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Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

This is the first year that we’ll have Christmas just the three of us. I am rather enjoying the quiet coziness of it all. We are all still in pajamas. There is lots of lounging going on. I tried to win Carla over to the joys of Home Alone, but it turns out it’s a bit old for her yet. Elf is on the agenda for later. My only job today – aside from copious cuddling, and perhaps finishing my book – is to make some rolls for dinner Friday; I will freeze them after I make them.

Family arrives on the 26th. We are not doing a special dinner because we will all have already had a big Christmas supper the night before. Thursday we go out to celebrate a birthday. And Saturday half of the family leaves, so the rest of us will either get take out or munch on leftovers. Sunday, the rest of the family leaves, which means that I will probably head to the store or scrape together some sort of Franken-meal from what we have on hand.

Still! There are meals to plan and make, so the post will go up!

Dinners (and Assorted Other Meals) for the Week of December 24-December 29

Christmas Eve: Avgolemono from America’s Test Kitchen (paywall)

Note: We have never eaten this before, much less tried to make it. I admit that I am deeply suspicious of a soup with egg in it, as I am no fan of eggs. But neither of us much wanted to make Mulligatawny soup, which was my Christmas Eve tradition growing up, and it would be fun to have our own soup tradition. We’ll see. It may end up that my husband eats it and Carla and I eat bagels or chicken nuggets. I mean, Carla has never once eaten soup as it is, so I’m not holding out much hope that tonight will be the night.

Follow up: This was NOT good. I can’t pinpoint why; maybe because it tasted heavily of chicken? Maybe because the lemony egg mixture you add to the soup gave the whole thing an unpleasant lemon-curd-with-chicken taste? In any case, I am not a fan. Even my husband, who eats pretty much anything, could not give this a thumbs up. I made a few of the rolls I prepared and ended up turning one into an impromptu pepperoni sandwich for my Christmas Eve meal.

Christmas Day:

Note: Neither of us has ever made a frittata. And, let’s be honest, it’s really for my breakfast-loving husband’s benefit. I don’t really like breakfast food, so I tend to defer to him. Usually for Christmas Day breakfast we make the Pioneer Woman’s overnight French toast. Last year we also made a savory strata. But that’s when there are more people at the breakfast table than the three of us. Carla will eat the sweet stuff, but nothing savory. So probably we’ll end up making her pancakes as per usual and my husband will end up eating most of the frittata and we’ll come up with something else for next year.

Follow up: This was delicious! I don’t normally like eggs, but this was very egg-light, with plenty of other tasty things. Our only complaint was that it seemed very salty. My husband and I agreed that next time we make it, we’ll add an extra potato, reduce the salt by at least 2/3s, and decrease the amount of bacon.

Note: Carla sometimes eats steak, so we are hoping that she’ll at least have a few bites of this Christmas dinner. When I grew up, our family tradition for Christmas dinner was a porterhouse spice roast, homemade Caesar salad, and lemony steamed broccoli. I LOVE that dinner. But a porterhouse roast seems overly ambitious for a group of three. Also, no one makes Caesar dressing like my dad, so I don’t really even want to try. Instead, we got a baby tenderloin and some mushrooms and we’ll be trying a new recipe. Who knows? Maybe it will become a family favorite!

Follow up: The beef tenderloin was wonderful — and super easy! You just smear it with some mustard and herbs and throw it in the oven. It cooks low and slow for a long time and then it is perfectly cooked and butter tender. We will definitely do this again. My mom’s mashed potatoes were, of course, amazing. And we ended up skipping anything green because we couldn’t agree on how to cook the beans.

Note: My husband loves dessert, and he is always super interested in the desserts featured on the Great British Baking Show. So we are trying a British-style dessert this year, just for fun.

Follow up: THIS WAS SO GOOD.

Wednesday:

  • Brunch: Bagels & Lox

Note: With cream cheese, capers, lemons, and onions. And fruit for the kiddos.

Note: Someone at my husband’s office has brought in this cranberry salsa a few times, and my husband is in love with it. I am deeply suspicious but I’m willing to try it.

Follow up: This was actually quite delicious! It’s super weird — a combo of flavors that don’t seem like they would work. But they DO and I found myself unable to stop. We ate this with Stacy’s pita chips, which are delicious in and of themselves.

  • Dinner: Tacos

Note: Easy and delicious. So what if it’s not typical Christmas fare? (For us. I don’t know your magical taco-eating life.) If my mother-in-law and husband hadn’t insisted on simplicity over fanciness, I would have made this pork roast from Food & Wine and possibly Ina Garten’s chocolate creme brûlée. Well, there’s always next time.

Thursday:

  • Breakfast: Pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, leftover frittata – whatever we can scrape together.
  • Lunch: Cold cuts and leftover smoked salmon
  • Dinner: Out

Friday:

Note: The BBQ pork is one of my all-time favorite SUPER EASY recipes. I throw a pork tenderloin, a roughly chopped white onion, and a minced garlic clove or two in the crockpot, then douse with my favorite BBQ sauce and a few healthy squeezes of Sriracha. Cook for 4 hours, shred, and eat. I eat my pork with a potato (which I liberally drench in sauce), but my husband prefers making little sandwiches, hence the rolls and coleslaw.

Follow up: The dinner rolls were easy to make and froze nicely. But they are NOT Parker House rolls, which is kind of what I was expecting. They are denser and… squishier than I anticipated. Still good though. Would definitely make these again.

Saturday:

  • This is where I completely give up on the pretense of cooking, not that I’ve been doing much of it. I can promise I’ll have been doing a lot of dishes anyway.

Follow up: Three loads of dishes EVERY DAY our guests were here. How is that even possible…?

Sunday:

  • Takeout????

If you’re bored this Christmas week, let me know what your traditional Holiday Meals include.

It’s beginning to snow – hooray! Happiest Christmas, Internet!

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I am assuming that you are spending all day, every day, scrolling through Gift Guides, right? There are so many gift guides, you don’t even have to THINK about what to give someone – you’ll just find it on a guide! I for one ADORE gift guides. Gift guides for book lovers… gift guides for foodies… gift guides for nerds… gift guides for survivalists… gift guides for native Iowans… Doesn’t matter WHAT the gift guide is, I will read it.

And this year, I’ve put together one of my own! I know Hanukkah is nearly over and Christmas is right around the bend, so it’s not particularly timely. It’s not well-organized and it’s long (hey, just like my blog posts!) and it doesn’t have any other theme than Things I’d Like to Give or Get. But I hope you have fun reading it. And hey – maybe you’ll find that elusive something that you’ve been looking for!

A couple of quick notes before we dive in:

There are not a lot of Gifts for Men on this list, I have to say. It’s slim pickins out there. If you’re to believe retailers, dudes like only five things: grilling, tools, shaving, farts, and bacon. I am chagrined to say that I have tools AND bacon on my list, but hey, those things are universal. (So are farts, but I get enough potty talk from the kindergarten set, so I am going to keep my gift list fart free.) (And I maintain that shaving is not GIFTWORTHY, it is an often-DAILY annoyance and should not be gift-e-tized. Whatever the “monetize” version of “gift” is.) But I didn’t even TRY to find men’s clothing options or look at tech stuff. Oh, right! That’s the sixth Category of Manly Giving: tech. I admit to total tech ignorance. My husband gives me a list of exactly what he wants and I choose from those items so I don’t get something wrong. I got him something slightly tech-adjacent for our anniversary and I am super nervous that it won’t be something he can use. Anyway, my anxieties are not part of this list. Moving on.

