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Archive for the ‘Spending Money’ Category

Recently, I did something I’d never done before: I went to an exercise class.

Maybe saying “never” is inaccurate. First of all, it’s possible that I just don’t remember taking a class before. I recently talked to my dad about hiring someone to stretch the carpet in our upstairs hall and he said that I’d done that a few years ago and the person I’d asked said it wasn’t possible. Welp. Just blocked that right out of my head didn’t I. And then my husband referenced in an off-hand way the time he cut his finger so badly we had to go to the emergency room. Um. Whatnow? I have zero recollection of this supposed emergency injury. So I admit there could be an exercise class or two knocking around in my history somewhere.

Does this count? I know I went to a yoga class once, when my husband was in medical school. It was TERRIFYING because I was less outgoing then than I am now (not that I would ever in a million years describe myself as “outgoing”) and I went without a friend. And the instructor was very off-putting for reasons I cannot fully recall or articulate, but seem to be related to a) how clear it was he wasn’t wearing underpants and b) how he loudly declared that gas and other body noises were a common part of the practice, so let ’er rip and that was deeply unsettling to a Very Self-Conscious and Easily Embarrassed Twenty-Five-Year-Old. Also the class was crowded and I had no idea what I was doing and it was enough to put me off exercise classes of any sort for more than a decade.

ANYWAY. My friend asked if I would go to this class with her, so I automatically had a higher comfort level than with Yoga Gas Guy. Plus, I have done many a workout video in the intervening years and I feel more confident about my endurance and capability when it comes to exercise.

But it was a new experience, and I had to overcome a lot of internal resistance to say yes. So in case you are similarly curious about trying a class, but are deathly afraid of it, here’s my experience.

It was one of those barre classes, which is supposedly a combination of yoga, Pilates, and ballet. For years, I’ve heard about these barre classes and reacted with narrowed eyes and deep suspicion. Anything involving ballet should not involve me, is my general feeling. But I went online and read the website, which was very helpful: it explained exactly what to bring (water and sticky socks if I wanted them) and that all props would be provided. I didn’t know what “props” meant, so I asked my friend if I needed to bring a mat and it turned out that’s one of the props. (The other props turned out to be hand weights, a resistance band, and an exercise ball.)

I got there early and met the instructor and told her I was a newbie. She was super nice and told me things that went straight out of my head. Okay. Whatever. I used the bathroom, exchanged my shoes and normal socks for sticky socks (these are the ones I use; they are perfectly adequate and WAY less expensive than the $20-per-pair [!!!] socks you can buy at the barre place) (don’t buy these ones; the sticky spots don’t cover enough of the foot and I kept slipping when I wore them), and went into the room. Excuse me: studio.

It’s a big room with mirrors on three sides and a long ballet barre running along the mirror. We all got a couple of weights, a towel, and a resistance band, and went and picked a spot at the barre.  (The exercise balls were already tucked up on the barre all around the room.)

One of my worries about classes was that I would be the only one who didn’t know anyone. But that either wasn’t the case or didn’t matter. My friend had another friend there too, so they talked while I looked around and tried not to be too nervous. A lot of people seemed to know each other, but just as many seemed to be there by themselves. Some people chatted, some people just stood there silently.

One of my other worries was that I would be the only person with my body type. It doesn’t MATTER, of course, but I am self-conscious of my body and I was fretting that everyone would look like my friend, who has a more standard-of-current-beauty-trends body shape. I made myself go anyway. And it was okay. There were LOTS of different body types represented. The women were all different ages and races and shapes. That was a big relief.

When it came time for the class to start, the instructor put on a headset microphone and went to the front of the room – which turned out to NOT be the front of the room; any of the walls that had a mirror was fair game for being the “front,” so the only way to avoid being at the front was to stand in one of the far back corners, which I wouldn’t advise because it makes it so hard to see yourself in the mirror. She had all of us spread out all over the room and then she led us in a series of exercises. These were varied: yoga-type stretches, squats, modified burpees, 80s-style aerobics moves. It was fast paced and very hard, but she moved from exercise to exercise so quickly that it was still do able. And people were kind of doing their own thing. She would sometimes shout out a modification if you were having lower back pain or if your knees aren’t super great or if you are a beginner. And people were doing the modifications. Then she moved us to the barre, where we did some core and leg work with the exercise ball. This was SO HARD. My legs were shaking like crazy. But the instructor’s legs were shaking too, and so were my friend’s. So I figured it was just part of the deal. Then the instructor pulled out some yoga mats and we did floor work, some of it with the resistance band. And then we did some stretches and it was over. It went by surprisingly quickly. She played upbeat music at a nice loud volume the whole time, which I enjoyed.

