"The best gift I ever gave a child was a gaudy cast-iron chicken that I pulled from the metal-recycling bin. I thought it was a joke that would leave the four-year-old boy out of the loop and endear me further to his mom. Well, both of them really like it, and it props their country door open. Basically, I had to find a birthday present 'cause my wife told me so. I always complain that we should just bag it and let the material culture of birthdays suffer down. Her response: 'Well, you get him something.' So I scored at the dump and felt win-win-win all the way around."
-Charlie Wanzer, East Montpelier, VT
"The best toy gift we've received was a hatbox full of 'people.' My stepmother found this hatbox at a garage sale full of all kinds of small, palm-sized action figures. Our girls regard this collection as their cast for their various games, plays, and parades."
-Michelle Sobel, River Forest, IL
"Best by far are Grandma's and Auntie's homemade sweaters and blankets. Also, clothes, books, simple musical instruments, paints, paper-things that encourage creativity and participation and learning. An older child loved a painting I made especially for her."
-Sharon Birzer, Seattle, WA
"Best gifts include: Mancala, an African game using marbles, math, and strategic logic, which our family loves to play; a fish in a tank with a plant on top; Story Wool-pieces of colored wool that we use to invent stories; books; and an 'animal' donated to a family in need in my son's honor by Heifer International."
-Rachel Altman, Corbett, OR
"My daughter plays with her easel with colored markers every single day. It's there, it's always up, it has color, she adds to the old picture every day until it's a riot of color and ideas. And it waits patiently for her to return, unchanged until her next impulse."
-Gilda Lorensen, Portland, OR
"Ironically, some of the best gifts my daughter ever received were two very large stuffed animals-a horse and a bear. I thought both were over the top when Grandma gave them, but they have been faithful friends with many roles over the years. Because of their size, they are especially likely to be the ones riding in the old car seat, backpack, stroller, and bike seat. Lately, after sleeping with us for five-plus years, Sam loves to be snuggled (squished) between them (instead of us) in her own little bed."
-Su Zuniga, Portland, OR