You will also note that some gifts on this list are Just For Fun. I am not going around spending a thousand bucks on a Scrabble wall hanging, for Pete’s sake. But it’s FUN. I wish I WERE the type of person who a) could afford to buy a Scrabble wall hanging and b) would have a room in which it fit perfectly with my décor.

Finally, I own a few of these things, some of them I want, some of them I just think are awesome. I get nothing for including these on the list except that the Amazon things include an affiliate link for which I get a few cents if you actually buy the product. (Prices and availability accurate as of the writing of this post.)

Enjoy!

 

First, here are the obligatory tools:

  1. This flashlight case strikes me as very practical for just about anybody.
Flashlight Tool Kit

photo from amazon.com

Emergency Flashlight Tool Case– Sharper Image, $49.99

  1. And for your handy friends, perhaps this magnetic wristband?
Magnetic wristband

photo from amazon.com

RAK Magnetic Wristband– Amazon, $16.99

Sticking with practical, here are some of my favorite kitchen tools:

  1. While I’ve mentioned this simple clip-on strainer before, it is so useful I have to mention it again.
Fave Things Clip Strainer Amazon

photo from amazon.com

Kitchen Gizmo Snap ‘N Strain Strainer– Amazon, $15.99

  1. My mother got this for me last Christmas. If you eat a lot of tacos or meat sauce, as we do, I think you’ll fall in love.
Meat Chopper

photo from amazon.com

ChopStir Meat Chopper– Amazon, $7.99

  1. I have waxed poetic about this one before. I use this rice/quinoa/couscous cooker ALL the time. It is SO easy.
Rice cooker

photo from amazon.com

Sistema Microwave Rice Cooker– Amazon, $12.45

  1. In the category of Things I’d Like to Own, I love this enormous cheese and crackers board.
Cheese & Crackers Board

photo from uncommongoods.com

Cheese & Crackers Serving Board– Uncommon Goods, $48

  1. Coasters fall into the category of things that I use often and always admire but that are priced way more highly than I think they ought to be. Which makes them perfect for gifting. These West Elm coasters are pretty.
Coasters WE

photo from westelm.com

Reactive Glaze Coasters– West Elm, $20 (down from $29)

  1. Salt is always a good gift. And it’s fancy salt, so it’s fun AND practical.
Salt Set

photo from worldmarket.com

Salt Journey 8-Piece Gift Set– World Market, $19.99

  1. So is super fancy jam.
Christmas Jam Quartet

photo from spoon.com

Christmas Quartet– American Spoon, $55.00

  1. You should probably add in a box of 15 croissants for your friend, to eat with the jam.
Croissants

photo from williams-sonoma.com

Classic Croissants – Williams Sonoma, $31.96

11. These breakfast molds sure are cute, if you have someone on your gift list who would eat pancakes or eggs. Unlike the unicorn fan in my household.

Unicorn Mold

photo from surlatable.com

Unicorn Breakfast Mold– Sur la Table, $10.00

Or there’s a feline version…

Cat Mold

photo from surlatable.com

Cat Egg Mold– Sur la Table, $10.00

  1. This pizza box oven is adorable.
Pizza box oven

photo from sharperimage.com

Pizza Box Oven– Sharper Image, $69.99 (down from $89.99)

On the less practical side, I love these location-themed gifts from Etsy.

  1. This travel ornament is perfect for friends who are big travelers, or for people who joined together in locations different from their home cities. (Hat tip to NGS for turning me on to this particular ornament!)
Travel Ornament

photo from etsy.com

Travel Ornament– Location Inspirations, $23.95-$55.95

  1. Or I love this wall print using the same idea.
Adventure Print

photo from etsy.com

Adventure Together Print– A Gier Design, $65.00-$272.00, depending on size

  1. Moving on, of course, to the Giant Wall Scrabble. This photo does not adequately show how giant it is.
Wall Scrabble

photo from potterybarn.com

 

Wall Scrabble– Pottery Barn, $949 (down from $999)

  1. And of course, while you’re busy playing wall Scrabble, you’ll have your robot bartender mix you a Manhattan.
Robot Bartender

photo from uncommongoods.com

Robot Bartender– Uncommon Goods, $1,150

  1. While we’re on the topic of things that are too expensive (for me), how about putting one of your parents’/grandparents’/spouse’s handwritten recipes on a cutting board? I would totally cry if I got this. (I have also seen these on Etsy.)
Cutting Board

photo from orvis.com

Bespoke Cutting Board with Handwritten recipe– Orvis, $169

  1. You could pair it with a really great cookbook. Here are two I’m eyeing:
GBBO Baking Cookbook

photo from amazon.com

Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking– Amazon, $35.62

  1. Or this one…
Ina Garten Book

photo from amazon.com

Cook Like a Pro by Ina Garten– Amazon, $20.99

  1. At Orvis, I am in love with this beautiful bowl.
Live Edge Bowl

photo from orvis.com

Live Edge Wooden Bowl– Orvis, $39-$49

 

  1. Somehow I have veered back into Practical Gift Territory (why am I so hung up on practicality?) with this supposedly easy-to-use tree stand.
Tree Stand

photo from orvis.com

World’s Easiest Tree Stand– Orvis, $119

The tree stand would be for my husband, which got me to thinking about gifts he’s actually liked – in particular, a couple of “of the month” clubs.

  1. We did Craft Coffee for MANY years – he loved that you could customize by flavor profile, grind size, etc. I don’t speak coffee so you’ll have to take my word for it that a genuine coffee enthusiast LOVED this club.
Craft Coffee

photo from craftcoffee.com

Coffee Club– Craft Coffee, $29.99-$299.88, depending on duration of membership

  1. For the past year or so, he’s been getting his other love, peanut butter, in the mail every month. One jar of plain peanut butter, one jar of fun/weird/fancy/flavored peanut butter, each from a different small batch distributor. It’s really fun! Except that we have a thousand jars of peanut butter in our house at any given moment. And I don’t like peanut butter.
PB Club

photo from amazingclubs.com

Peanut Butter Club– Amazing Clubs, $74.85-$275.40, depending on duration of membership

  1. Now this is more MY kind of club.
Gin of the Month Club

photo from spiritedgifts.com

 

Gin of the Month Club– Spirited Gifts, $225.00

  1. And of course you’d need to give some high quality tonic to go with all that gin.
Jack Rudy Tonic Trio

photo from orvis.com

Jack Rudy Tonic Trio– Orvis, $30

  1. I think you can assume if you know me in person, you’ll be getting a tea towel chosen to fit your personality at some point during our relationship.
Gin Tea Towel

photo from uncommongoods.com

Gin Lover’s Tea Towel– Uncommon Goods, $14.00

  1. I don’t normally advocate gifting art, but this is so pleasing.
Gin Print

photo from etsy.com

Gin and Tonic Wall Print– Everlong Print Co, $27.80-$59.56, depending on size

  1. This “tea” mug makes me giggle.
Gin Mug

photo from etsy.com

Gin Mug– We Are Paper Plane, $13.17

  1. Speaking of clubs, which we were a moment ago, Zingerman’s has some really drool-worthy ones:
Meat-and-Cheese-Club

cartoon from zingermans.com

Cured Meat & Cheese Club– Zingerman’s, $125 (3 months) or $250 (6 months)