One of the other things I was self-consious about was messing up and feeling stupid. But that quickly became a non-issue. I noticed what other people were doing, but more in a general sort of way. Like, I had the sense that some people were facing the barre for some of the thigh exercises while others had their backs to it, but it didn’t really register that Specific Woman was doing so, if that makes sense. So I don’t think anyone was looking at me, specifically, and critiquing my warrior pose or whatever.  Mainly, I was watching the instructor to see what I should be doing and to match her rhythm… or I was looking in the mirror at myself, trying to make sure my knees weren’t bending out over my toes or my back was straight.  And I figured that everyone else was doing the same. That helped me relax a little.

It was an hour-long class, and by the end of the hour, my legs were so weak that I literally could not walk down the stairs. Luckily, there was an escalator to the ground floor, but my friend walked down it and then had to stop and wait for me because my legs were no longer obeying my commands. And then I had to drive my stick-shift car home and it was nearly impossible.

But I really enjoyed the class. It was different from my normal workout video or treadmill routine. And I liked being pushed to do things I wouldn’t normally try on my own. So I signed up for another 10 classes, and I have been going about once or twice a week. I wouldn’t say that it’s fun, but it is very satisfying.

One of the things I hate about exercising is that the results aren’t immediate. Dieting is different: if I burn more calories than I take in, I see an immediate result on the scale. But exercise takes so much MORE than dieting – there’s all the time it takes, and the energy you have to put into running or barreing or whatever, not to mention the mental wheedling/cheerleading/bullying you have to do to get yourself to do it in the first place – and yet you have to wait for WEEKS, MONTHS EVEN before you see any difference at all. So I am not going to say that this class has in any way helped me lose weight. I haven’t really seen any body changes at all, but then again, I haven’t been going that long. But I think the class is enjoyable on its own. It’s challenging and a change of pace and all that.

I am not sure I will buy another block of classes when I’m done with this one; it’s very expensive and I have yet to decide whether it’s worth it. And I don’t know that I want to ask for it for Mother’s Day or something like that; that seems like a gift designed to make me feel irritated and sad, even if I ask for it specifically.

Oh! The other thing I wanted to tell you is that I have very sweaty palms. And feet, which is why I need the sticky socks. But my hands are also very slippery. I already owned a bunch of yoga gloves, and they are fine (and really inexpensive!). But they pull at the webbing between my fingers. So I got some yoga paws to try out and I like them much better.

The only problem with the yoga paws/gloves is that no one else wears them. Well, I think one woman – in her sixties, I would guess – does. But no one else does. And I know I shouldn’t care at ALL, but it does make me feel self-conscious. As does the fact that seemingly everyone in each class I’ve attended wears head to toe Lululemon. Great. Good for them. I am wholly intimidated by Lululemon, which seems geared to people with Not My Body Type. Plus, it seems to be Very Expensive, and my general feeling is that a legging is a legging. (Which is not to say that I’m right! Or that I think people shouldn’t buy Lululemon! If I had the budget for it and the confidence, I would be all over that shit!) (And I get that it is more like Investment Clothing and will probably last a LOT longer than my Cheapo exercise wear. But for me, right now, high-end athletic wear is a Startling ExpenseTM Swistle.) Anyway, the point is that I end up feeling really… left out? is that the word?… while wearing my Kirkland-brand leggings and my cheap Amazon sticky socks. It’s STUPID. And yet I still feel weirdly insecure. It’s the same way that I sometimes feel inferior when I’m driving my 2003 Honda in the school pickup line behind a chain of Mercedeses and Range Rovers and BMWs and Lexuses. I like my Honda. It’s a good car. It’s fully paid for. But when everyone around you has something that you don’t, it feels like you’re being singled out. Not that anyone has ever said anything, good or bad, about my car! Good ol’ peer pressure or the perception thereof! It’s so dumb! And yet such a powerful, irresistible force! Man, I really though that when I was Nearing Forty I wouldn’t care so much what other people think. And yet… SIGH. SO MANY INSECURITIES OMG.

Well, I am continuing to enjoy my classes despite my Costco leggings and yoga paws. I am hoping that I am giving off a No Fucks Given/Beat of My Own Drum kind of vibe rather than a Wildly Out of Place vibe. Not that anyone is even LOOKING at me long enough to even pick up a vibe; they are all too busy looking at their own form in the mirror and trying to keep up with the instructor and fretting over their own insecurities. It really DOESN’T matter, one single ounce. And it makes me super mad that I’m even thinking about it at all.

Maybe I need to scrap the exercise class, after all. My treadmill never makes me feel insecure about what I’m wearing!

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Wallet 3

Buying birthday gifts for children is… trying. Even though I am in possession of an honest-to-goodness child myself, I have no real idea what kids like or what they want. Usually I end up buying some combination of whatever it is Carla is currently into and whatever falls into my price range (somewhere around $15-$20 for classmates and $30-$50 for close friends/relatives). But it’s HARD to choose gifts for kids you don’t really know, even if you feel like you’re getting a Good Gift, and even if it’s something that your own child loves.  It’s even HARDER when the child in question isn’t the same age as your own child. When confronted with a three-year-old’s birthday, my mind goes completely blank. What did Carla like when she was three? Was she ever three? Do three-year-olds like LEGO or are they still in that put-everything-in-your-mouth stage? Or is three that magical age when toy packaging finally says it’s okay for your kid to play with pretty much anything? What toys did I hate the most? Which ones did I kind of enjoy? Which ones did Carla play with for five seconds and then forget forever? The answers elude me.

