops, where you can fill one of several sizes of empty containers with all different kinds of chocolate and other candy. They carry seasonal candies, and have a gourmet gummy bear bar (and giant gummy bears, and chocolate-covered gummy bears . . .). A new find for me is Sugarfina. They have limited U.S. locations, but are available in Nordstrom. Their candies are almost too beautiful to eat and come prettily packaged as single boxes, or you can combine multiples to make a bento box. Bon appetit!

    December 15, 2016/Reply
  6. Anna says:

    The best gift I’ve ever given was a few years ago. I had to fly home a few weeks before Christmas for work, so I booked a photographer to take photos of my then-high-school-age brother and me. When I came back for the holidays, I picked up the prints, bought a few nice but not terribly expensive frames, and that was the gift from my brother and me for all our close relatives. Everyone RAVED about them. Each relative had a different photo, and we did a few with two smaller prints in a double frame, a few large prints. And the best part was I spent less time and money than I would have otherwise.

    December 15, 2016/Reply
    • Claire says:

      We did this a few years ago when everyone (5 generations) was home for Christmas! My dad hated the whole process but loved having the photos of everyone, and my sister and her carpenter boyfriend made some beautiful wood frames for them.

      December 19, 2016/Reply
  7. Noreen says:

    If you are living close to your family the best gift is truly your time and you can make the commitment by setting the date – “Coffee with Mom on Saturday at 10 am at Starbucks on Main St. 15 Jan 2017 – my treat” written in a card and the actually making it happen – yes, that would be a wonderful gift and if you are far away make a phone date and follow through! Experiences not things = treasured memories.

    December 15, 2016/Reply
  8. Mags says:

    The Williams Sonoma croissants come in lovely packaging, if that’s important to you. But if you’ll be eating the croissants yourself, it’s handy to know that the Trader Joe’s frozen chocolate croissants are literally the exact same croissants- from the same supplier, just branded differently. Once theyre out of the package, there is absolutely no difference. These are a holiday favorite at my house!

    December 16, 2016/Reply
    • Shelley says:

      Thanks for the tip! There’s a TJ’s right next to me. : )

      December 17, 2016/Reply
  9. Sara says:

    Thank you for the digital frame idea! I was at such a loss for a gift for my mom this year since I live abroad and am not clued in to what she wants. I found a frame that my brother and I can add photos to remotely. Hoping this gift is a hit!

    December 17, 2016/Reply