Birthdays are coming up, and it’s made me think of gifts and gift-giving. Sometimes the most thoughtful, loving gifts can fall flat – and spur of the moment gifts can end up being unexpectedly valuable and long-lived.

I got a pin cushion for my birthday when I was maybe six years old. Or maybe seven or eight, whatever – a very very long time ago. It was given to me by a girl whom I didn’t really know, the daughter of some acquaintance to my parents, who just happened to be nearby when I had my birthday, or something random like that. And she probably happened to have just finished it. I have no memories of the girl. But I still have the pin cushion, and I still use it.

A similar “hey here’s a crafts project I had in a drawer at home” was given to us when we moved into this house five years ago. We had a housewarming party and invited the neighbours. A lady and her daughter from across the street came by and gave us a crocheted potholder. It just so happened that the potholder was green and white which matched our other potholders pretty well, as well as most of the rest of the kitchen. It’s still in use.

During my years at university a crafty member of one of the clubs made hand-painted mugs for each of the club members. I got one, too, even though I never drank tea or coffee. She knew it, but was kind enough to give me a mug nevertheless. It’s been with me through the various moves since then, packed away and unpacked, but never really used much. Then the kids came along, and Ingrid loves colourful mugs much better than plain old glasses. So now the mug is in constant use.

Another unexpectedly useful gift was a toaster we got as a wedding present. We did not then own a toaster and had never thought about needing one. And I myself still almost never eat toast… but the rest of the family do. So it’s still with us, still looks stylish and works well, and earns its keep every weekend morning.