But! Thanks to my brilliant mother-in-law, I have found a new gift option that I think works well for kids of MANY ages. I’d say starting with age three (if you know the three-year-old pretty well, and think this would be appropriate) and going up at LEAST to age seven or eight – maybe older.

Now, I will preface this by saying I don’t think this is groundbreaking gift news, or anything. And because it may take a little extra poking around, it might be far less desirable than clicking “buy” on a “top gift for X age kid” on Amazon and getting something in the mail two days later. But I am newly enamored of this idea and, even though it seems quite obvious when I think about it, it was successful enough that I was startled into wanting to buy it for all children forevermore. There. Preface over.

This is the gift my mother-in-law gave to Carla and to my three-almost-four-year-old niece this year for Christmas, and it is henceforth my Gift of Choice:

A purse or wallet inside which you stow a gift card or two.

It’s super simple right? And yet a very satisfying gift to buy and give. (And get, based on the reactions of Carla and her cousin to this very gift.) The only problem is that you can really go overboard on the spending for this one, so you have to be crafty to keep it in budget.

Target gift cardBN gift card

The way I see it, you use the biggest chunk of your budget on the gift card/s. The critical thing (to me, and probably this is age dependent) is to make sure the gift card is for a bricks-and-mortar store. Ordering things online is not as exciting an experience for a kid as is walking through the aisles of a Target and saying, “I want that!” It doesn’t take much. A $10 gift card is delightful to a child of 5 (and I suspect to a child of seven or eight or ten, too), and will easily buy something fun.

For close friends or family, I might do $10 each to Target and Barnes & Noble. (Although, since B&N has really upped its toy game since Toys R Us closed, and because, as my husband is quick to point out, you can’t insist a child buy a book with a B&N gift card, $10 or $15 to B&N might accomplish the same thing as two separate gift cards.)  My mother-in-law got Carla a Barnes & Noble gift card and a gift card to Starbucks because she (Carla) loves begging for cake pops whenever we go there, and, with a gift card, she could buy one herself. I never though I would say this about a $5 gift card to Starbucks, but it was very empowering for my child. And there are plenty of other places where $5-$10 goes a long way. The LEGO store. Claire’s. Justice. A local ice creamery or candy shop.

Then, you use whatever you have left on the wallet/purse. Even if your budget is $15, you can totally make this happen. Target is a great place to find these things on clearance. I got a cute pink cross body purse for a friend’s daughter on clearance for $8.00, and then also found a little card holder/wallet for $3.00. Totally worth getting both, so I did! But lots of places have good options, either all the time or on clearance. Here are a few I dug up online right now — although it is probably best to see them in person, to make sure they will fit a gift card or two and aren’t TOO hideous.

Claire’s

Claires glitter 500

Glitter wristlet, $5.00 (photo from claires.com)

Claries cat 699

Cat Zipper Purse, $6.99 (photo from claires.com)

Amazon

Amazon clutch 1099

Clutch, $10.99 (photo from amazon.com)

 

Amazon dino 890

Dinosaur wallet, $8.90 (photo from amazon.com)

Amazon cat crossbody 999

Cat crossbody, $10.99 (photo from amazon.com)

Amazon shark fanny 998

Shark belt bag, $9.98 (photo from amazon.com)

H&M

HM card case 799

Card case, $7.99 (photo from hm.com)

HM shoulder bag 999

Unicorn crossbody, $9.99 (photo from hm.com)

Target

Target Nintendo 799

Nintendo wallet, $7.99 (photo from target.com)

Target clutch 399

Mesh clutch, $3.99 (photo from target.com)

Forever21

F21 yellow 553

Yellow wallet, $5.53 (forever21.com)

F21 gold crossbody 995

Gold crossbody, $9.95 (photo from forever21.com)

Walmart

Walmart Mickey 285

Mickey wallet, $2.85 (photo from Walmart.com)

Walmart Fox 659

Fox coin purse, $6.59 (photo from walmart.com)

Walmart Mickey 1041

Mickey crossbody, $10.41 (photo from walmart.com)

Walmart owl 930

Owl crossbody, $9.30 (photo from walmart.com)

Michael’s, Joann Fabric, Five Below, Tuesday Morning, and the dollar store would be other places that could have good low-cost options.

If I have any money left in my budget, I might stick some other fun item into the purse/wallet. Stick-on earrings or a matching slap bracelet or a pair of sunglasses.

