Aunts who don't have children spend an inordinate amount of energy and time plotting ways to spoil their nieces and nephews. That was me for a lot of years -- I've got 24 nieces and nephews, almost all of whom were born prior to my Gem. (Now I've got 14 great-nieces and -nephews too!) I have one other sister (Jay) who was a similarly late starter. (We're not the youngest, not even close.)
Jay and I loved and spoiled our nieces and nephews to the fullest extent permitted by their parents. We took the girls to tea at fancy hotels, all the kids to the zoo and the park, for rides on the street car, to movies, baked with them, read with them, and generally loved them. They could sleep over and destroy my house turning the living room into a fort with every pillow they could find. My husband would just shake his head and smile. He was powerless to resist. (You know he loved it.)
For birthdays and Christmas, Jay and I would scour the stores to find just exactly that one gift that would speak to each child. ND was making his 4th birthday. Jay and I were leaving Macy's and she picked up a little striped tee shirt on the way out. It was an afterthought, really; a cheap sale item.
ND blew out his candles, opened that box, and it was love. He pronounced it "the Toppletan" (?who knows?) and wore it constantly. If it was dirty, he would dig it out of the hamper. His mother (our sister) would complain about the Toppletan -- ND wouldn't take it off! For Jay and me, the Toppletan came to mean the gold standard in gifts. I love to make or find exactly the thing that will speak to the person's heart, that will be just what is needed to make him or her feel special. When I shop, I am in search of the Toppletan.
Teachers usually get presents several times a year. When I taught full time, I used to love the special handmade cards and pictures I got for various holidays, my birthday, and teacher appreciation day. My husband used to love the bath salts, which I would just hand straight over to him when I got home. (What can I say? I'm a shower and go girl.) Now that I no longer work in a school, he reeeeeally misses teacher appreciation day, poor guy.
I have used the expertise built up over years of teaching to find the really good teacher presents for Gem's teachers. A couple of gifts I've given that I think her teachers liked best were gift certificates for a car wash (a really clean car is luxury) and homemade candied pecans.
I think I scored an end-of-the-year teacher Toppletan last May. Gem drew a couple of pictures and I used my color printer to make them into note cards. It was easy to find envelopes to fit and I used grosgrain ribbon to wrap 10 cards and envelopes together. Teachers always need note cards, and these are much more meaningful than some I could just buy in a store. I got such great feedback from her teachers, I gave them to grandparents (aunts too!).
I usually shop for presents all year long. When I find what I think someone needs, I wrap it and stash it until the occasion presents itself. (OK, sometimes I can't wait and I just have to give it to them right away.)
Last year, I saw the "Easy Reach Grabber." (a steal at under $5) I right away realized that every little kid needs one. I'm sure I needed one when I was a kid if only such a thing had existed in my world. It was last Christmas's Toppletan. Several hours on Christmas day were spent poking around the marsh in back of Memaw's house by children who couldn't care less about the expensive video games languishing upstairs.
This year, I've got binoculars. And LED headlamps. Now that's what I'm talking about. The Toppletan.