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Archive for the ‘Things That Rock’ Category

Considering that we are now officially out of eggs – not that we typically eat  eggs, apart from using them in baking, but it’s still making me feel panicky – and considering that Carla came downstairs before my husband and I woke up and made A Glitter Project (i.e. there was glitter all over the counter, the barstools, and the ENTIRE kitchen floor), and considering the ongoing stress of Absolutely Everything Else, I figure it is time for another post about the Good Things.

Easter Bunny Cupcakes

Carla and I did a baking project this week, and I think they turned out to be very charming. Carla very specifically wanted chocolate cake with white frosting and they had to look like bunnies, so we used this recipe for the cake and this recipe for the frosting/bunnies. I only made a half portion of the cake batter, but even so, it barely made seven cupcakes (the full recipe supposedly makes 24). Seven cupcakes is a good amount of cupcakes for our family of three. I have not yet tasted them because it turns out that my quarantine cravings do not include chocolate bunny cupcakes; I’m still on the crunchy-veggies-with-ranch bandwagon and also am enjoying the hell out of tortilla chips dipped in melted American cheese and hot sauce.

Bike Riding Achievement

This week, Carla allowed her father to remove the training wheels from her bike and now… she can just… ride a bike. It is one of those Childhood Milestones that feels so triumphant and important – like learning how to walk, almost – and I know these milestones will be fewer and farther between. It was wonderful, that day, to watch her figure it out all on her own, at her own pace. And then the next day, when we returned to a nearby school parking lot to practice, to see her do it again and crow with jubilation, “I can really ride a bike!” as though the previous day’s achievement might have evaporated with the morning’s unexpected snowfall. It’s given us new purpose for “Exercise Time,” too, which I dutifully plot on Carla’s daily school schedule and then sometimes “forget.” Now, Carla is eager to get outside to ride in great sweeping circles around the empty parking lot, singing Descendants songs under her breath. We have also visited a local nature preserve to walk/ride bikes along the paths… although I find it oftentimes more nerve-wracking than pleasant because there are So Many People doing the same.

Signs of Spring

We’ve been seeing little glimpses of spring for a couple of weeks now, but this week, it arrived in full force. The blooming magnolia trees along our street, the “popcorn” trees with their fluffy white blossoms, the daffodils that seem to be absolutely everywhere – it’s such a cheering and welcome sight. There are some yellow-flowering bushes along our regular walking path that I just love; I think they are forsythia and so the final joyous stanza of C.D. Wright’s “Two Hearts in a Forest” springs to mind every time I pass them.

ForsythiaCD Wright

 

*  *  *

I don’t know if finding and naming the Good Things is doing anything. For instance, I have been watching John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” show every week and my reaction has been… confusing. I mean, John Krasinski is adorable and charming and the things he shares and the surprises he arranges are SO lovely. But I mainly feel terribly sad when I watch. It’s kind of the same with forcing myself to find/write about my own Good Things. It feels like so very little, and, therefore, heartbreaking in its smallness. These tiny rays of sunshine are up against such a vast expanse of darkness.

However, there’s also HOPE in the good things… and it’s useful to remind oneself that not EVERYTHING is tragic and awful. And it’s good practice for the brain, I think, to prod it into looking through the wreckage for things worth saving. I don’t know. I’m keeping up with it, just like I’m forcing our whole family, at the end of each day, to list a thing — big or small — that we were grateful for. But I certainly don’t think that these Good Things compensate for the bad ones. And I think it’s 100 percent okay if YOU can’t — or don’t want to — find any good things in your day right now.

Anyway, I still feel compelled to find the good things. To record them. To share them. Maybe it’s just useful to remember that there are good things. That there will be good things again.

 

 

 

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We had zero days of sunshine in January. ZERO. But! It is only Day 7 of February and we have already had THREE WHOLE DAYS of sunshine! Glorious! (Note: It is currently Not Sunny, but I am holding on to those memories of sun with both fists.)

Let’s discuss a few other things I am loving, besides sunshine.

(This post uses affiliate links.)
Jalapeno Ranch Ruffles

Photo from target.com

Jalapeno Ranch Ruffles – I was having A Day recently, and after I put gas in my car, I popped into the convenience store to buy Diet Mountain Dew and the chip section just started calling to me. I haven’t had non-tortilla chips in a loooooonnnnggggg time. But which chips to get??? It has been well established on this here blogaroo that spicy things are my jam. My normal spicy-chip go-to is Miss Vickie’s Jalapeno Chips, but they have this annoying tendency of making me cough. Worse than that, they are very hard to find. Anyway, I spotted these Jalapeno Ranch Ruffles and they sounded yummy. It turns out they ARE yummy. Very yummy indeed. I wouldn’t call them spicy, exactly. But they have a great flavor and a nice little kick. A+, would crunch again.

