The perfect gift: Ideas for an experience that could last a lifetime

Why wait until the new year to begin a hobby, like yoga, art or cooking?

The holidays are an excellent time to include gear on wish lists or put together a gift package for someone special — even yourself. Pair tangible gifts with a workshop, and an experiential adventure awaits.

Here are suggestions from local experts about gaining a gateway to an enjoyable new pursuit. Many of the ideas can apply to other areas of interest.

Better fitness and serenity

“There are so many people who are curious about yoga but afraid to start. I would first say to know that yoga is not a competition, it is a practice,” said Molly Schreiber, owner of Challenge to Change in Dubuque.

Yoga is a way to make stronger connections between body, mind and breath. It can lead to improved physical fitness, sleep habits and emotional state.

According to Schreiber, the best gift for a person interested in getting started is a quality mat. She explained that yoga practitioners, at any level, develop a relationship with their mats.

“You cry tears of happiness and sadness on your mat. But most importantly, you discover so much about yourself,” she said. “Your mat is your companion in this practice. It is a fantastic Christmas gift.”

In addition, those new to yoga need a block or strap to modify poses, suggested Julia Theisen, co-owner of Body & Soul Wellness Center and Spa in Dubuque. She recommended, though, contacting yoga studios to ask about other equipment for classes.

To learn yoga, Julia said, “A home practice can be a starting point, but be sure to check on instructor credentials since it’s best for instructors to have completed a 200-hour training program.”

Many local yoga studios offer on-site classes.

Theisen recommends trying different classes to find a fit, such as traditional, hot and slow flow yoga. Some studios offer package deals or a free first class. Yoga classes for kids make a special gift for that age group.

Schreiber and Theisen agreed everyone needs time to relax and gain competence in this activity. Whatever the type of class, arrive early and talk to the instructor about experience level and any special needs.

“Yoga is subtle and more than just physical,” Theisen said. “You will feel better, as a whole, and others will start to notice.”

Experience: Yoga.

Gift ideas: Mat, block, strap.

Classes: Available at Body & Soul, Challenge to Change and other local yoga studios.

The joy of creativity

If hands-on, creative activities sound fun, there are many reasons to try it out, based on the experience of Mia Nottrott, Art and Mobile Lab program director at Creative Adventure Lab in Dubuque.

“Art and creative activity is stress relief,” Nottrott said. “It gives your brain a break from your normal everyday thoughts. It allows you to use both hemispheres of your brain, and it also boosts your self-esteem by giving you a sense of accomplishment.”

Selecting gifts for emerging artists depends on their interests since there are many types of creative activities.

“Pencils, paints, a sketchbook or a canvas are always a good idea,” Nottrott said.

She also suggested a gift certificates to an art store, like Michael’s or Blick, so recipients can pick out personalized supplies once they get started. Then, look for workshops to learn basic and specialized techniques. It might be intimidating at the start, and not all art activities are the right fit for everyone.

“Don’t be afraid. The worst that might happen is you’ll find out that you’re not a huge fan of that particular creative activity, but at least you tried it and you might find another activity that you really enjoy in the process,” Nottrott said.

To keep the creative flow going all year long, Nottrott said, “Keep taking classes. In addition to that, set up a studio space for yourself at home. If you have a dedicated space, you’re less likely to get distracted and more likely to create.”

Experience: Art activities.

Gift ideas: Pencils, paints, sketchbook, canvas, gift cards.

Classes: Available at Creative Adventure Lab, Dubuque Museum of Art, Michaels Craft Store, Captured on Canvas and other local businesses.

Delicious dishes

Building cooking skills is way to eat better and a method of expression through the experience. And there are a plethora of gift options.

“When you cook at home, you can plan menus and shop for the week, choose ingredients you want to use, and make fresh, healthy meals for the fraction of dining out or using prepared meals,” said Teri Connely, owner of The Calico Bean Market in Dubuque.

She suggested starting with basic gifts. Assemble a gift package of good quality cookware, including a set of heavy-duty pots and pans, a cooker like an Instant Pot or a Crock-Pot and spices and herbs.

“Good quality products make the items you are cooking and baking so much better,” Connely said. “These are great items to add to Christmas lists.”

Amy Cordingley, registered dietitian at Hy-Vee, gave additional gift ideas, including measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls, knives, spatulas and mixing spoons and cutting boards. Combined with a gift card from a food store, these items turn into excellent gift baskets for burgeoning cooks.

“Start simple. Learn the basics and then progress from there,” Cordingley said.

To learn how to cook well, read cookbooks, watch videos and take classes. All of these can be gifts that help new cooks try recipes, practice techniques and experiment.

Several local businesses offer cooking classes, including Hy-Vee, Convivium Urban Farmstead and Northeast Iowa Community College.

“Try Indian or Thai recipes at a cooking class. Bake a challenging dessert or attend a cake decorating class,” Connely said. “There is nothing better than learning from professionals and the possibilities are unlimited.”

However, don’t strive for perfection. Cordingley said that trying new ways to cook and being willing to fail are the best methods to improve. New and more seasoned cooks learn something new every time.

Experience: Cooking and baking.

Gift ideas: Pots and pans, Instant Pot or Crock-Pot, spices and herbs, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls, knives, spatulas and mixing spoons, cutting boards, cookbooks, videos, gift baskets.

Classes: Available at Hy-Vee, Convivium Urban Farmstead, Northeast Iowa Community College.

Sherri Edwards is a freelance writer from Dubuque.

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