Target slap bracelet 599

Donut slap bracelet, $5.99 (photo from target.com)

Amazon slap bracelet 799

Superhero slap bracelets, $7.99 (photo from amazon.com)

Target shades 599

Paw Patrol shades, $5.99 (photo from target.com)

Charlie shades 600

Heart sunglasses, $6.00 (photo from charming charlie.com)

Amazon shades 846

LEGO shades, $8.46 (photo from amazon.com)

Amazon earrings 399

Stick-on earrings, $3.99 (photo from amazon.com)

Listen, I will fully admit that part of the joy in this gift is the SEARCH. And if the search is not your idea of fun, or if you just want to grab a board game off the shelf next time you are in Target and be DONE with the whole thing, then this is obviously not the gift idea for you. But I know from experience how much fun it is for a kiddo to receive this present. Carla was so excited to have her own money to spend, and has loved picking out what she wanted to buy with her gift cards. And it’s nice for me to be able to say, “Get whatever you want as long as it’s within your budget!”

Wallet 4

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Windows! Windows! Windows!

I have a sharp pain pulsing just above my right eye and that’s what it’s saying.

Last summer, driving with my parents on a two-lane highway through one of the great forests of the north, we passed a giant sign propped up against the pines at the end of a narrow gravel driveway. You couldn’t see the house, but you could clearly read the sign, which was made of several plywood panels nailed together, and stood probably six-feet by eight-feet, if not even bigger. Someone had scrawled “DON’T BUY BLEEFBLORP WINDOWS” in angry spray paint letters across the wood. On both sides, I noticed when we made the return trip. (I can’t remember the actual window company named.) It made me laugh, at the time. But I am beginning to understand what drives a person to make such a sign.

It feels possible that I have mentioned this before, but I am too lazy/window-fixated to check. We had an energy audit performed on our house a few months ago (which was really, REALLY cool. If you are interested in making your home more energy efficient and have $50 or so to spend, you may want to see if your local utility company provides an energy audit.) which was fascinating and informative. The auditor sealed up our doors, set up a blower, and produced a light vacuum inside the house so we could walk around and find places where air was coming in. Guess what had the most leaks? ALL THE WINDOWS.

It’s not terribly surprising to me, that they are SO LEAKY. They are nearly 30 years old, after all. And it’s clear to me that some of them need replacing anyway, beyond the leaky-around-the-edges stuff; the seal between the panes of several of the windows has begun to fail, which produces unpleasant condensation that you cannot remove. So. We need new windows. Our utility company will give us some money back on each window we replace ($25 a window, I think?), up to $1,500 (we don’t have that many windows), as long as we replace them within a year from doing the audit. So, great, let’s do it.

I have been doing plenty of Window Research, and I feel fairly well-versed in the difference between vinyl and wood and aluminum. I understand U-factor and R-value and I know about double-pane vs. triple pane, and argon vs. krypton in between the panes. My husband read up on sneaky sales tactics to avoid, and so I feel good about spotting and avoiding those, too.

But nonetheless, it is A PROCESS and I am tired and annoyed and I am strongly in favor of just MOVING TO A NEW HOUSE where someone ELSE has made all these ridiculous window choices and let the next owners deal with this window madness themselves.

What’s driving me so crazy, you ask?

1. Sales tactics. Even the companies that SWEAR up and down that they don’t go for sales gimmicks are still trying to sell you on their company and their windows. As they should. So they are still using sales tactics. And sure, some of them are less in-your-face than others. But you still have to meet with someone and go over all these options and hear them pitch their windows and talk about how much better they are than their nameless competitors.

And I kind of think that the less in-your-face tacts are just… more sleazy and manipulative. This one guy from a company that prides itself on being a No-Sales-Pressure, No-Gimmicky-Tactics company was so laid back I thought he was going to fall off the barstool at my counter. Yet, despite his air of “hire us or don’t, we don’t care,” he was also clearly deploying very typical sales tactics. Like, he made this big deal about how, with him, “the price is the price,” and that other companies who offer One Day Only! sales or Act Now! discounts are really only able to offer those prices because they are jacking up the non-sales price from the getgo… But then he also slid in there, “If you’re looking for the lowest price windows, I might as well leave right now. That’s not what you’ll get with us.” We are all conditioned to think that priceyness is representative of quality, right? And, especially combined with his assurance that discounts and sales are representative of sleaziness, he’s clearly Being a Salesman and manipulating me! It just rubbed me the wrong way.

And YES, I know they need to make to money. I know they use sales tactics because they are effective. I know that we make a million choices a day based on overt or invisible manipulation by savvy marketers. I KNOW. I used to write sales copy! But that doesn’t mean that I like it. And I like it even LESS when I’m being assured that I am NOT being Sold To.

2. Choosing an installation company. I am only calling the companies in our area that are rated highly by Angie’s List, with tons of positive reviews… but still. You don’t really KNOW if they are a good company. And I am so irritated with the sales tactics that I find myself suspicious of EVERYONE.

