|Thank goodness I'm not sentimental, or these little faces would really kill me!|
But. For buying things, here's a little culled list of ideas for games and books and other happy-making things that will ideally either have remarkable longevity or get nice and used up (rather than languishing unloved in your life and home).
Last year's gift ideas are here.
The year before, here.
And the year before that, here.
As always, the master list of games is here.
For starters: Animal Upon Animal, Small and Yet Great!
|Our coffee table continues to be covered in white paper, and this continues to be a great thing.|
|If you play on a dirty carpet in bad light, it will look more like this.|
|I lifted this photo from BoardGameGeek.|
Next up, a pair of games that we got last Christmas, and that we play regularly. We are learning about ourselves, as a game-playing family, that the more attractive a game is, the more we want to play it. Call us shallow design snobs, but there it is.
Machi Koro is an awesome city-building card game that I'm pretty sure one of *you* recommended to us! (Thank you.) I'm linking to the deluxe edition here because it includes both the Harbor and Millionaire's Row expansions, which we have and love, but you could also give the original, which is smaller and less expensive, and then you can save the expansions to give separately when birthdays come around! Right?
It also happens to have really great graphics and colors. It's your kind of classic--say it with me--get-resources-so-you-can-get-more-resources game, and, as with most good games, every time we play, the wheel in my brain turns another notch, and I think: Aha! That's how you play!
Takenoko is a full-on game, with awesome panda graphics, Catan-style tiles, a cool die, and colorful wooden pieces.
You are growing bamboo to feed a giant panda, and it's got a little of the Catan juggling-goals flavor, but definitely refracted through, like, the cheerful feeling of Totoro. That is, it is appealing to younger players, and while there are a number of rules, it is not hideously impossible to learn. Plus: totally adorable.
I have gotten in the habit of getting our family a White Mountain puzzle every year, and this time it's the junk-food one. As far as I'm concerned, White Mountain makes the perfect puzzle: fun themes, interlocking pieces, and plenty of individual areas for people to work on in the kind of parallel-play puzzle-doing apart togetherness that I love. I won't put this under the tree. My mom and I will open it (and some other things, like bottles of wine) on Christmas eve.
I mentioned them over the summer, I know, but these watercolors would make a perfect holiday gift. They're compact and of very high quality: the hues are as vivid or washed as you want them to be, and the colors themselves are simply thrilling. We use them all the time. The pad you see in the picture above is the fabulous Poppin Jumbo Writing Pad that used to be called "The Analog Tablet," which made me laugh. I have given this pad as a gift to at least a dozen kids, including my own, and everybody loves it. The paper is thick and white and square, and edged attractively in green and blue. Plus, the pad is just so appealingly thick and chunky.
I am also rementioning this wonderful coloring book. The whole series is great (we got this one too), and the pages are sturdy enough to handle the paints. This would be fun to get, no matter who you were, except if you were my dad, so I won't be getting it for him.
I also got my kids some ridiculously expensive pencils this year.
They're Blackwings, and our friend Corn, who I trust in all things, made me feel like we had to have to them. Putting pencils in the kids' stockings reminds me of Ben's fourth birthday, when our friend Daniel asked him if anything special had happened yet and Ben said, with his excited little eyes glittering, "Well, Daniel. Yes. I got juice without any water in it!" "Juice without any water in it!" Daniel said. "You are living the dream."
Okay, are you ready for the slightly more random portion of the gift guide? It's these four things, and then after that, some not-random books.
This weird plastic stuff: Fix That Thing Mouldable Glue. I confess to having an ulterior motive in putting it in the kids' stockings this year: there are some broken things I'm hoping they'll repair, including a shower handle, a pair of kitchen scissors, and a window latch. Merry Christmas! (But it really looks cool--like Silly Putty, only purposeful.)
This Swedish Fireknife, but sign the waiver first, okay? Because this is not for the faint of heart. We gave it to a friend for his eleventh birthday (after clearing it with his parents, I swear), and he did manage to give himself a small(ish) cut. So. There's that. But he loves it, and I love it as a gift for older kids because it is so real and useful, and the fire starting--which involves striking a steel with the knife--requires practice but is so incredibly cool. We are giving it to Birdy for Christmas, along with this book. (Read the reviews and it will become clear that, in the Venn diagram, this is where I overlap with conservative survivalists.)
This bubble bath, which I mentioned last week too. It's something we actually had when I was a child, so it's true that the aromatic nostalgia factor is high for me. Still, it is gorgeous. Not at all car-freshenery. Just clean, real, pure foresty heaven, and a little goes a long way. I got a few bottles to give as adult gifts (why does that sound like porn?), and I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want it.
|Cider makers! (aka "Ava's parents.")|
No we are not. I would love it no matter what--for cocktails, for waffles, for braising pork and glazing ham. It is my go-to sweetener for savory dishes, and the New York Times wrote, praising it highly, "The depth of flavor that can be teased from apples is evident in a dark cider syrup that suggests caramel."
And a couple of books, below, but for other books that would make great gifts (or to read yourself while you're hiding out from the holidays), including the fabulous new children's classic, Rad American Women A to Z, please see this post. Note: I am starting to think that All My Puny Sorrows may be the best novel I have ever read. Oh, and The Green Road--get it for yourself and/or anybody who is lucky enough not to have read it yet. Oh, oh, and The Last September. Okay. I'm moving onto the giftier books now, I swear.
Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York, which, coincidentally, our cider-making friends gave us last year. The book is a lot like the blog: photographs of vibrant, wacky, beautiful, struggling people, with provocative, funny, life-affirming captions that make you think and laugh and--listen closely!--that creak open your heart a few notches. Plus, it is lovely to sit with your children and a real book, rather than calling everyone to gather round a device. This is also a great book to give teenagers, who can find themselves in a strange vortex of difficulty, with respect to gifts: halfway between LEGO and scotch. It is edgily wholesome in all the right ways.
Okay, this which I'm pasting from an earlier post: the latest Unbored book: Unbored Adventure, which I had the deep honor of contributing to, and which Birdy has named "The best Unbored book yet!" (Huge praise.) This is a chock-a-block book, filled with crazy, thoughtful, well-tested ideas that range from the immediately doable to the profoundly inspirational and aspirational. Birdy read the book cover to cover, then promptly spent the day sewing something called a "Ditty Bag," which thrilled her no end. "What are you going to do next from it?" I asked her, and she looked thoughtful, then said, "Purify drinking water using nesting bowls and evaporation." We have already given many copies of this as gifts, sometimes accompanied by an adventurous accessory, like a headlamp or a Swiss Army Knife or the Swedish Fireknife above.
Last year, I gave Birdy Just Between Us: A No-Stress No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms, not sure if it mightn't be too gimmicky to be her exact cuppa--and she has absolutely loved it. We both did. Do still. Basically, you each answer the same questions or set of prompts, and it's a way to communicate and share that's totally low-key and free-form. Sometimes we sit together and fill it out; sometimes we leave it on the other person's pillow to find and respond to--from the basic "Favorite Word," "Favorite Book," kinds of questions, to the meatier, "Something I'd do if I knew I'd never fail" or "I believe in." I think it would be a good gift for kids 8 and up. I'm not sure why it's gendered like this, but there it is.
Happy, merry, all of it, all the time. xo