  1. Do I wish I were the kind of person who needed a specialty Reuben kit? Yes, yes, I do.
Reuben

cartoon from zingermans.com

Legendary Reuben Sandwich Kits– Zingerman’s, $150-$200

  1. Mmmmm bacon.

 

Bacon Month

cartoon from zingermans.com

 

Bacon of the Month Club– Zingerman’s, $99-$400

  1. You don’t need to join a club to send the gift of bacon, though. I sent a bacon sampler to my dad for Christmas that’s less of a bacon commitment.
Bacon Sampler

photo from nueskes.com

Applewood Smoked Bacon Sampler– Nueske’s, $34.99

  1. And I am getting him this, as well, because it’s cute:
Bacon Pig

photo from surlatable.com

Bacon Bin Grease Holder– Sur la Table, $13.95

  1. Obligatory adorable bacon tea towel (and accompanying fried egg towel).
Bacon My Heart

photo from etsy.com

Bacon My Heart Tea Towel– A2D Creations, $17.95 (for two towels)

  1. And did you know there is a whole category of song lyric-pun tea towels?
Song Lyric Towels

photo from etsy.com

Song Lyric Towels– Kings Custom Design, $10.00 (for three towels)

  1. And there is also the song lyric-pun category in mugs…
Big Books Mug

photo from etsy.com

I Like Big Books Mug– The Scribble Studio, $22.95

  1. Might as well get something to put IN the mug. How about this fun variety gift for the tea lover in your life?
Tea Ornaments

photo from worldmarket.com

12 Days of Tea Ornament Gift– World Market, $14.99

  1. Or these tea drops, which I think are kind of like instant tea? I’m not sure, but I would love to try them!
Tea Drops

photo from amazon.com

Tea Drops Sampler– Amazon, $12.99

  1. I drink tea every day, so I feel the irresistible pull of a number of mugs. Here’s one for your Target-loving friend aka all your friends.
Target Mug

photo from etsy.com

Target Mug– The Bling Bling, $14.85

  1. And if you happen to know any writerly folks, I am SURE this will come in handy (she says, as she “overcomes writer’s block” by creating a massive and unnecessary gift guide).
Procrastinating Mug

photo from etsy.com

Procrastinating Mug– Unique Gift Ideas Shop, $17.95

  1. I am not sure how I would explain this mug to my five-year-old, but it makes me smile every time I see it.
Fox Sake Mug

photo from etsy.com

Fox Sake Mug– Lovely Panda Company, $20.00

  1. And, while I take issue with the comma placement on this one, I enjoy the message immensely:
Not Reading Mug

photo from etsy.com

Not Reading Enough Mug– Tea Please Co UK, $14.23

  1. Speaking of not reading enough, here’s a book I want. I bet you can think of someone who could benefit from Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words.
Eleanor Roosevelt

photo from amazon.com

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt– Amazon, $13.49

If you too are in the market for some good reading material, here are some books I read this year and loved and can recommend without reservation:

  1. So much tragedy in this novel spanning a life, but also a lot of humor, and somehow it works out to be very uplifting:
Invisible Furies

photo from amazon.com

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – Amazon, $11.59

  1. I had NO IDEA that shipping tragedies was a whole sub-genre of books! This was fantastic. It reminded me a lot of the mini-series The Terror (which was itself based on a book), but it was GREAT. Engaging and different from my normal murder-mystery fare and really well-written.
North Water

photo from amazon.com

The North Water by Ian McGuire – Amazon, $10.87

  1. Every story in this collection is perfect.
Assassination

photo from amazon.com

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hillary Mantel – Amazon, $14.51

  1. This is non-fiction for writers and word nerds. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot – although I still disagree with the author’s position on en dashes.
World Without Whom

photo from amazon.com

A World Without Whom by Emily J. Favilla – Amazon, $14.27

  1. Of course, while you are – or, ahem, the person for whom you are buying a gift is – reading one of the above, you’ll need a fancy bookmark:
Personalized Leather Bookmark

photo from etsy.com

Personalized Leather Bookmark– Mayaa Co, $14.99

  1. Last summer, in a little gift shop in the woods, I found a beautiful bookmark for a friend. It was made of inlaid wood, and I loved it. Here’s something similar:
Wooden Bookmark

photo from etsy.com

Handcrafted Wooden Bookmark– R Moore Wood Creations, $7.95

  1. Or this beautiful laser cut option…
Wooden Bookmark Mitercraft

photo from mitercraft.com

Arches Design Laser Cut Wooden Bookmark– Mitercraft, $15.95

  1. What about some reader-friendly coffee, so you can get through one more chapter?
Readers Fuel Coffee

photo from bookloverscoffee.com

Reader’s Fuel Coffee– Book Lovers Coffee, $12.50

Does this list have enough kitchen towels yet? I didn’t think so. I really am a sucker for towels. Our first set of towels has been worn out, so I recently bought a pack each of kitchen towels from Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table. They are GREAT. And it’s so pleasing to have fresh, new towels hanging above my sink and filling up my laundry room cupboards.

  1. The Williams Sonoma are thick and fluffy, and, true to their name, very absorbent.
Towels WS

photo from williams-sonoma.com

 

Multi-Pack Absorbent Kitchen Towels– Williams Sonoma, $19.96 (for three towels)

  1. The Sur la Table towels are excellent multi-purpose towels, and I love the soft blue. (Although the towels come in many other colors.)
Towels SLT

photo from surlatable.com

Striped Kitchen Towels– Sur la Table, $14.95 (for three towels)

  1. Of course, I also have a deep fondness for amusing towels – which I never buy for myself, and which I therefore think of as Great Gift Fodder. I put this taco one on my wish list for Christmas this year.
Taco Tea Towel

photo from etsy.com

Taco Tea Towel– Kitch Studios, $10.00

  1. I mean, why isn’t this in my kitchen RIGHT NOW…?

 

Taco Dreams Tea Towel

photo from etsy.com

 

Taco Dreams Tea Towel– Paper Berry Press, $15.95

  1. Speaking of tacos, which we should be, always, here’s a way to celebrate someone’s taco adoration on something besides a tea towel.
Taco T Shirt

photo from etsy.com

Taco T-Shirt– Nine to None, $22.95

  1. Turns out the same Etsy store has a TON of cute T-shirts. I am very fond of this astrological T slash warning label; you must know someone who needs this, yes? (Other astrological signs available too.)
Pisces T Shirt

photo from etsy.com

Pisces AF T-Shirt– Nine to None, $22.95

  1. There is always this adorable tee for your bookish friend or family member.
Good Day to Read T Shirt

photo from etsy.com

It’s a Good Day to Read T-Shirt– Nine to None, $22.95

  1. This is cute – bees are great (and they are currently trendy from both environmental and subversive perspectives).
Save the Bees T Shirt

photo from etsy.com

Save the Bees T-Shirt– Nine to None, $22.95

  1. Speaking of bees, I would love this fancy bee shirt from Kate Spade.
Bee Pullover

photo from katespade.com

Bee Embellished Pullover– Kate Spade, $160 (down from $228) (oh no! This is now sold out in most sizes except for XXS and XS. BOO!)

  1. There HAS to be other bee-wear out there, right? Ah yes, here we are… A lovely navy tee with bees on it. Well, I have used all of my very extensive knowledge to try to get a photo of this shirt here for you and… I failed. So you will have to click to see it. Sorry.

