"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 scrapbook

THE GIFTA scrapbook of friends and family, far and wide

Ricah Marquez, 40, Tallahassee, Fla.

RICAH MARQUEZ HAD never had any great luck with milestone birthdays. "I was either in trouble with my parents (age 18), didn't have many friends (age 21) or had recently moved to a new town so I didn't have anyone to celebrate with (age 30)," she says. "I promised myself that 40 would be different."

But Ricah, a contract archaeologist, didn't have time to plan her 40th birthday celebration, so her sister, Kristy Kenney, 29, volunteered. "All I wanted was to be surrounded by family and friends at a cozy restaurant, eat a delicious meal and drink a lot of wine," Ricah recalls. "I didn't want gifts—I can buy stuff myself."

The night of the party, Kristy delivered on her sister's wishes. "She did everything," Ricah says, "and it was just great: a fantastic dinner in a private room at an unusual restaurant, with 12 friends and family members. It was exactly what I had dreamed about."

Except for that "no gift" part. As dinner was winding down, Kristy handed Ricah a present that money alone could never buy: a photo album titled Happy Birthday, Ricah! with a photo of her as an adorable 1-year-old on the cover. As the birthday girl started flipping through the book, she realized that all her friends and family, including her two brothers as well as relatives she kept up with in the Philippines, had sent along pictures and favorite anecdotes about her. "I was speechless," she says. "I loved the fact that people submitted photos I had never seen before, and I liked discovering what was their best memory with me. My friends are low-maintenance people; either they're busy or I'm busy, and we all live in different cities. So to see that they took the time to contribute meant so much. These are the friends I will keep for the rest of my life. For once on a milestone birthday, I felt special."

 

MAKE YOUR OWN BOOK

OPTION 1 ($)

Kristy used the good old print-and-paste method, but websites such as shutterfly.com, smilebooks.com and snapfish.com make the job go faster. Prices start at $10.

OPTION 2 ($$)

Blurb.com is known for its highly customizable products. Mixbook.com lets you turn your family memoirs into a "year in review" book. Prices start at $13.

OPTION 3 ($$$)

At pinholepress.com you can make spiral-bound and accordion-style books as well as personalized cookbooks. Prices start at $25.

 

THE GIFT: A poster of her favorite place on earth

Jen Otter Bickerdike, 42, Kingston upon Thames, England

IF HOME IS where the heart is, then what better way to Jen Otter's heart than giving her a piece of her beloved hometown?

"I love, love, love Santa Cruz, Calif., where I grew up. To me, it is the most beautiful place in the world," Jen says. "The day before I moved to the U.K. for grad school in 2009, I swam in the ocean and said a little prayer, asking for the strength to leave behind everything I loved." That included a giant, vintage poster of the Santa Cruz boardwalk that had hung on her wall for a decade. "It was far too big to bring with me to England," she says. "All I could bring was the inspiration my hometown gave me."

Fast-forward to 2010 and Jen's 38th birthday. She had been dating James Bickerdike for less than a month, but she had already told him about her outsize love for all things Santa Cruz. Clearly, James was a good listener. When Jen opened up her birthday present, she was stunned to find a smaller version of that adored Santa Cruz poster she'd left behind. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "It was like, after years of dating and having my heart crushed a zillion times, here was someone who finally got me—someone who had listened and taken the time to celebrate the things that mattered to me. It was the best present I ever received." James got something to treasure, too: He and Jen married 30 months later.

 

MAKE YOUR OWN POSTER

GET YOUR OWN

James found the Santa Cruz poster at allposters.com. Also check out cafepress.com, posterrevolution.com and zazzle.com. Prices start at $3.

DISPLAY SPECIAL INTERESTS

Film buffs might like cinemasterpieces.com and filmposters.com. For music lovers, there are vintage concert posters galore at concertposterart.com and wolfgangsvault.com. There's also sportsposterwarehouse.com for armchair jocks.

KEEP IT PERSONAL

Turn a favorite photo into a poster at posterburner.com, posterdog.com or postermywall.com. Prices start at $4.

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