One guy was here in my house for TWO HOURS, pitching his windows. He seemed very nice. But he was so completely focused on building up his credibility that he talked and talked and talked himself right out of my good graces. When he really does seem like a good guy! A person who built his company from scratch and really works hard and knows his stuff and cares about his product. But all I can think about is how the installation will take ten times as long as it should because he won’t be able to stop talking!

But also when I remembered that I hadn’t asked about U-factor, and said something like, “Oh! I almost forgot that I should ask you about the windows’ U value!” he gave me a simpering smile and said, “Did your husband tell you to ask that?” and I said, “No, I researched it.” And then he couldn’t even TELL ME. Well. A) MADDENING and B) Not good, Pete.

3. The windows themselves! Not only do you have to make sure you’re choosing a good company, but you have to make sure the WINDOWS are good. The company who sells the windows is going to make them sound like the world’s best windows, and they’ll have all sorts of awards and stamps and seals of approval to make you think they are super great. But then, you look up the manufacture online, and they are NOT GREAT. Maybe I need to work backwards, and start with the windows… and then find out who installs them?

4. The minutiae. Listen, I just want as close to the same thing we have as possible. Just… new and better quality. While others may care deeply, I do not CARE if my window latches are brushed silver or brass. I do not need internal shades in my sliders. (Especially not for an additional $800.) (Or an additional $450, depending on which company I ask.) I do not care if the latticework is flat or contoured. And when I choose, “white,” please do not then tell me, at length, about the different color options, for an additional $250 a window. If I say I want the standard handle on my slider, please do not tell me how easy the other $60-additional-cost handle is to operate. When I say, very clearly, I just want double paned glass because from what I read it’s FINE for our moderate climate, I do not want to hear how much better the U-factor is with triple-paned glass, and how much of a scam krypton is. I have already made my choice. And there are so very many choices. Latticework or no. Double-hung or picture window. Tempered glass or no (not required except in special cases). Half screen or full. And on and on and on before you are seriously considering boarding everything up and living in darkness for the rest of your life.

5. The price. I had steeled myself in advance that our 13 windows and two sliding doors would cost somewhere around $10,000 to replace. But being prepared to see that on a quote is quite a different thing to being prepared to PAY that amount. And! Some of the quotes are for MORE THAN $10,000!

6. The endlessness of it all! At what point and I going to feel like I have enough information to make this decision and actually BUY the windows? How will I ever decide between these window companies and the windows they sell and the pricing? HOW? I feel like I am ALREADY SO TIRED from researching potential vendors and calling these places and scheduling the meetings and listening to sales pitches… How will I know when I’ve done my due diligence? Hopefully before I DEFENESTRATE MYSELF.

I am ready to give up, is what I’m telling you. But I have two more companies coming to give me sales pitches, and we obviously still have all our very leaky windows from the 90s, so I must endure. And take some window-related Advil.

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Man, I haven’t done one of these small-takes type posts in a long time! However, I would really like to blog more often (I was thinking the other day that maybe I should just change my blog title to “Dinners This Week” because that’s about all I can manage most weeks) and maybe this is the key. As you well know, if you’ve been reading for more than five minutes, I tend to be overly wordyand I think that’s holding me back. Also, I am boring. I’ll be writing along, 3,000 words in, and I’ll realize, my GOD this is TEDIOUS. Takes the joy out of posting something, when you know it’s dull as a bowl of marbles. Sometimes I go back and read old posts and I think, boy, I used to be moderately entertaining! Well. Sometimes people change for the good, sometimes they change for the snoozefest.

Anyway. Random blurbs ahoy.

  • Last night I went out to dinner with a friend who was visiting from out of town. It was a lovely, lovely time and we talked about books – specifically The Friend, which had been a gift from this particular friend, and for whom I bought a second copy of the book because my friend MUST read it but also I need to keep a copy for myself – and work and family and travel. It’s been a very friendly week, which has been good: I had two nice hour+-long conversations with two separate long distance friends. I had a coffee with a friend who lives here in town, but who has been MIA for a good many months. I have another coffee planned for February with another friend I haven’t seen in a good while. And a lunch date planned for the last day in January with an old work friend. And then last night’s dinner. I am feeling very full and grateful right now. Perhaps if I record this feeling I can return to it on those inevitable days when I feel lonely and friendless. Friends: I highly recommend them.

 