Bee Print Top– Forever 21, $10.90

  1. Here’s a waterproof option for your bee-wear desires. I mean gifting.
Bee Raincoat

photo from nordstrom.com

Bee Print Joules Right as Rain Packable Hooded Raincoat– Nordstrom, $74.95

  1. And bee print rainboots to go with it!
Bee Welly

photo from nordstrom.com

Bee Print Molly Welly Rain Boot– Nordstrom, $72.95

  1. This is very much my personal style, but alas, I didn’t find it until after I sent out my gift list. Oh well. Perhaps you know someone who will give it a proper home?
Bee Bracelet

photo from nordstrom.com

3D Bee Open Bangle Bracelet– Nordstrom, $85.00

  1. I am not sure I would spend $17 on a keychain, but I do LIKE this one, and if I had a friend who was REALLY into bees, I would strongly consider it.
Bee Keychain

photo from papyrusonline.com

Bee Keychain– Papyrus, $16.95

  1. I really like the idea of bee footwear, and these Toms are really cute. To be fair, the critters featured aren’t all bees. I’m okay with it.
Bug Loafers

photo from toms.com

Embroidered Bugs Slip On Shoes– Toms, $34.99 (down from $59.99)

This makes me wonder why J. Crew isn’t ALL OVER the bee trend. That seems right up their sartorial alley.

Without a bee theme to adhere to, I admit that clothes are tough to give (and receive) as gifts. I’d much rather have a Stitch Fix gift card than a sweater I might not wear. But I couldn’t resist putting these – very practical – items on the list.

  1. Who doesn’t need a beautiful sweater coat? I could totally see myself, I mean, a friend, wearing this over the Pisces T-shirt, clad in the bee wellies, sipping from the fox mug, whilst gazing out over the ocean. It’s a lot of look, to be sure, but someone could pull it off. And that someone is me. I mean, your friend.
Fair Isle Sweater Coat

photo from orvis.com

Fair Isle Sweater Coat– Orvis, $169.00

  1. These are definitely on my own wish list. They will turn your favorite boots into warm, cozy winter wear. (Boots not included.)
Hunter Boot Socks

photo from hunterboots.com

Hunter Boot Socks– Hunter Boots, $50.00

  1. I don’t know about you, but I can never have enough leggings. I have it on good authority (whose, I don’t remember) that these are da bomb. (Do people still say “da bomb” anymore?)
Zella Leggings

photo from nordstrom.com

Zella High Waist Leggings– Nordstrom, $54.00

  1. Along with bringing back early ’00s slang, I am ALL FOR the return of the fanny pack. Especially when the options are so chic.
Belt Bag

photo from markandgraham.com

Belt Bag– Mark and Graham, $99.00

  1. I love this beautiful celestial necklace.
Star Necklace

photo from anthropologie.com

 

Night Sky Charm Necklace – Anthropologie, $58

  1. As we have moved on to accessories, I am a sucker for gadgets that are supposed to give you beautiful, bouncy curls, and this headband looks like a fun and easy way to achieve that.
SoCal Curls

photo from socalcurls.com

No heat waves – SoCal Curls, $18.99+

  1. And then there’s this fun ponytail holder. Give someone in your life the gift of that rockin’ pony, won’t you?
Pony O

photo from ponyo.com

Pony-O Hair Holder– Pony O, $14.96

  1. Luxurious hand cream is something I ask for every year and have received exactly once. This year, I bought some for myself and I love it.
Hand cream

photo from beautycounter.com

Holiday Hand Cream Trio– Beauty Counter, $30

  1. My husband really wants some thick socks for cold winter afternoons spent watching football. This L. L. Bean option looks like a decent possibility.
Socks LLB

photo from llbean.com

Boot Socks– L. L. Bean, $19.95

  1. I think he’d like these slipper socks… but he expressly said NOT slippers, so I can’t decide if these are out of the running yet.
Slipper socks

photo from llbean.com

Knit Slipper Socks– L. L. Bean, $34.99

  1. Maybe he really needs a cozy throw to snuggle under. And if he doesn’t, you probably know someone who does.
Throw

photo from eddiebauer.com

Cabin Fleece Throw– Eddie Bauer, $52.50

We have reached the Kid Friendly Options portion of this gift guide. If “kid friendly” means “appropriate for my particular kid, who is roughly five years old.”

  1. I have been eyeing this educational get-stuff-in-the-mail science kit, perfect for the aspiring scientist.
Science Club

photo from stevespanglerscience.com

Spangler Science Club– Steve Spangler Science, $19.99-$219.99, depending on duration of subscription

  1. Ooooh, and I can personally endorse Kiwi Crates, because Carla has been getting crates every month for over a year. She LOVES them. They satisfy her need to build and craft and my need to feel like I’m teaching her something. There’s a crate for pretty much every age range, too, so if you have a child in your life, I highly recommend this.
Kiwi Crate

photo from kiwico.com

Kiwi Crate – Kiwi Co, $19.95-$203.40 (for the 5- to 8-year-old kit) depending on how many months you sign up for

  1. Speaking of Carla’s – and anyone else’s – need to craft, I am loving Kid Made Modern. I have given the kits as gifts, we have some of their smaller kits (in fact, we gave Carla the Go Wild craft kit for Hanukkah), and I can’t get enough. I think Carla would LOVE this library of art supplies, and I bet any kid would feel the same.
Arts & Crafts Library

photo from kidmademodern.com

Arts & Crafts Supply Library– Kid Made Modern, $39.99

  1. We have several of these little Polly-pocket-style toys. I find that they are the perfect size to hide in my purse and use to distract Carla while I’m getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist/waiting for my oil to be changed/trying to chat with my husband over a much-needed dinner out. It’s a good in-the-car toy, too. It could make a great stocking stuffer for a kid in your life.
Shopkins Secret Lock

photo from amazon.com

Shopkins Secret Lock– Amazon, $8.25 (usually these are $9.99; you can get them at Target, too)

  1. Carla is deathly afraid of bandages, but these would be a great stocking stuffer for almost anyone else.
Unicorn bandages

photo from papyrusonline.com

Unicorn Bandages– Papyrus $9.95

  1. Speaking of stocking stuffers, I suggest filling someone’s stocking with a pile of tiny snowpeople. We got these a few years ago, ostensibly as Christmas decorations. Carla LOVES them – there is something pretty wonderful about a dozen mini snowpeople cascading across your bed or dresser. I can’t really imagine I paid $23 for them though – that seems steep. But I suppose worthwhile, considering we’ve already gotten at least three years of fun out of them. (I guess you have to imagine the other eight?)
Dozen snowmen

photo from amazon.com

One Dozen Plush Snowmen– Amazon, $22.93

  1. This stained glass sticker kit makes for a fun, quiet activity for kids during those looooooong winter days.
Stained Glass Kit

photo from amazon.com

Melissa and Doug Stained Glass Activity Kit– Amazon, $8.59

  1. Carla got this camera for her birthday and she loves it. It’s very sturdy and easy to use, and it takes videos in addition to photos and selfies. Perfect for the pint sized photographer in your life.
Kids Camera

photo from amazon.com

Vtech Kidzoom Camera Pix– Amazon, $29.82

  1. Carla saw one of these at Barnes & Noble the other day (although I can’t find it on their site), and fell in love. I mean, it’s a stuffed animal with those so-hot-right-now changeable sequins; what’s not to love?
Sequin Owl

photo from amazon.com

Large Plush Sequin Owl– Amazon, $18.99

It also comes in a smaller, less expensive version, even though the image makes it look identical in size…

Sequin Owl Small

photo from amazon.com

Small Plush Sequin Owl– Amazon, $9.99

I think books make the best gifts (you can never have too many!), but I don’t have many on my For Carla list this year.

