"The Best Gift I've Ever Gotten"

Actually, these lucky women got two gifts. One was a personalized memento. The other was all the love that went into making it.

homemade gift music video

THE GIFT: A music video about her life

Judy Schell, 73, Southern Pines, N.C.

"MOTHER, I HAVE something funny to show you!" It was 2011, and Judy Schell was about to get the surprise of her life on her 70th birthday. When her son, Glenn, 35, turned on the television in his mom's North Carolina home, Judy was greeted by a four-minute music video, but not the kind you'd see on MTV. This one was personal—wonderfully personal. On the screen were Judy's family and friends, singing along to a tune they called "It's Judy's 70th Birthday!" The song paid homage to all things Judy: her love of the clothing store Talbots; her adoration of Jessica Fletcher of the old TV mystery show Murder, She Wrote; her decades-long crush on singer-songwriter Neil Diamond. The video featured all four of Judy's kids—Celeste, 43, Colleen, 41, Andrea, 39, and Glenn—as well as Judy's husband, Scott, 73. "I was shocked," Judy recalls. "I just stood there crying."

The video was Andrea's idea. "We couldn't afford to get our mom a diamond ring or a trip to Morocco," she says, "so I thought, What else would be really, really awesome? I'm a performer, and I know all the things she loves in life, so I wrote the lyrics and melody to a song. Then I e-mailed it out to everyone, including cousins and friends, asking each one, "Can you record yourself singing along to this part and send it back to me?" Not everyone was technologically savvy, of course, so some people just waved at the camera and sent that. But it was crazy how easy the project was. Everyone wanted to be involved."

The effort was not lost on Judy: "I've shown it to every one of my friends, and they always say, "My child never gave me anything like that!" I was recently in line at the DMV and showed it to a friend, and he cried! This was definitely the best gift ever—10 times better than any diamond they could have given me." Even if Neil Diamond himself had presented it to her. (Click here to watch the video yourself.)




"Anyone can make a video like this," Andrea says. "An iPhone has all the capabilities for recording audio and video. It doesn't have to be a massively produced thing."


Video apps, such as the ones at animoto.com, magisto.com, stupeflix.com and videolicious.com, let you arrange photos and videos into a professional-looking package. Choose from a variety of themes and tunes—or add your own music. The videos are easy to share on your computer, tablet and phone. 


Many of the apps and programs are free.