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Holiday Gift Guide

Outside the Box

The Capital Region offers an array of possibilities for gifting experiences instead of expendables

By Kathryn Geurin

Holiday season has officially exploded into full-bore festive glory, festooned with baubles, lights, tunes, trimmings and traditions. While there is sure to be a “bah humbug” or two issued over the annual hubbub, the jollier among us revel in the celebration and community woven against the blustery chill of ensuing winter. Neighbors string lights, sing carols, pause to tuck a bill in a bell-ringers bucket. Families migrate home, carve out time in busy lives to preserve generations-old rituals and recipes.

We shop for that perfect gift—decadent or modest, sentimental or silly—and bundle it in bows as a token to say “I appreciate you.”

Of course, in all the bustle of the season, even the most meticulously selected present goes awry or gets swept into the haze of holiday blur. Maybe your joy over the French wine you just knew your cousin would love wilts the instant she announces there’s a baby on the way. Maybe your choo-choo-obsessed nephew arrives decked out in dinosaurs and declares trains to be “for babies,” while a conductors cap waits for him under the tree. Maybe the vintage apron folds its way between the couch cushions, the copy of The Professor and the Madman falls behind the kindling pile, the mix CD becomes coaster to a jar candle.

Or maybe everything goes swimmingly. Then, even worse, after the whirlwind of holiday cheer, you risk succumbing to the dreaded post-Christmas crash. The lights are peeled down, the leftovers polished off, Christmas carols switch back to the Top 40 grind and falling snow starts to feel more like a parking hassle than a winter wonderland.

Luckily, a little brainstorming about the many opportunities for fun, learning and relaxation the area has to offer reveals a diverse list of out-of-the-box gift ideas—gifts of experiences, not things—that can revive the holiday spirit on some random Thursday down the road, or even till next season sparkles again.

For the performance lover on your list, tickets offer options for just about any budget. Individual tickets can be purchased well in advance for most performing arts venues. Capital Region show spectaculars rivaling New York or Las Vegas. Proctors’ lineup alone boasts the enigmatic Blue Man Group, Disney’s The Lion King, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, David Sedaris and Shen Yun performing arts. If your budget allows, a full season’s tickets can be scooped up at a steal. Capital Repertory Theatre offers full-season passes starting under $200; Albany Civic Theater has a ten-show, full-season deal for $104, and a five-show sampler package for just $53. Area theaters and concert venues from Hudson to the Berkshires offer similar deals. Or, if sports is more your thing, the Tri-City Valley Cats are already hawking tickets for next year’s baseball season. Their six-ticket mini-plans are only $30; a full-season grandstand pass will run you $185, and for $310 you can secure box seats to all of next year’s games.

For the culinary adventurer on your list, cooking classes abound. For those of you pining away for the morsels Chef Katherine Wardle used to offer up at Kismet (the spread earned her a Metroland Best Art Gallery Food), she’s cooking away up at Cooking Therapy in Rexford, where she teaches classes in crafting everything from strudels and candies to fresh pastas and chops—$75 covers the lesson, the ingredients, the delicacies prepared and maybe even a little accidental “therapy” from this psychologist cum chef.

The Arts Center of the Capital Region offers an extensive lineup of classes, with eclectic options bound to suit just about anyone on your list: $72 ($66 for members) will buy you six lindy hop, street jazz, belly dance or ashtanga yoga classes. For $45 your giftee can learn silk monoprinting—and walk away with their custom-designed silk scarf. For $100, dad can craft his own stained-glass panel; for $130, Johnny can spend two Saturdays “making music through electronics hacking and circuit bending” with Peter Edwards of Casperelectronics. The list goes on.

If someone on your nice list is more the extreme adventure type, Adirondack Soaring Club offers introductory glider flights for $65. A six-visit punchcard to Albany’s Indoor Rock Gym will run you $60, and a $240 splurge will pay for a tandem skydive at Mohawk Valley Skydiving. For the more artfully extreme, the area’s skilled tattoo artists will gladly make out a gift certificate to cash in for a touch of color during the winter doldrums.

Relaxation sound more appealing? The area boasts an array of day spas to make even the most frenetic type A melt into blissful peace. Complexions Spa in Colonie is offering a sneaky holiday special—buy a $100 gift card as a present and get a $20 one free to treat yourself. The Center for Natural Wellness Massage School offers hour-long Swedish massage for just $40. Make a pact with mom or sis or hubby to buy each other a massage and make a day of it together, followed by a glass of wine or a cozy cup of tea.

For the aspiring writer, gift a credit to Troy Book Makers where they can self-publish their work. Or start a new family tradition by having everyone contribute a story from the year, or years past, compile a volume and have the Book Makers print a copy for everyone in your brood.

For the little ones on your list, gifts of experience can be particularly rewarding. Clothes are outgrown in an instant, the latest toy fad will fizzle out. Childhood is a time for spinning memories, and what better way to do so than with a gift of time shared, fun, and maybe even a little learning?

One of the best deals going for Capital Region kids is an hour of open studio time at the Albany Art room. For only $7, including materials, your little friend can indulge in a multi-media art exploration, and you won’t even end the day with glitter in your carpet (and your hair, and your shoes and your soup). Or gift a membership to a local museum—the Children’s Museum of Science and Technology in Rensselaer was just named a Top 20 Science Center by Parents Magazine, in the company of major big-city children’s museums. For $80, a family of two adults and any number of their kiddos can become members for a full year—which gets them free museum admission, and a bunch of other perks.

That will carry you all the way till next year’s holiday season rings anew. Make it a tradition, and it will gift you with memories—and ease your shopping burden—for years to come.

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