  • The only bad thing about dinner last night was that I had too much to drink, which made the drive home ridiculously uncomfortable. No, not alcohol. I wasn’t drunk, or even tipsy. I mean I had literally put too much liquid into my body. Seems that I am constitutionally incapable of leaving a glass of water full. And the servers at this particular establishment were prompt in discharging their glass-filling duty, no matter how repetitive. The restaurant we went to was a good thirty minutes’ drive from my house, so as I poured my aching bladder into my car, I was feeling legitimately concerned about making it home in a dry state. If you are wondering, like my husband was, why I simply didn’t go to the bathroom during dinner like a normal human, well, I will tell you: We were having such a nice conversation! And I didn’t want to interrupt – not just the conversation, but the flow of the evening, you know? I was sure I would go when the server came to take our credit cards, but when the time came, it just didn’t seem like the right time. And then I needed to give my friend a ride to his car, and I felt weird about making him wait in the lobby while I went to the ladies’ (Side note: one of the things that drives me NUTS about my otherwise lovely husband is that he often waits until everyone has their coats on, all ready to go, before he heads to the bathroom. PLAN AHEAD.). So I just suffered instead. Perhaps you are also wondering why I just didn’t stop somewhere on my way home. Well, I will tell you. The city is… scary, okay? And the drive home takes me through some pretty undesirable neighborhoods that make me very nervous and edgy. And it was late and I didn’t want to be murdered. Peeing oneself is preferable to murder, right? Probably. I drove SO CAREFULLY the whole way home. Because I was sure that if I slipped through a yellow light or went even a tiny bit over the speed limit, I’d get pulled over and there’s no way a police officer is notgoing to arrest a woman who is sobbing and soaked in urine. I made it home. I know you were worried. My pelvic floor muscles performed admirably. Thank goodness for all those Kegels I did while pregnant, amirite? I mean. PHEW.

 

  • Speaking of pregnant, which I am not, I almost stopped on my drive home at a very grimy gas station for the sole reason that I stopped there before when I had similarly misjudged the elasticity of my bladder. Only that first time, I was somewhere around eleven months pregnant and I literally could not wait. Pregnancy is really one indignity after another, isn’t it? Take, for example, this poor woman I saw last weekend, in a similar state of Birth Could Happen Any Time. I was parked in a Whole Foods parking lot, waiting for my husband, and this woman came out of an all-day breakfast restaurant and started swaying toward her car – you know that walk that pregnant women sometimes have, where their belly has forcibly commandeered everything, including balance and momentum and even gravity? She was parked directly behind me, across an aisle, and so I could see her in my rearview mirror as she abruptly threw up on the pavement. I averted my eyes and pawed through the crap in my car to see if I had water or anything to offer her by way of help. Alas; nothing besides my undying sympathy and solidarity. Several minutes later, I noticed a man and two small children hustling out of the all-day breakfast restaurant. The man hefted the kids into the car, next to which the poor woman was still standing, occasionally retching onto the ground. I should have given her some privacy, I know, but I was so overcome by a sense of pity and empathy and helplessness that I just kept staring at her in my rearview. She kept climbing into the car and then hopping back out to throw up again. My god. Why is pregnancy so miserable? I’d sometimes drive to work with a plastic bag open on my lap, so sure I wouldn’t be able to get to the office without vomiting. Pregnancy is gross and humiliating and uncomfortable, and, yes, I guess you get a human out of it at the end, but sheesh. What a process. Eventually the pregnant woman stayed in her car long enough for her husband to spirit her away. I wish her well.

 

  • In Trying to Be a Good Wife news, I am trying out a new kitchen cleanser. I have a well-documented love affair with bleach. If I could, I would use it with abandon on everything all the time. Alas, it’s not so compatible with granite countertops, so I typically use Lysol for my kitchen cleaning needs. But my husband HATES the smell. So much so that he refuses to wipe down the counters. Fortunately for him I enjoy both wiping down the counters and rolling my eyes at his aversion to faux lemon scented chemicals, so we’ve managed to forge a solid compromise between us. But today Method cleanser was on sale at Target. I already love the smell of the Method Daily Granite, so I got two bottles of the antibacterial cleanser, one in citron scent, the other in bamboo. A little full of themselves with those scents, if you ask me, but I am hopeful that my husband will not be quite so sensitive to at least one of them.

 

  • We are supposed to get a good walloping this weekend, snow-wise. So while I was at Target, I kind of did a little panic buying. When you hear that potentially your city is going to be snowed under, what do YOU panic-buy? I bought some normal things, like meat and vegetables and plenty of tortillas. But I also bought a sled. A LOT of construction paper. And eggs. Believe it or not, the eggs was the weirdest thing. None of us really eats eggs in this household, and, sure, I use eggs in baking, but I don’t have any baking projects planned. But now we have two dozen eggs to… not eat during the impending snowpocalypse. Or, more likely, to not eat during the perfectly normal wintery weekend we will inevitably have, because weather is impossible to predict.

 

And that’s all I have for now. What are you up to this weekend, 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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Do you have one of these things?

Trunk organizer

Photo from amazon.com

It’s a little fold-out container for your grocery bags. It helps keep them from falling over.

Okay, I see that the product description lists it as a “trunk organizer.” But I use it solely for grocery bags. Well, and one time I used it for seedlings that I was taking home to plant.

It falls under the category of “totally unnecessary but nice to have.” I have lived successfully without one for many decades. But my husband got one sometime last year, probably because his trunk is completely 100% empty, so things tend to slide around in there. (I do NOT have that problem.) But over time, I started getting envious of his little container, and – since I am the Primary Grocery Shopper of our household anyway – I asked him to buy me one, too.

