Hellooo, my loves! I am writing you from snowy New England with a few of our annual thoughts on gifts, especially gifts for kids, teenagers, gamers, and book lovers! As always, let me start with gifts lists from the past, because I need every single thing in my life to be a crazy refractive house of mirrors:
- Last year's gift ideas are here--and also there is a list of links to the homemade gifts we've posted over the years.
- The year before that are here.
- The year before, here.
- The year before, here.
- The year before that, here.
- The year before that, here.
- And the year before that, here.
- Some long ago thoughts (i.e. for little kids) are here.
- As always, the master list of games is here.
And also as always, let me mention that these gift guides involve Amazon links, and that's because I will earn a commission, and then I'll donate all the money I make from them. In other words, this is a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping in a normal, effortless way! As always, we'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade (last year we donated almost $3000 from gift-guide revenue). But if you'd prefer to shop locally and donate to PIH directly, that would be win-win! The link is here.
I am starting off with these two sets of sticky notes: the color dots, and the color flags. You will be like, wait, am I just getting one of these colors when I order them? And I'm here to say: No. You get the whole color-gradient set. What? Yes! I take my god-given role of Jew-Santa-stocking-stuffer very seriously, and so am in stocking stuffer heaven with these little sets.
I got my VERY ORGANIZED LIST MAKER this daily planning pad, and I feel confident that she will love it. I think this sloth one is actually cuter, but I worried that the whole procrastination theme wasn't quite right for my particular person.
We got this book, A Field Guide to Color, a couple of months ago, and we love it so much.
It's filled with color exercises that you mostly do with watercolors, and we have based entire evenings around various delightful activities. (We've also turned most of what we make into thank-you cards, so win/win!)
If I were giving it as a gift, I'd give it with a gorgeous set of watercolors, like this. (I'm getting this one for Ben, since he doesn't have his own set at college.)
Although you could also just add a set of metallic paints to whatever bigger set you're currently using, and it makes a fun, smaller gift set. This is a good, basic, and relatively inexpensive watercolor pad. Also, if anyone in your house would like a new set of colored pens, we recently got these, and completely love them.
Okay. Onto the games! First up, a game that is new to us since this past Thanksgiving, i.e. three days ago, but which we loved so much we insisted the friends who'd brought it over to play LEAVE IT WITH US, along with the leftover salted chocolate pie. (Thanks, guys!) It's called The Mind
and it's like a cross between a card game and a Ouija board. You have numbered cards in your hand, and you and the other players are trying to lay them out in numerical order without communicating verbally or gesturally. It is very Vulcan mind meld. Very eye-contacty and wonderful and surprisingly, thrillingly possible. There's a little more to it, but not much, and the play is quick and anyone can learn it.
Speaking of. I'm just saying.
Next up: Cheating Moth, which we first learned in its German form (Mogel Motte) from drunk Catalan speakers at a fabulous wedding in Spain. It’s a really fun cheating game, and a perfect game to play with people who already cheat at games, because they’re cheating anyway! It’s all just sleight of hand—with no bluffing or strategy in particular. And it's really fun to play drunk with people you can't really even totally communicate with. This, and The Mind, are both small, inexpensive games that are relatively easy to learn and could be stuffed into a stocking as a stuffer.
I recommended Azul (pictured below on our dirty carpet) last year, even though we had never played it. And if you got it on my advice, then you will understand what an excellent gamble that was. It's a simply wonderful game, and we've played it dozens, possibly even hundreds, of times in 2019. (It is probably tied with Splendor and Qwixx for most household play this calendar year.) The pieces are heavy and lush and look like Starburst candies, and the game play is totally straightforward and yet, in the way of all great games, constantly evolving. (I have also not yet put a piece in my mouth absentmindedly, which I find nearly miraculous.) We haven't taught it to anybody who hasn't loved it. So this year I am giving another stand-alone game from the same folks: Azul Stained Glass of Sintra (pictured above), which gets fantastic reviews on both Amazon and Board Game Geek.
We learned Arboretum in a bar with friends (see below) and it is another aesthetically perfect game that feels simple enough when you're learning it, but then that simplicity turns out to be a little deceptive. You are basically building a grid of gorgeous trees, and it's all fine and good, until the scoring, which is insane--like, you thought you were playing Go Fish, and then it turned out you were playing Go Fish on another planet in a colorful forest and someone slipped you a roofie. Anyhoo. Super fun, super-pretty, and nice and compact for playing out of the house. Like, at a bar, say.
My kids are appalled that I have never mentioned Stone Age here on a gift guide.
And is it true? Have I really never? This is one of our most consistently played family games of all time. Aesthetically, it's a little like our very beloved Agricola--with the cardboard tiles and the lovely wooden meeples and pieces--and then, in terms of game play, it's also a little like Agricola, but with all the crazy stress and panic sanded off the edges of the more basic elements of placing tokens and gathering resources. It appears to be $70, which would make it a big investment. But, then again, that's just under the cost of 2 movie-theater movies for a family of 4, and we've played it probably 50 times. So.