87. However, I do really want to get her this Mrs. Piggle Wiggle box set.

Piggle Wiggle

photo from amazon.com

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Set– Amazon, $27.89

If you are looking for book ideas for the three- to seven-year-old set, some of her current favorites include…

88. This perfect-for-cat-lovers book all about how similar we all are despite our differences.

Cat Book

photo from amazon.com

I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein – Amazon, $15.61

  1. This beautifully illustrated poem about Cuba’s first female drummer.
Drum Dream Girl

photo from amazon.com

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez – Amazon, $16.31

  1. This two-book series about a sentient robot. (FYI, the story might not be appropriate for all kids. It references guns a few times, and some creatures get killed, which I wasn’t crazy about. But it was a good story and Carla was absolutely rapt through both books.)
Wild Robot

photo from amazon.com

The Wild Robot Hardcover Gift Set– Amazon, $21.88

  1. This gentle book that I loved as a kid; it’s still as lovely and imaginative as it was a billion years ago.
Sand Cake

photo from amazon.com

Sand Cake by Frank Asch – Amazon, $7.99

  1. This vividly illustrated book about being yourself.
Tiger Goes Wild

photo from amazon.com

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – Amazon, $13.89

  1. And maybe a plush tiger to go with it…
Plush Tiger

photo from amazon.com

Aurora World Bengal Tiger Cub– Amazon, $10.94

  1. Or you could gift your favorite animal lover with four plush animals of your choice, with your donation in support of wildlife and nature…
Tiger WWF

photo from worldwildlife.org

Build Your Own Bucket– World Wildlife Fund, $75

  1. Also for the Big Cat lover, how about this gorgeous tiger puzzle…
Tiger Puzzle

photo from worldwildlife.org

Tiger Puzzle– World Wildlife Fund, $55

  1. Speaking of puzzles, my husband is a BIG puzzle fan, and this 2,000 piece beauty was a fun challenge (it’s enormous, though)…
Truffle Puzzle

photo from amazon.com

Springbok Tin of Treats Puzzle– Amazon, $24.99

  1. This puzzle also looks like it would fit my husband’s criteria: lots of discrete sections to work on, not a lot of blank space. Maybe you know a puzzle fan who has similar specifications?
Book Puzzle

photo from amazon.com

Vintage Book Covers Puzzle– Amazon, $17.99

  1. I may have also signed him up for a Puzzle of the Month club, which you may want to consider for the puzzle fanatic in your life. It’s such a good price for puzzles!
Puzzle of the month

photo from puzzlewarehouse.com

Puzzle of the Month Club– Puzzle Warehouse, $9.99 – $179.99

I see we have moved out of “kid friendly gift options” and into “family friendly gift options,” so might I suggest some games?

  1. My in-laws got Carla Operation for Hanukkah, and it’s just as fun – and challenging – as it was when I was a wee girl. (And it ENDS. Unlike some other kid games.) (I’m looking at you, Candyland!)
Operation

photo from amazon.com

Operation– Amazon, $11.83

  1. And we love Codenames and have gotten it for all our family members. It’s really fun.
Codenames

photo from amazon.com

Codenames– Amazon, $14.89

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Halloween is not even a week in the rear-view and I’m already dashing headlong into Thanksgiving preparations! It’s coming up in two weeks, people! This is not a drill!

This morning in a fit of… something, probably lack of desire to exercise… I took down and put away all the Halloween decorations and replaced them with my meager Thanksgiving decorations.

I love decorating for the season, and I really enjoy Fall Décor specifically, but I have a very hard time paying $25 for a wooden pumpkin, even if it’s handpainted, and even if I really like the pumpkin and pine for it each year at this time. Oh well. I keep it in my Etsy shopping cart for annual admiration, hoping each year that the shop will have a massive sale and I’ll be able to get it for $10.

You know who has surprisingly good seasonal décor? Michael’s, that’s who. I usually spend a morning in early fall, or, as seasonal buying seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, in early summer, wandering through Michael’s, admiring the stuffed scarecrows and fabric owls and tabletop gourds. Would my life be vastly improved by tabletops gourds? Probably not, but I imagine them in my life just the same.

(photos from Michaels.com; although they are all on DRASTIC sale they are not available online and very possibly not available in store either; cute nonetheless)

I don’t really know what more I NEED, by way of fall decorations. I have a plain orange pumpkin that I use to bridge the decorating gap between Halloween and fall. I have a table runner with leaves. I have a small wooden pumpkin. I have a small wooden “gratitude tree” from which Carla hangs little paper leaves on which she’s written things she is thankful for. I have a wooden welcome sign for my front door in the shape of a leaf. I removed the jack-o-lantern faces from the pumpkins, so they are sitting on the front stoop, pretending like they were meant to be fall pumpkins and not Halloween pumpkins. I have two or three ceramic leaf bowls that I can never really figure out how to incorporate; they are not quite deep enough to be candy dishes, so I think I generally use them to hold cashews or pistachios when we have Thanksgiving guests. I have a plastic Thanksgiving plate and bowl for Carla, although she may be too big for them. I saved the fall window clings from last year. I have some small wooden leaves that I don’t know how to use – but I’ll find a way, mark my words; I used small wooden pumpkins on all the windows for Halloween and they are fall-ish enough to stay through Thanksgiving.  I have a couple of fall hand towels.

It sounds like more than it is.

Oh! I also have a handful of colorful cloth leaves that I usually toss onto the Thanksgiving table. But this year, I used putty to stick them to my kitchen walls.

I don’t know if I love it; give me a day or so to think about it. (Who am I kidding? Now that they are up they aren’t coming down unless the putty gives up and they fall off themselves.)

What else could I possibly want, right? Especially because I am picky about decorations. I don’t like anything that’s made out of that scratchy material – what is it, sisal? I don’t like anything with words (my “welcome” door sign notwithstanding). I don’t generally like turkeys or pilgrims. Really, I’m a leaf and pumpkin girl, and I tend toward wood. And there are only so many wooden leaves and pumpkins a person can scatter about her house without feeling like they’re closing in.

It’s not just the decor that has me in a frenzy; it’s the food. Thanksgiving is so early this year! My parents arrive a week from Friday, which is very exciting but also makes me feel a little panicked. I need to come up a meal plan for while they’re here. The one thing I know for sure is that we’ll have this chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup for dinner the night before The Big Day. At least I have already ordered my turkey – which reminds me, I need to call and request that my turkey arrive a day earlier; DONE. – and I have dusted off my Thanksgiving Timeline. That helps a teeny little bit. I can’t really do much more until my first round of Thanksgiving shopping.

I am feeling a little bit devil-may-care this year about the food. If you know me at all, you know that I am a Huge Kitchen Control Freak and do not like anyone else in the kitchen with me. But I am also realizing that I don’t actually like any of the food on Thanksgiving – except for the garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes and gravy, which I make by the bucketful – so why should I care so much about working myself to exhaustion while insisting on making the entire meal without ANY help from my family lovingly preparing it all on my own? My mother and father both like to help. Why not let them? Such a novel idea! However, jury’s still out on whether I will actually be able to turn over the reins.