(I could have bought it myself, you understand. But he likes to do Detailed Research on all things, which I do not care to do. Plus, he purchased the one for his car through his Amazon account, so I figured he could just re-order it. To make a boring and unnecessary aside more boring and unnecessary, the one he has was no longer offered, so he got me this one instead.)

I love it!

This is how it looks, all full:

Trunk organizer 1

There are four bags inside the trunk organizer, and then one (the big red zipped-up bag) that has to sit outside the organizer with all the other junk I have piled in my car.

Trunk organizer 2

Top view, which I see now looks like nothing but a jumble. You can also get a peek at my groceries, which included ALL THE PRODUCE.

My trunk is a mess. Someday I should clean it. To be fair, I cleaned it pretty recently. It’s just really hard to know what to do with some of the supplies I have back there. The jumper cables should stay, even though they are unwieldy and take up a lot of space. The bags have a variety of blankets and winter gear and emergency snacks and coloring books. I think there’s an old diaper bag in there, too; now that my child is FIVE perhaps I can finally get rid of that. (SOB!)

This is how it looks, without the groceries but unfolded:

Trunk organizer 3

The blue thing on the bottom right is the wing of a parrot paper bag puppet Carla made for me and insisted I keep in my car at all times. Like a talisman. That’s molting.

The trunk organizer has Velcro on the bottom, so it sticks nicely to my fuzzy trunk floor. And you can unfold only half of it, if you only need half. And there is a divider inside, if you need one large rectangle and two smaller squares, or just one or two smaller squares.

Here is how it looks, all folded up:

Trunk organizer 4

So small and compact! To allow room in the trunk for MORE JUNK!

Man, my trunk could sure use a good vacuuming. Let’s all ponder when that will happen, taking into consideration that it is fifteen years old and I cannot remember every having vacuumed it. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm.

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Well. Two months just sped by bloglessly, didn’t they? I suppose that is a good indication of my current writing habits, which have been fruitful. Just not… blog-fruitful.

Anyway, let me ease back into blogging by posting about a few things that I am LOVING lately. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that most of them are food-related. What can I say? I love to eat.

Silicone Clip Strainer

Fave Things Clip Strainer Amazon

Photo from Amazon.com

You know how I love my kitchen gadgets! Well, one of my deep dark secrets is that I hate colanders. They are big and bulky. And, worse, I think they are kind of gross. I don’t like the idea of putting my just-cooked food into a sink that may have not been scrubbed since the previous evening. My colander – one of those big silver jobbers – even has a foot, so the food can’t touch the sink. But the drained water can rise up to above-foot level, or, even if it doesn’t, there’s always the risk that some sink-y water will drip into the pot when you pour your strained food back in. YES I KNOW I HAVE ISSUES. Anyway. My husband got this little guy for me for Christmas and I adore it. It clips on to any pot and allows you to pour out all the water without dumping your pasta/potatoes/broccoli/whatever in the sink. It’s very easy to use and I just throw it right in the dishwasher after I’m done with it. The one caveat I have is that the strainer is markedly smaller – covers less of the pot opening – than some of the Amazon photo options imply. It still works, though. Totally worth $7.99.

 

El Yucateco Chile Habanero Hot Sauce

Fave Things El Yucateco Walmart

Photo from Walmart.com

This is my (current) favorite hot sauce. I love hot sauce. It is my condiment of choice and when I use it, I use a LOT of it. My pantry has Sriracha, Cholula, La Victoria, and usually some fancy-dancy specialty hot sauces that my super romantic husband bought me as a surprise. (If you don’t consider getting surprise hot sauce super romantic, well, then, it’s good you didn’t marry me.) I fell in love with El Yucateco at our local Mexican restaurant – which is much too delicious, inexpensive, and close for my desired pants size. “Fell in love” is probably too mild a term. I became obsessed. In some ways, it feels like I am addicted to it: I think about it when I’m not eating it. I crave it. When I use it, I use wayyyyy more than is necessary. It makes my stomach hurt the next day, I consume so much. But it is wonderful. It’s got plenty of heat but it also has a nice, semi-fruity flavor. It goes really well with cheese enchiladas and burritos. I get it at my local grocery store for $4.99 an 8-ounce bottle, so it’s not an inexpensive habit. Apparently, you can get it at Wal-Not-Target for $1.84, but that’s for 4 ounces. Otherwise known as one meal. Or you can buy it by the case on the El Yucateco website. Which I am seriously considering.

 

Recipe Tin Eats

My husband and I eat a lot of chicken and pork, and it is exhausting trying to find new, delicious ways to mask the blandness that is a boneless skinless chicken breast, I tell you. Enter Recipe Tin Eats. Cue angels singing, champagne popping, balloons everywhere. I have tried maybe ten recipes that Nagi has posted, and man alive they are GOOD. She has such a great way with flavors! And the recipes are all very simple. And she includes very careful notes with each recipe, letting you know about substitutions and cooking variations and how to make it in advance.