Wingspan is the big present we're giving Ben and Birdy this year, so 1) Shhhh! and 2) I can't report back just yet. But it is winning all kinds of prizes and gets almost ridiculously good reviews everywhere and, I'm sorry, but look at those wooden eggs and the bird house and the bird tokens and the pretty dice. I mean, not to be a totally annoying aesthetic snob, but I'm so much more likely to play a game that's beautiful. Gameplay gets compared to Azul, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and Dominion, all games we have and love, so I feel confident. I will report back after we play!
This is the puzzle we did over Thanksgiving, and it is TWO-SIDED! Right? It's even clear which side is which, because one side is shiny. So beautiful. And we did this puzzle too. And this one. (I really love Galison puzzles.)
Okay! Onto the books. If I were going to recommend a single gifting novel in this moment, I think it would have to be this.
I always love Ann Patchett, but this book offers just the most vibrant, deep kind of reading pleasure I can remember experiencing. I mean, it reminded me of reading all those absolutely pitch-perfect Joan Aiken books when I was 10. Give this to your readers and they will love it. Other great giftable novels include Ocean Vuong's poetic, absolutely gutting, and occasionally filthy On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (like, don't give it to your grandma unless she's queer or super open-minded), and, on the fully other end of the spectrum, Nina Stibbe's delightfully buoyant and Englishly laugh-out-loud Reasons to Be Cheerful. Also, not to typecast your old people, but Henry Himself is a really good and funny book for your old people (I am 50 and loved it; my parents are in their 80s and loved it).
The book I have given the most number of times this year is Good Talk by Mira Jacob. In fact, I had to use a stock photo, because I can't even seem to keep a copy in the house. I gave it to graduating teenagers, to people in the hospital, to birthday friends, and to houseguests who picked it up while they were here. It is a graphic memoir about childhood and parenting, coming of age, and the particular, peculiar experiences of race and identity in the United States. It is so funny and good and everybody I've given it to has loved it. Another possible gift memoir is Chanel Miller's Know My Name, which I just finished and found staggering, enraging, lovely, and hopeful. What a beautiful person she is. You could give that book along with the fabulous, utterly shocking She Said as a kind of Feminist Rage Party Pack.
Okay. Onto the cooking people. I feel like giving someone an Instant Pot is like giving someone a puppy. Like, you better make sure they're ready for it, and have the space for it and time to train it. (Or at least to read the instruction manual.) That said, my brother gave me one, after checking with Michael, and I use it a lot. That's why it's so gross and greasy in the photo! I like the way it's got the speed and the bean-cooking capability of a pressure cooker, but with the stay-warm-all-day convenience of a slow cooker. What I mostly make in it, and I make a lot of it, is Indian food. It really lends itself so perfectly to dal and chickpea curries and other long-simmered, vibrantly spiced legumes. If I were giving it as a gift, I would give it with this book
which is attractive, small, and super-usable, and which I cook from at least once a week. (Her green chutney recipe also happens to be perfect.) But, then, while I'm revealing my obsession with making Indian meals, I have to recommend another great book for giving:
Indian (-ish) is the kind of cookbook that I check out of the library, read cover to cover, cook from, and then renew until I can't renew it any more and then I re-request it and repeat and, finally, return it and actually buy it. The recipes are uncomplicated and kind of crazily drool-able. Also, this cookbook taught me about the spice blend chat masala, which is the funkiest, savoriest, craziest spice in the world, and which is now the only thing I put on my popcorn. A fun gift pairing would be this book with a box or jar of chat masala (I like the below brand, maybe because "Chunky Chat Masala" sounds like a crazy flapper dance). Or, if you felt kinda crazy, with this amazing set of spices.
I like giving dish towels as presents because they're useful and fun, and because you can never have too many of them and they don't take up a lot of space. This is my current favorite (there are other good ones at that same link).
And it's made by the same company that made the socks I got Birdy this year! For some reason these sweet, optimistic monsters make me want to cry. #menopause
Finally, I know I don't post a lot of tech or gadgety things, what with my analogue lifestyle and all, but I gave the kids these charging blocks at some point, and they remark quite regularly on how useful they find them.
They hold a lot of power, and we love them for camping and big trips and for long days out of the house. That's such a weird note to end on. "I'm a Marxist board gamer, but here--buy this weirdly expensive technological gadget! Happy holidays!" Ha ha ha. Sorry!
Mostly, I hope that you light candles and put on Leslie Odom Jr.'s Simply Christmas album (sigh) and peel clementines and sing and crack nuts and dust off your menorah and kiss your pets and give it away, give it away, give it away. As much as you can. To Partners in Health or Immigrant Families Together or Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. To an organization that is fighting Trump, fighting injustice, fighting for health and human rights and safety for all of us. Our wish for 2020. xo