While I am throwing Thanksgiving caution to the wind, I am also contemplating doing things differently. Perhaps if I made a pie I actually like – apple, maybe! or a fall version of this plum torte that I have been dreaming about since I made it this summer – I would enjoy pie! Maybe if I made some sort of wonderful Brussels sprout recipe or a delicious mushroomy mac and cheese, I would be able to fill my plate with more than my traditional pile of mashed potatoes and a slim slice of turkey!

This is not new; I have contemplated doing things differently in the past and then stuck with our family traditions. Therein lies the problem, of course: our traditions are so ingrained beloved that we’re not going to change them. Which means that I wouldn’t be lessening the cooking load at all. I am still going to have to make dressing, because it’s my husband’s favorite. I am still going to have to make pumpkin bars, because people want something pumpkin-y at Thanksgiving. And I don’t know that I have enough bandwidth – not to mention enough oven space – to add something else to the mix.

So probably all this wild and reckless and altogether deviant thinking won’t go anywhere, and I’ll do what I’ve always done. It’s fun to think about, though.

The one shake-up I am contemplating that stands the best chance of actually happening is the gravy. I love gravy so very much. And the last time I made it, it was amazing. It was this deep mahogany elixir of the gods that I would have been happy to drink by itself. But it’s finite, you know. And you have to share it with the other people at your Thanksgiving table.

So I’m wondering if I might try to make some gravy in advance. I keep seeing suggestions for doing this, and it doesn’t look terribly hard. I mean, you have to procure chicken or turkey parts/carcass in advance, which troubles me a little. But I could probably buy some chicken wings or legs for not too much money and roast them for the gravy. And I would still make gravy on Thanksgiving Day, don’t you worry. This plan is designed to produce EXTRA gravy, not less work. I want to be eating mashed potatoes and gravy well into December, is what I’m telling you.

Well, I have a little time left to fit it into my Thanksgiving Timeline. If it works out, I’ll let you know.

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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Perhaps you are looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Or maybe you just like reading about what other people enjoy. In either case, here are some things that I am loving lately (and just to be clear, I am not getting ANYTHING in return for recommending any of these; I either bought them myself or received them as gifts):

Chef’n ZipStrip Herb Zipper

1-herb-zipper

Photo from surlatable.com

Okay, I didn’t realize this had such a ridiculous name. But it’s awesome. I got a bunch for people as stocking stuffers last year – including myself – and I use it ALL the time. It’s on sale for $6.36 at Sur La Table, if you have any people who like to cook on your Christmas list. 

Anthurium Plant

 

2-anthurium

Photo from homedepot.com

This summer, I was looking for a red lamp to add to my new office and I could not for the life of me find one I liked. But I DID find a really pretty plant with red leaf-like flowers (in a red ceramic pot) at my local Home Depot. I know, a plant does not have the same functionality as a lamp. But if you think of the lamp as more of an accessory, you will see how the plant fit the bill. ANYWAY. It is an anthurium plant, which seems to be a type of orchid. And it’s super easy to care for: I just put a few ice cubes in it each Monday and it remains lovely and shiny all week long. If you have someone in your life who isn’t great at caring for plants but who loves them AND has easy access to ice cubes, this could be the perfect gift. Okay, I am giving the Home Depot site the side-eye because I did NOT pay $32.99 for my anthurium. I can’t imagine paying any more than $15 for it. Maybe $20. I kind of want to dig through my old receipts just to prove it. Perhaps it is seasonally more expensive. If so, it would make an excellent Christmas in July gift.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

3-kung-fu-girl

Photo from kvintners.com

Riesling is my favorite type of white wine. My mantra used to be, the sweeter, the better. But my palate might be changing or maturing or something (unlikely) and I have gravitated to drier wines of late. Kung Fu Girl is my current go-to. It’s probably what I would call semi-dry, so there is a hint of sweetness there. But it’s crisp and clean and also, bonus, I can usually find it for $10.99 at my local grocery store. I’ve also seen it at World Market, if you have one near you.

Lands’ End Shimmer Down Long Coat

4-coat

Photo from landsend.com

We live in an area of the country whose winters include snow and cold temperatures. And I happen to possess the variety of child who loves snow more than anything in life. So last year, my husband bought me a down coat from Lands’ End.  It was longer than I wanted it to be – it came all the way down to the tops of my boots (also from Lands’ End). And I felt like a marshmallow. BUT. It is AMAZING. I can be wearing a t-shirt-weight shirt and jeans, and as long as I have that coat on, I feel NOTHING. I can play in the snow with Carla for hours (or until her face is red and I have to drag her inside). I can even lie down in the snow and make snow angels and feel NOTHING. It’s truly the best. And Lands’ End has really good sales on a regular basis. It’s a bit pricy at $199, but if you get a code for 40% off, you’re looking at a much more reasonable $119 for a really great, really warm coat. Oh. I just now “got” why it’s called “Shimmer Down.” I say “got” because you CAN make a pun on “simmer down” just because the coat is made of down doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

UGG Tasman Genuine Shearling Gloves

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Photo from amazon.com

Speaking of warm, these gloves are the softest, fuzziest, warmest gloves ever. Obviously, you can’t text with them on or anything. But I find they are perfect for driving before your car’s heater has kicked in. Or for, you know, being outside in general. They are pricey, at $140, but I looooooove mine so I think they might be worth it.

Bedford Cottage Eskimo Throw

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Photo from bedfordcottage.com

Perhaps you can tell that it is only 15 degrees here, based on these last three items. Well, I am in love with this faux fur throw, which is currently draped over my legs. It’s super soft and warm, but I also love it because it looks like it belongs on a chaise longue in some fancy catalog and makes me feel like the type of person you might refer to as “stylish” and “put together” and less like the type of person whose living room has seventy five Amazon boxes stacked in one corner and a bright blue toddler-height table with red, green, and yellow chairs in another corner and a giant bear from Costco behind the couch and the detritus of a Doc McStuffins vet station scattered across the hearth and pieces of a menorah puzzle strewn like tiny land mines about the carpet. You can buy it via the link above for $149, which I did not; I got it as a gift. But it’s possibly that you could find it elsewhere for less.

Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle

 

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Photo from amazon.com

I drink tea every day, and this water boiler has made it very very very simple. Just fill and press a button. And there are all sorts of temperature variations, so you can set it to the proper temperature for green tea… or black tea… or oolong… or whatever.  My husband – a coffee drinker – uses it too; on weekend for pour-over coffee. I really like that it maintains a specific temperature, too – just in case a toddler suddenly urgently needs you to come help her find proper socks. It cost $73?!?! Sheesh. That seems… excessive. Although it DOES do a nice job. And I really have no concept for how much these things do/should cost. 

Carole Hochman Ladies’ 3 Pair Ribbed Lounge Sock

 

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Photo from costco.com

I grabbed a three-pack of these socks at Costco the last time we were there (what’s a trip to Costco without grabbing something that you simultaneously NEED URGENTLY and also had no idea you needed/didn’t need at all?) and they are sooooo soft and warm and cozy. They don’t look like much from the picture, but they are cushy and plush and I love them. Also: $5.99.