Meadow hand soap

Photo from target.com

Smartly Hand Soap – Meadow Scent – This soap was a whopping 99 cents at Target recently, so I bought some to replace my expensive Method foam soap. (My husband and I, for no memorable reason, have decided that we need to wean ourselves off of foam soap. It’s expensive and the gel soap works just as well and there was possibly some other driving force behind this very important decision.) My problem is that I still like FUN soap, and gel soap is less fun. Enter the Smartly soap collection. The Meadow scent has a nice clean, grassy smell without being overpowering and I love it.

Plumping oil

Photo from beautycounter.com

Beautycounter Plumping Oil – I have been using the Beautycounter brightening oil for about a year, and still love it. But I tried this plumping oil in the past several months and LOVE it. It smells so good – I mean, it’s not smelly, per se. But it has a light, semi-citrusy scent that I really like. And it feels so soothing in these dry winter months. I do think my skin looks smoother than it has before. I still have crow’s feet though. Oh well.

Bomba no slip

Photo from bombas.com

Bombas No-Slip Socks – My husband and I had a $10 coupon for Dick’s Sporting Goods, so I thought it would be the perfect chance to buy a new sports bra. Turns out I could not find a sports bra I liked (this is going to be a difficult resolution aspiration to keep). But I saw these no-slip socks on an end-cap and bought them to wear during my barre classes. I LOVE them. They fit really snugly, even though I have narrow feet. The anti-slip dots cover the entire foot, so I’m not sliding during my warrior 2 pose and planks if I don’t have my foot positioned just so. And they are comfy.

Stone Cold Heart

Photo from amazon.com

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear – This book came out this past July and I bought it immediately. But I didn’t want to read it too fast, and have it be over. So I refrained from reading it until the very end of the year. It was WELL worth the wait. This is my kind of book – a detective novel with a relatable, complicated main character – and it was even better than the first in the series, which I thought was excellent. (And the first book, Sweet Little Lies, is only $7.49 right now!!!) I can’t wait for the third book, Shed No Tears, which should be out some time this year. Woo!

What are you loving lately?

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Let us try to drag ourselves out of this funk, shall we?

(My husband’s theory is that I am down in the dumps because I am procrastinating a task and that once I complete the task the scowling clouds will suddenly lift from around my ears and the sun will shine. He’s probably right. But let’s write a blog post instead, shall we?)

  1. Daffodils. On Swistle’s recommendation, I bought some daffodils. $1.49 for ten stems from Trader Joe’s. (Versus the $3.99 my local grocery store was asking for theirs. Seriously? $3.99? That seems… egregious.) My pink Valentine’s Day carnations were starting to look a little peaked (and no wonder – when I threw them out, there was not a SINGLE DROP of water in the vase… whoops!) so it was nice to swap them out for some fresh flowers. And the bright yellow injects some much needed cheer into my dreary grey kitchen.

Daffodils

  1. Cat mug. My husband got me this mug for Christmas and I love it. It is a replacement for my old favorite mug (which was, if you’ll remember, my husband’s, and had grown so faded from near-daily use that my husband had to gently reclaim it as college memorabilia) and it’s HUGE and has cats on it. I smile every time I use it.

 

Cat mug

I can’t find the exact cat mug he bought, so we can’t be mug twinsies, but Amazon has a lot of good options, if you too are in the market for a cat-related beverage receptacle.

1. Meow Cat Lover Mug 2. Smiley Cats Ceramic Coffee Mug
3. Grammar Correcting Cat Mug 4. Preferring Cats to People Mug

 

Ooooh Etsy has some cute cat mugs, too.

1. Cats in Boxes Mug 2. You’re Stressing Meowt Mug 3. Cat Silhouette Mug 4. Yoga Cat Mug

Somehow I have gotten off track. What can I say? I drink tea every day and having a mug that I love is critically important to my happiness.

  1. Cat Slippers.I got these as a birthday gift from my daughter. Carla came up with this idea all by herself and my husband helped her order them. They are cozy and soft.
Cat slippers

Egads you’d think after nine years of blogging I’d be a better photographer.

 

  1. Dreyer’s English. My dear friend and mentor sent me this book as a surprise. I love books about grammar and usage and I have only just cracked the cover on this one but am already enjoying it.

