Palo Alto Weekly

- December 17, 2010

Shopping outside the box

Gift suggestions for the person that has it all

by Sarah Trauben

Everyone has a friend who's incorrigibly difficult to shop for. Instead of wrapping another unnecessary tchotchke or resorting to a gag gift, why not give them the gift of a unique experience this holiday season?

Whether a friend is picky, humble or just well-funded, the old slogan about teaching a man how to fish might be of use. After all, everyone needs to eat. Instead of buying a gift basket of goodies, you could give them the gift of cooking skills.

Palo Alto Adult School offers affordable cooking classes in a variety of mouthwatering genres. Upcoming courses include seafood, Thai, sushi, and cooking with spirits.

Yanette Fichou Edwards, who has taught courses at the school for years, also offers at-home sessions. The sky's the limit on themes, Edwards said. She has given everything from moms and daughters cooking classes to team-building sushi workshops to tutorials for students about to enroll in college.

One option is holding a holiday baking party. With a cooking instructor's help, friends can come together to learn how to make cookies and hand off the products of their labor.

"Instead of re-gifting something for your girlfriends this year, you can give a really unique gift of skills, entertainment and your time," Edwards said.

A novel gift option is provided by Joanie King, founder and "chief scribe" at the Palo Alto-based company Rhyming Tributes (www.rhymingtributes.com). For $250 and a list of 15 facts about the intended recipient, you get an epic poem, a rap, or a familiar song (rewritten) about your friend.

"One of our slogans is 'we're not happy until you're crying,'" King said. "You can't get around being personal with this kind of gift."

For an additional fee, you can even buy a sung tribute.

If film is more a friend's bent, the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto and Guild Theatre in Menlo Park offer stylish gift cards; a covert way to grant your hard-to-buy-for friend a treat. The indie theaters show documentaries, art house and foreign films, providing a dose of culture to any evening out on the town. The Stanford Theatre, which shows double features of classics from Hollywood's golden age (complete with live pipe-organ music before and after shows), too offers gift cards for some good old-fashioned fun.

Want to add a little drama to a friend's life (in a good way)? A subscription to a local theater company might tickle the fancy of a supporter or would-be patron of the arts. Mountain View-based TheatreWorks offers a gift subscription.

For $89, the recipient can see three shows of their choice from the TheatreWorks season.

"It's a lovely gift and experience at a time of year when people are struggling to decide which gifts to give," Director of Marketing Sean Kelly said.

One of the most kind things you might give a friend who "has it all" is the chance to help someone who could stand to have a bit more.

One way to help the community is to donate in honor of a gift recipient to InnVision (www.innvision.org), a local charity that provides housing, emergency services and tools for self-sufficiency to more than 26,000 needy Silicon Valley individuals and families each year. Its 26 locations provide a number of supports for struggling neighbors, including shelter, food and toy drives for children, as well as a variety of social services to help those in need.

"Our resources are limited and donations are down for many nonprofits, but we have not closed a single program and continue to serve the needs of our population," Anne-Marie Meacham, director of development, said.

The website details the services each donation level funds, but you can direct your donation for the general fund or alternately, designate it to a particular program.

Meacham said that a program in particular need is the Opportunity Services Center in Palo Alto. There, homeless and at-risk people can access a wide variety of InnVision services aimed at giving them tools to make their lives more stable.

With the help of a donation in a friend's honor, you can together improve the lives of others who call the Peninsula home.

Editorial Intern Sarah Trauben can be e-mailed at strauben@paweekly.com

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