Laura Mercier Hand Crème Sampler

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Photo from amazon.com

Well, crud. I see this is either $51 through Amazon or not available. My husband got it for me last Christmas, and it was a PERFECT stocking stuffer. I wash my hands a bajillion times a day, so they get very dry. And there’s nothing less appealing than that powdery feeling of dry skin – well, I suppose cracked and bleeding finger webs are less appealing. I think it was, at one point, around $30 at Nordstrom. (And, keeping in mind that each of us is comfortable paying certain amounts for certain things and not for others, I find that $30 seems just on the high side of reasonable while $51 has me shaking my head emphatically NO.) I have just in the past month squeezed the very last glob of lotion from the very last sample and I would enjoy getting this again and again each year. Also, if you don’t want to gift someone ALL of the little lotions, you could certainly open up the box and give one sample to multiple people. Including, perhaps, yourself. Of course, all this is MOOT because it No Longer Exists. But I’m sure there are many other good hand lotion sets in the world.

Scrivener

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Photo from literatureandlatte.com

This may be a bit of a niche idea, but as a (would-be/trying-to-be/hopes-to-be) writer, I use this every single day. I never thought that I would like a writing platform more than I do plain old Microsoft Word. But I LOVE Scrivener. It’s very intuitive and user friendly AND it has a very simple tutorial on how to use it, just in case. It makes putting together your novel (or screenplay, I imagine) very simple. No more scrolling down in a long document, or opening multiple documents. You just create a new chapter or chapter-part inside an outline, and then you can move parts and pieces around with the flick of your mouse, OR read your entire manuscript in one flowing document. Plus, it allows you to assign (and customize) keywords to each bit of text, from which characters show up to things you need to research to plot points and dates – which you can then use to help you organize the manuscript in different ways, like, you can see at one glance every chapter featuring your villain. It’s fabulous and it’s only $45 and I love it so. If only it could do the writing for me…

Matymats Grippy Yoga Socks and Stargoods Yoga Gloves 

Photos from amazon.com

I have newly taken on yoga as part of my at-home exercise routine. Which means I have newly discovered that my feet and palms sweat when I do yoga. What can I say. The body is a mysterious wonderland. These socks and gloves help A LOT. No more sliding around while I’m trying to do downward facing dog or a triangle pose or other horrific contortion of limbs that my body is clearly not meant to perform. Both are about $15, but both come with multiple pairs of socks/gloves, which means I can match them to my sports bra. (No.)

 

Good luck with any last-minute shopping you are doing!

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Join me, won’t you, in aggressively discussing something frivolous and distractible and wholly unrelated to The End of Life As We Know It?

First, thank you for your comments and commiseration and suggestions on my post about What to Do About All the Toys. VERY helpful, and I feel more equipped to face it as a thing to be got through rather than something I can try to control in advance.

Today, we are going Full On Holiday! Carla and I are decorating, and then she and her father and I are all going to a kids’ Christmas concert, and then tomorrow we are going Christmas shopping for our Adopt-a-Family family. Woo!

I bought some peppermint body lotion at Bath & Body Works awhile back, just because I like to smell like vaguely Christmas scented candy during the holidays. A few days ago, I decided I needed a little olfactory boost of holiday spirit and – as is my custom – I slathered my entire self in the lotion. Only to discover that it had some sort of cooling element (the mint, I’m assuming) that made my body feel like it was about to pop ice cubes out through my skin. I’m not recommending it, is what I’m saying. Unless you are uninjured but missing the cold sensation of Icy Hot or perhaps are stranded nude on a ninety-degree island. One with a Bath & Body Works store, or an internet connection.

(Today, if you must know, I went for a years-old bottle of Jingle Bellini which is faintly peachy and not in the least reminiscent of the holidays.)

(We are still talking about lotion.)

My husband and I have idly been discussing the menu for the upcoming holidays, and I am wondering something very important:

What do YOU eat on Christmas Eve? And on Christmas Day – for breakfast and dinner? And on Hanukkah, because that’s relevant too and because it’s the holiday with which I have the least food experience!

My family’s Christmas tradition, as far back as I can remember, has been to eat curried chicken and rice soup on Christmas Eve and then to eat a porterhouse spice roast for Christmas Day. My mom would make the soup, and my father and brother and I would go out delivering our homemade chocolates on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, after the presents were opened, my dad would make pancakes and bacon for brunch. (I have a vague recollection of having had coffee cake some years, but you haven’t yet lived if you haven’t eaten my father’s pancakes.) For dinner, my dad made the spice roast, accompanied by his homemade Caesar salad and lemony steamed broccoli and my mom’s goat cheese and garlic mashed potatoes. YUM. There is nothing that smells like Christmas the way his spice roast does.

My husband’s family tradition was to go to their country club for Christmas Eve dinner, and then, on Christmas Day, his mom would make a beef tenderloin. A couple of times, in the years since my husband and I have been together, his mom tried to change the Christmas Eve tradition to fondue, but I think we all felt so disgusting afterwards it didn’t really take.

But this year will be the first Christmas we’ve hosted that my FATHER isn’t here to make his spice roast. Why yes, I did make my dad cook Christmas dinner the past three years IN MY HOUSE for MY GUESTS why do you ask?

So my husband and I are dithering over what to serve. Join us, won’t you?

Christmas Eve Dinner:

My parents – for whom the Christmas Eve tradition is soup – won’t be here. So… do we go out? We don’t belong to a country club, so that’s not an option. But I don’t know what I’d cook. Roast chicken?

I don’t know that the soup has sufficiently become OUR family Christmas tradition, though maybe my husband feels differently; I should probably ask him rather than rambling on to YOU. But here we are.

Christmas Day Breakfast:

My husband has made a French toast casserole for Christmas breakfast the past few years. That’s probably what we’ll do again. It’s easy to assemble, and you do it the night before and just shove it in the oven when everyone begins to open presents.

(My husband, who loves anything and anything British, tried for a couple of years to make a Christmas bread for Christmas Day… but no one else ate it.) (I tried it; it was so dense and full of things that I just couldn’t enjoy it.)

Christmas Dinner:

Christmas dinner remains a mystery! Do we try a beef tenderloin? It sounds delicious, but I’ve never attempted it. And what if it’s a big failure? (The idea of making a failed version of my mother-in-law’s traditional Christmas meal gives me the shudders.) Same goes for the spice roast; and I am even less inclined to try that, I think, because I associate it so strongly with my dad. (Although I admit to a strong leaning toward nostalgia, and would love to have it become OUR family tradition as well.)

I do not like turkey, and have already made my one turkey for the year, so that’s out. No one in my husband’s family particularly likes ham, so that’s not a good idea. A pork roast seems… less special somehow. So I guess I am leaning toward beef. But… WHAT?

Hanukkah Food:

And do I need to think about something different and special for Hanukkah? Since the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve this year, I’m guessing I might have to switch up the soup plans for something else. Not that I have any idea WHAT. And I have zero clue how to make latkes. And zero desire for anyone else to make latkes in my kitchen. The last time my mother-in-law made latkes – which were delicious – her house was wrapped in a skein of grease and Fried Smell that was very unappetizing. Can you BAKE latkes?

All this talk about food is now making me think about what else I’m to feed our guests while they’re here. My in laws will be here for eight days. My sister and niece will be here for an unspecified amount of time.

