Thoughtful Gifting

Lots of ways to make your gifts mean more this year

While doing research for this year’s Gift Guide (read: shopping all over town), I obviously kept my eyes open for items that would fulfill and exceed my giftees’ holiday wish lists. In doing so, I saw a lot of unusual gifts at local stores but also a few common themes throughout their festive stock.

For instance, I was surprised to see how many personalized items were on sale for holiday gifts. In speaking with many shop owners, it was clear that people are choosing this year to give gifts that have more meaning than the usual Christmas gifts of socks, ties or home decor. Instead, we seem to be buying personalized gifts.

Susan Gilson of Gilson’s Engraving (7116 Miami Ave., Madeira, 513-891-0730) says they offer something different than the personalized gifts you might find on the shelves of local stores.

“Every piece in our store starts out blank,” she says. “You pick the monogram, font style, phrase and where you want it.”

Gilson says all engraving is done in-house and is ready the next day.

Looking for traditional personalized gifts for the holidays? Gilson suggests baby Christmas ornaments, engraved wine ornaments and toasting flutes. Year-round she says they receive requests to engrave a tray to the exact design of a couple’s wedding invitation, which would be a great gift for the newlywed couple. Gilson says most items start at $19.99, with personalization included in the price, and can go higher depending on the intricate design you request.

Smaller coin purses are also a popular gift-giving item; Gilson says many people buy a dozen to give as Christmas gifts for their entire list. Other traditional favorites include engraved glass candy bowls, lockets, cuff links and other items that people will hold on to for a long time.

“(Personalization) is a niche that some people really enjoy,” Gilson says. “It’s a very traditional thing and often runs in families. If you grew up with personalized gifts, you tend to appreciate them more and understand why they’re treasured gifts.”

Gilson adds that her husband, Tony, is a hand engraver who can match old engravings on new items. They also have computer programs to engrave initials, monograms and phrases on newer items. But they follow tradition — Gilson says due to personalized gifts being a trend among families they’ve often done work for generations of families.

“We have mothers who have come here for years, then their daughters start coming,” she says. “We’re very traditional.”

The Burning Edge (7723 Tylers Place Blvd., West Chester, 513-777-1500) is another store that provides custom engraving on various items, including those made of marble, glass, leather and ceramic tile. Or you can find pre-made personalized gifts at local stores, such as the Art of Entertaining (2019 Madison Road, O’Bryonville, 513-871-5170), which sells wine stoppers stamped with one initial. Another way to get in on this trend is to order personalized holiday cards and party invitations at local paper stores like the Margot Madison Creative Stationery store at 2026 Madison Road in O’Bryonville (513-871-2069).

‘Adopting’ animals, partying for a cause

With the economy the way it is, fewer people are giving to charitable organizations, instead tightening their own purse strings to focus on select gifts for their families and friends. Why not combine the two ideas and buy a charitable gift for someone on your list?

One great gift that keeps giving is the A.D.O.P.T. program at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. With this program, the zoo offers you or your giftee the chance to “adopt” an animal or plant at the zoo, from “the tiniest Leaf-Cutter Ant to our largest Asian Elephant,” says Nita Douglas, development manager.

“All of the A.D.O.P.T. animals reside here at our zoo and the donations to the program go toward the feeding, care and enrichment of each animal,” she says. “This is a great program to participate in because we have … the third largest animal collection in the nation and strive to take the very best care of each animal.”

The gift-giving option starts at $30 for an official certificate, color photo and educational fact sheet about your selected animal or plant. As the pricing increases, so do the benefits: At the $50 level you’ll also receive an exclusive animal ornament; $100 level also receives 25 percent off a Zoo Shop purchase; $250 level also receives a docent-led zoo tour for six people; $500 level also receives docent-led zoo tour including behind-the-scenes tour of the commissary for six people; and $1,000 level also receives a meeting with the animal keeper and a distinguished donor membership into the Andrew Erkenbrecher Society.

Douglas adds that the donations from the A.D.O.P.T program help to offset the costs of providing games to keep each animal healthy and mentally sharp as well as to help the staff — including zoo keepers, veterinarians and one animal nutritionist — work to “prepare hundreds of pounds of human-grade food daily. If it isn’t fit for us to eat, we won’t serve it to our animals.”

To learn more about the Cincinnati Zoo’s A.D.O.P.T program, visit their Web site at or call 513-281-4700.

There are many charitable events that offer a good time and a good way to donate during the holidays. Simply attending the Victorian Holiday Village presented by Ohio National Financial Services downtown (513-794-6100) will help out the Freestore Foodbank. This event features festive holiday lights, child-sized decorated houses and free photos with St. Nick. All they ask in return is a donation of nonperishable food.

Or take a friend to the Newport Syndicate Dec. 12 for an evening of music by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Tickets are $10-$25 and donations benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Log on to for more information.

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