Two that have become regulars in our rotation are her Oven Baked Pork Chops (I have been replacing the potatoes with green beans or broccoli lately), which has a marinade that I love so much I actively prevent myself from making it more than once a month so we won’t get sick of it, and her Asian Marinated Chicken, which has another super-easy, super-delicious marinade that I love. Other favorites that I see us making again and again include her One Pot Greek Chicken and Lemon Rice, her Chicken with Mushroom Gravy, her Lemon Garlic Marinated Pork Chops, and her Chicken Fajitas (the fajitas are on my meal plan for this week, in fact).

 

Trader Joe’s Green Goddess Dressing

This is a brand-new discovery (for me), and I am really excited about it. I enjoy a salad now and again, but I tend to avoid them because I really like dressing. A lot of dressing. And dressing isn’t usually worth it for me, in terms of calorie intake. But I spotted this Green Goddess dressing near the lettuce at our Trader Joe’s and snapped it up on a whim. Turns out it is delicious. Light and summery, not terribly avocado-y, and thicker than I expected it to be (almost the same texture/thickness of a restaurant-made salsa). I can’t remember how much it cost, but I think it was something like $4.99. Which is NOT inexpensive. But at 20 calories for a 2-tablespoon serving, it is totally worth it. Trader Joe’s makes a couple of other flavors, too – a carrot ginger miso dressing and an almond butter turmeric dressing – but I haven’t tried either of those.

 

New Adventures of Old Christine

Fave Things Christine Amazon

Photo from Amazon.com

My treadmill is somehow messing up the Internet in our house, which means that I can no longer watch Netflix or DVRed shows or even cable TV while I’m chipping away at my step goal for the day. So I have been making my way through old DVDs we bought in Ye Olden Times. I already churned through Arrested Development, which doesn’t stand up to the test of time in a lot of ways (some of the humor is centered around stuff that isn’t really funny these days). Okay, some of it is still REALLY funny. But it wasn’t as great as my memory of it. I also own the complete series of Ally McBeal, so I am forcing myself to watch that even though it’s driving me crazy. The music, the characters, the situations – I roll my eyes so hard I almost fall off the treadmill at least thirty times per episode. And I HATE BILLY. Well. That is a rant for another time.

But I have found a new, deep appreciation for the sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine. I had the first season already and have since ordered seasons two and three. Seasons three through five are much more expensive than I had hoped for years-old DVD sets, but I have some additional Amazon gift cards that make buying them more palatable. (I haven’t looked for this series at the library, but our library’s DVDs – especially ones that are a few years old – are notoriously scratched and beat up and I think I would cry if I had settled in for a long morning of treadmilling and my Christine DVD stopped working.) My realizations as I watch have been a) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hamish Linklater, and Wanda Sykes are national treasures; and b) damn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has incredible hair.

If you haven’t seen it, the show is a comedy about Christine Campbell and her life as a recently-divorced working mother. It centers around her relationships – with her ex-husband, his new girlfriend (also named Christine), her brother, her best friend slash business partner, the other parents at school, and a variety of men she dates. Her son is in there somewhere too, but he’s more of a plot device than a real character. I fear I am not describing this in an appealing way, but it’s really appealing! It’s funny and absurd and heartfelt at times but not in an over way. And it puts a hilarious twist on Mom-Type-Things (taking your kid to school, dealing with other moms, volunteering for school projects, balancing work and home life, etc.) and there’s also all the stuff about handling a divorce and dating and dealing with your ex’s new young girlfriend. It’s much more relatable to me, now that I’m a mom with a kid in school. I laugh – truly, heartily, out loud – a lot while I’m walking nowhere. And even though it’s a comedy – and much of it is really ridiculous – I find myself feeling deep empathy for Christine. It’s not perfect; again, humor has evolved over the past decade. But it’s making my treadmill time much more enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it.

 

Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Conditioning Spray

 

 

Fave Things Fairy Tales

Photo from Amazon.com

Kidwise, this spray is making life MUCH easier lately. For both me and Carla, I would say. Carla has long curly hair which means that every morning our neighbors pick up their phones and prepare to call the police and report a murder in progress. We’d been using the Johnson & Johnson conditioning spray, and it worked okay. But then a friend recommended the Fairy Tales spray and OUR LIVES HAVE FOREVER CHANGED. I can’t speak to the fact that this conditioning spray repels lice or not (we haven’t had any, but I’m not falling for confirmation bias) (if confirmation bias is the term I am looking for; I am not convinced that it is). But I can tell you that it makes combing Carla’s hair SO EASY. And if I comb it with the spray at night, her hair is much easier to brush in the morning, too. (The link above goes to a two-pack, because the single bottle of spray isn’t available. But I have, in the past, bought the single bottle of spray, so I hope it comes back.)

 

(By the way, no one paid me to say any of those things above. These are just some things I really enjoy lately.)

What’s making your life brighter/better/more fun these days?

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