Desserty Things:

I tend to forget about dessert, but I suppose that’s important too. Usually, my father and I make chocolates. But… this year I am not going to do so. I will miss it, but I just can’t handle the stress of hosting all these people and also trying to make artisan chocolates in my kitchen. No thank you.

My husband and I are watching The Great American Baking Competition and one of the challenges was all about cookies and bars. So he has been delightedly scrolling through Christmas bar and cookie recipes.

I think I’d be happy with these faux-Twix bars, which are easy and delicious.  But I’m wondering a) what kind of holiday sweets YOU make and b) what you serve for dessert on Christmas/Hanukkah/etc.

Meals Surrounding Christmas:

Breakfast will be… I don’t know. Yogurt? I guess I’ll get some eggs and bacon and milk just in case… I don’t really do breakfast. My child does, of course, but it’s usually frozen pancakes or waffles or cereal or toast and yogurt. I have lots of THOSE THINGS on hand.

Lunches are not my forte, so I suppose I will do what I always do when we have guests: Get a bunch of cold cuts and fancy cheese and crackers and olives and encourage people to help themselves. There will be bread and PB&J and grilled cheese ingredients. (Side note: I am terrible about estimating what we need, and inevitably wind up with WAY too much food. Bleh. I am not looking forward to that part of things, the part where I throw away a bunch of perfectly good food [and money]. And idea how to get more appropriate amounts – without having to go to the grocery store every day?)

Dinners, I can do. I have already purchased the ingredients for this mushroom and spinach lasagna. I’m making one for a friend, and I thought I might as well make TWO and freeze one to eat while my in laws are here. I’ve made it before and it is, as the website implies, damn delicious. So that’s one night taken care of.

Another night is my father-in-law’s birthday, and we’ll go out. So we’re down to needing meals for six days – two of which I addressed at length above.

I’ll probably do boeuf bourgignon one night – or, maybe, instead, I’ll do a coq au vin (which is really the same thing, but with chicken instead).

And maybe tacos another night, since Carla LOVES tacos. Bonus: they are super easy. Double bonus: They are my favorite.

Aaaannnndddd…. Maybe this pork loin with wine and herb gravy? I’ve done it once before, and it was easy and pretty tasty. Maybe with a salad and some… roasted potatoes?

That leaves one more night. I think we will go out. Two nights out in the course of an eight-day visit doesn’t seem excessive, does it? I hope not, because I may have just blacked out a little thinking about all the dishes I will be doing. Or! I passed a local restaurant the other day that had a sign out front with two irresistible words: ORDER PIZZA. Maybe that’s what we’ll do!

What do YOU like to serve when you have company? Extra points for easy.

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As a form of self-care, I am doing my VERY best to steer clear of news and social media and relatives who like to talk about politics and the state of the world. It may not be SMART to just put my head in the sand, but it is HEALTHIER – for ME – than my previous state of Engaged And Informed But Also On The Edge Of A Panic Attack At Any Given Moment.

So! I am now going to be ostriching myself straight through the holidays! So far, I have managed to not fill my Christmas list up with survivalist gear and have successfully supplanted terrified googling of “what happens if another country bombs us” with endless Buzzfeed lists of What To Get For Some Very Specific Person On Your List.

Anyway!

Snow – actual, heavy snow that is sticking to the ground as I type! – is falling and I’m beginning to feel a tickle of holiday giddiness. But it seems that this year I have some Questions.

We have one set of grandparents whose love language is Financial Planning and another set whose love language is Gifts. I am trying very very hard not to express a preference, because both sets of grandparents are far too generous and kind and thoughtful for me to ever properly express my gratitude. My daughter, my husband, and I are all extraordinarily fortunate to have such loving people in our lives.

But we have TOO MANY TOYS. Too many. I know, I know – when you have kids, there will be toys. Yadda yadda. But it’s beginning to drive me crazy. I feel lucky it’s taken nearly three and half years to reach this point.

What I’m asking here is, have you any advice for… keeping the NEW toys to a minimum?

My husband and I are getting our daughter three gifts. Two are toys, and one is a set of books. That to me feels like PLENTY. Her Financial Planning grandparents have in the past – and we have no expectation of ongoing or future support! I am simply musing on this as a possibility – added some money to Carla’s college fund, and then they may also send A Toy, which I get; they want her to have something to open on Christmas.

And then the Gift Giver Grandparents – The Triple G, if you will – are going to unleash a torrent of toys on my child that I can only envision as a raging river of wooden vegetables and mismatched doll shoes and magna tiles and puzzle pieces and stuffed animals. I’m grateful! Truly! They think of her often and want to delight her and that is WONDERFUL! But. It’s making my chest tight just to think of it.

The other thing is, Carla is three and a half, and she has a limited attention span. She gets bored and, frankly, overwhelmed by the present opening process. I don’t want to be impolite and allow her NOT to open something, when the gift giver is right there, eager to see her little face light up in response to the treasure concealed beneath glittery wrapping paper. But I also don’t want to force her to overload her brain. And it is cranky-making, to be playing happily with one toy, and to have your family prod you into opening something else when you just want to KEEP PLAYING.

Was it last Christmas – no, I think it was two Christmasses ago – when the gift unwrapping took FOREVER. Hours and hours. I thought I might go mad. And poor Carla was SO overwhelmed. (Part of the reason may have been that we had ALL family members here. We have since switched to One Set of Grandparents Per Holiday, which eases the pressure a bit.)

We have asked the Triple G to limit their gifts to THREE, which seems reasonable and will still likely result in my eventual burial beneath a heap of lego blocks and Elsa gloves and doctor tools and My Little Ponies. But – how do I say this kindly, because I KNOW they are simply excited and full of love and generosity and certainly not malice? – they are not hearing us, I don’t think.

What do you DO in that situation?

I recall some other bloggers who did things like… whittle the present pile down to something manageable before Christmas, and then hold out some of the gifts for later in the month/year. I could totally see keeping a few presents in check and then handing them out over the TWO WEEK HOLIDAY BREAK what are we going to DO during all that time OMG.

But… that seems much simpler to accomplish when the gift givers aren’t present. When they are – when they’ve traveled thousands of miles to be with their beloved grandchild on Christmas Day – it seems pretty cold to say, “Nah, we’re going to save your present for next Tuesday.”

(You might say, well, perhaps you could hold back YOUR gifts. To which I say, pfffffffft. No.)

(TANGENT AHOY! I have suddenly thought of a NEW question, which is: who, in your family, is Santa? My in laws have often exchanged gifts with tags from “Rudolph” and “Mrs. Santa” etc. But… I kind of have this selfish feeling that Santa gifts should be from ME AND MY HUSBAND. Is that reasonable? Is that how you do it? Why am I feeling so petulant about Christmas this year?)

(And, if you have children, do you give your child gifts from Santa AND from you? I can’t remember what my parents did! I think mainly it was gifts from Santa.)

One happy option, I suppose, is Hanukkah, which overlaps Christmas this year. Perhaps we could spread out the Christmas gifts over the eight days of Hanukkah? My husband didn’t get a gift every night of Hanukkah when he was growing up, but potentially we could make an exception this year? (Will that set a bad precedent?)

Does that mean I need to get my niece eight Hanukkah gifts, though? That seems excessive. I would certainly not want my sister to feel obligated to get Carla that many presents.

ACK. TOO MANY PRESENTS. Let’s call it all off AND, on top of that, let’s collect all toys we currently own and donate them to charity!

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