    Dreyers English

    The cover of this book is made out of a material that makes my skin crawl. I can’t stand touching it. Normally the cover is on my floor. But I braved the awful texture just to recover it for you, Internet. Otherwise, the book is just… black. Much clearer which book it IS, with the cover on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Artichokes. I don’t really know when “artichoke season” is, but it seems to be happening right now. My local grocery store has piles of beautiful, enormous artichokes for $3 apiece, and they make for a delicious lunch. Plus, it seems to me that someone (the grocer?) has gone through and snipped off the sharp part of each leaf, which makes preparing them (and eating them) much more pleasant. I’ve been going through one or two of these bad babies a week.

 

 

There now. Let’s sit back and bask in our newfound good mood. (And do share what’s bringing a smile to your face today, too, won’t you?)

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I can hardly believe it’s been a whole decade since that magical day when I married my best friend. Here’s what I remember from that day: A whole host of things going wrong, running late, not going to plan, my nervous pulse hammering past disappointment and frustration to panic. The pure calm that settled over me in the empty chapel once I finally saw my husband to be. My father walking me down the aisle, the encouraging push he gave me at the end. Gentle laughter when the pastor read a bit of text too long for me to repeat in one go. The warmth of good friends crowded into a limousine. A tiny cup of velvet butternut squash soup and a buttery square of a brie grilled cheese sandwich that tasted like heaven. Poems on every table that tried but didn’t quite express the love that had subsumed me. Being carried on a tide of joy and love and laughter and, okay, too much tequila, the waves of happiness cresting and cresting and never breaking. Good music – are the stars out tonight? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright – and loud singing. Looking out the window to see snowflakes as delicate as butterflies form a kaleidoscope of white and the mountains, resplendent in their shimmering robes, presiding in the background. Magic.

But the wedding day was just a day. Just a party. A wonderful day I will never forget. But in the intervening years, there’s been a marriage. If we’re lucky, just the beginning.

We’ve been so very fortunate, these ten years. (And the seven years leading up to our marriage!) Our ups have been high, our downs have been pretty high as well. I have no doubt that we have sorrow in our future; that’s just the way life goes. But for now, I am so grateful for these wonderful, busy, happy ten years.

I tend to get gooey and overly sentimental about our anniversary (okay, about all things). My husband – logical, practical, scientific – is my counterweight. So in his honor, I am going to try to rein in the goo and aim for goofy instead.

Top Ten Great Things About My Husband

(Well, maybe not the top ten)

Okay, so he’s kind, thoughtful, brilliant, hard-working, funny, great father, supportive of my hopes and dreams, blah blah blah… But ALSO:

  1. Maybe he’s not a big fan of washing dishes, but he is almost always willing to do the laundry and he is SO GOOD AT FOLDING.
  2. He is a master at the art of choosing the perfect ridiculous gif to text me and make me laugh in the middle of the day.
  3. He and I may sometimes disagree – and disagree strongly – but he is always willing to listen to logical arguments, and often comes around to my side.
  4. He says, “Thank you for making dinner” every single night, even if what I’ve made is barely edible.
  5. He can hear an interesting snippet of music underneath the din of a thousand Target shoppers on a Saturday and know exactly how to find out which song it is and then play it in the car until it is our new favorite family song. He did that with Guster’s “Satellite” – which he identified in a noisy restaurant in Ithaca, and which has become one of my favorite songs. Bonus: I think of him and that trip together every time I hear it.
  6. He is super warm and snuggly which is very useful when I have just climbed into a freezing cold bed. But his feet are always icy, which comes in handy when I’ve gotten overheated by being pressed up against him, and he’s always willing to clamp his frosty toes against my calves.
  7. He may not be a flowers-and-jewelry-and-love-notes romantic, but he listens, and sometimes I will find myself marveling, “He is doing this solely because it is important to me.” Like addressing and stamping all of our holiday cards, when he thinks they are a waste of time and money. If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.
  8. Speaking of romance, he loves to choose my next book for me to read. Almost always, it’s something I end up LOVING.
  9. He is happy to plan all of our travel together – airline, hotel, restaurant, museum, everything – which is great because just doing a single search on Kayak makes me break out in hives.
  10. He keeps getting hotter. I am serious. The older he gets, the more handsome he is.

Of course there are a billion other reasons why I love him, from the frivolous to the serious, the silly to the sentimental. You pile up quite a lot of love in a decade.  But above all, I am still so very glad we chose each other.

 

 

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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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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

fifth-birthday-4.jpg

Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

fifth-birthday-3.jpg

Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

fifth-birthday-1.jpg

Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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