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Column: Spending time with loved ones is the best gift

Seeing culinary goddess Ina Garten. People in seats intensely studying herbed fromage blanc in her book. Woman next to us literally started sobbing when Ina came out. Thunderous applause from the theater on mention of lemon skillet chicken. And now we know Jeffrey’s favorite root veg is celery root.

STEPHANIE HAYES | Times

Seeing culinary goddess Ina Garten. People in seats intensely studying herbed fromage blanc in her book. Woman next to us literally started sobbing when Ina came out. Thunderous applause from the theater on mention of lemon skillet chicken. And now we know Jeffrey’s favorite root veg is celery root.

Think about the last, oh, three things you got as gifts. Now think about who got them for you. Think about how you felt when you got them.

Tough, right?

Now, think of the last great experience you had with someone.

I'll go first. For her birthday, I took my mother to see Ina Garten at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. (That's us to the right.) We had dinner first at Maestro's Cafe, then headed in to hear Ina tell stories of running her famous Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons. We admired the fans gripping cookbooks and breathlessly asking Ina the bread shops she liked in Paris, how to use saffron, whether or not to freeze biscotti dough. We left with a hug, agreeing it was a much needed distraction from life's worse woes.

I was already in Camp: Experience Gifts before Ina. But in a post-Ina world, I'll never go back. Don't get me wrong. Stuff can be a good gift option, especially when said stuff is particularly useful or speaks to the heart of a person ("Molly grew up asking for a purple stegosaurus, and these socks are covered in them!").

But memories can be better than the coolest beer koozie. You can't buy time, but you can buy time with someone. That's what our holiday gift guide is all about this year.

GIFT GUIDE: Skip the stuff and buy your friends and family cool experiences

Our writers and critics, who advise you on what to do with your free time every weekend, have put their minds to the holiday and come up with suggestions for bonding activities.

We've got ideas for outdoorsy outings including golfing and boating. Tampa Bay has a slew of hot concerts coming next year, from the Weeknd to Shawn Mendes to Bruno Mars. Want something on the quieter side? Think spa treatments. Got some weird stuff to work out with a friend? Head to an escape room and call it therapy.

If money is tight, think about offering to make a meal for someone you love or simply pledging to make time for a monthly walk. Or do something to help them relax. (See Ellen Clarke's suggestion about making a personalized coupon book.)

If you read this list and have something to add, please email me or tweet me at @stephhayes. I'd love to hear your own suggestions because I have a whole family to buy for, too.

And take heart. Just as that coffee table book of cityscapes was a bomb gift in 2010, sometimes the experiences don't work out so idyllically. Make sure to do your research and hold onto your receipts.

I'll go again. I bought a kayaking trip for my fiance last Christmas via Groupon. We were ready to head out on the water on a beautiful Saturday when the company called off the trip at the last minute "due to high winds." We walked outside and the leaves were barely rustling.

But that's life. And isn't it fun to live?

Column: Spending time with loved ones is the best gift 11/29/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 11:45am]
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