Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Very Last Guest Gift Post!

(This is the fourth and final post in the series - the first three are here, here and here. Check them out!)

We have finally reached the end of this week's gift-suggestion posts. Do I have a greater appreciation for Oprah and her gift lists? Well, aside from having more respect for the hard-working people on her staff (this thing was HARD to pull together!), not really - every person who submitted a list to me did such a great job of picking sensible, generally affordable items that normal people could both like and actually purchase that I'm feeling even more critical than ever of the shame-inducing folly of the frivolous, overly expensive gift lists elsewhere.

This final list is really fun - up first is Nicole's awesome, Nicole-centric list of gift ideas for women, followed by Amy's list of gifts to give your spouse that are really gifts for you and we'll finish up the week with Karen's truly amazing list of gift suggestions under $30. They're all full of great ideas and great writing. - Beck

 Nicole -What To Give To The Lady In Your Life (especially if the lady in your life is Nicole)
I am famously easy to please when it comes to gifts; essentially if someone gives me a gift I am excited, but this is my personal wish list – any of these items will push "excited" into "ecstatic". I like to think of myself as everywoman, so these gift ideas – with a few modifications, perhaps – will be perfect for the woman in your life. Or for you, if you want to pass these suggestions along to the appropriate people.

A bottle of wine is a universally appreciated gift, unless of course the recipient is a non-drinker, in which case a bottle of wine would be an awkward gift. The gift of wine can say anything from "You’re a classy lady" to "You really look like you can use a drink", and I probably fall into the latter category more often than not. I’ll take it. Personally, I prefer a full-bodied red such as Shiraz, but that is a matter of personal preference. I’m also a quantity girl; I would take two $15 bottles over one $30 bottle any day. But then, sometimes I can barely be bothered to get myself a glass, if you know what I’m saying. At least I manage to take the bottle out of the paper bag.

There are those who love those fancy truffle/ artisan/ handmade/ gourmet chocolates that are all the rage lately, but in my opinion, nothing beats a box of
After Eights at Christmas.  Mmm. Have you ever tried them frozen? It’s like a refreshing, festive taste of heaven.

Black Sweaters

You can never have enough black sweaters. They are flattering, cozy, and they go with everything. If you, like me, live in a chilly Northern clime, then you will be able to enjoy wearing a black sweater for nine to ten months of the year. This one from Jacob is cute! Oooh, so is this one. It has ruffles!  My husband just commented on the attractiveness of the red one. I concede it IS very pretty, for those less monochromatic than me. The great thing about gifting someone with a sweater is that you don’t need to know someone’s exact size; frequently the purchase of clothing in the wrong size can sometimes lead to marital tension and resentment.

I have
wanted one of these for years!  Charm bracelets are the ultimate gift; they keep on giving. These bracelets look cute with only a couple of beads or charms, and they can be added to for an indefinite amount of birthdays, Mother`s Days, and Christmases to come. Look at this little snowman! He’s precious!  Colourful beads are also available, if the woman in your life is more interested in the red sweater than the black one.


I love receiving pyjamas; especially cozy and fuzzy ones. What can I say; when it comes to sleepwear I prefer the non-sexual, and I would bet that most women do as well. Sears is a great place to purchase pyjamas, for the simple reason that they are always machine washable. I find it irritating to discover that my cozy new pyjamas must be hand washed and hung to dry, else they will shrink to a non-cozy size. Look! It’s Snoopy! And that super cute monkey!  These may not be sexy, but I can guarantee they would give you sweet dreams.

I know, I know, a lot of us are going dairy-free these days, but what is Christmas without the over-consumption of cheese? Plus it goes so nicely with wine. My husband once gave me a
huge hunk of aged Cheddar from Janice Beaton and it was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

Gifts From The KitchenI don’t normally exchange gifts with my friends, but during the season we end up sampling each other’s culinary wares at potlucks and parties, and I’m just going to say that I have a very talented group of friends. One of my girlfriends has the ability to decorate cakes with royal icing in ways that amaze. Last year she gave me a teeny tiny cake decorated like a gift, complete with bows and polka-dotted edible gift wrap! It was adorable! Another girlfriend makes a salsa that brings tears of joy to my eyes. Kitchen gifts are always thoughtful and they make a perfect, and delicious, hostess gift.
I’ve never made any of these recipes, but I want to – and I would be so happy to be the recipient of them.

Scented Body Lotion

I don’t wear perfume because my husband is allergic; instead I like these scented lotions from Bath and Body Works. My favourite scents are Twilight Woods, Japanese Cherry Blossom, and Warm Vanilla Sugar. They are often available on a "Buy Three Get Two Free" basis, which is a nice deal, I think. I prefer body lotions to bath products or soap, but perhaps that’s just me.

Mix Tapes
Well, it would be more accurate to say "Mix CD" but that has less of a ring to it. I spend a lot of time in my minivan, and the radio often plays a less-than-ideal mix of music. I’m hoping for a mix CD for Christmas, and I hope it has Love Is A Battlefield on it for optimal car dancing.

A Night With Jim Cuddy
Not THAT kind of night with Jim Cuddy! Well, okay, MAYBE. I wouldn’t turn it down. YES I WOULD, I’M HAPPILY MARRIED. But I was thinking of a night of listening to him soulfully singing and strumming his guitar. Maybe looking soulfully into my eyes. Or maybe I should just ask for some of his music on my mix CD.
(Nicole blogs at Girl In A Boy House, has 2 kids, loves black sweaters, lives in Calgary and really wants a Pandora bracelet for Christmas.)

Amy - Self Serving Gifts For Your Spouse
She LOVES to cook, and she is always talking about how fun it would be to take cooking lessons. Well, now is the time to make her wish come true! And...if you're being honest, her cooking could use a little help.

She is always putting everyone else before herself. Finally pamper her the way she deserves. Plus, after this gift, there is no way she can say no to you taking a trip to Vegas with your buddies! (This gift idea shamelessly cribbed from an episode of King of Queens.)

The gift that keeps on giving! She'll melt when she finds out she will be receiving a new, lucious sampler of natural chocolates from Vermont each month. Also, you heard somewhere that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, so...score!

He may be a love machine at night, but that pasty skin, slightly pudgy belly, and slowly-creeping back hair is not always a pretty sight in the morning.

If the man in your life likes to putz around with tools, this great tool set should really please him! And maybe inspire him finally to fix the leaking faucet in the kitchen he has been promising to take care of for 6 months now.

Your gadget-loving fella will go nuts for this wondrous little box that brings internet-streamed video straight to your TV. Now he can watch tons of sports, news, and sci-fi flicks without that obscene cable bill. If he can get you away from watching Downton Abbey on Netflix for eleventy-millionth time, that is.

How do you tell your loved one that they have B.O. without hurting their precious feelings? Answer: you don't. Instead, buy them some expensive, fancy-shmancy soap and hope that they use it.

Who wouldn't love a talking box that uses satellite positioning to tell you where to go? A miracle of modern technology! And such a thoughtful gift for that special someone in your life. However, if, like me, your special someone frequently calls home saying, "I don't know where I am, can you get on Google Maps and tell me where I am?" then this gift is as much for you as it is for them. Also handy for finding bathrooms whilst on road trips.

Because you will get to drink the wine too.

(Amy blogs at A Chase After Wind, lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and toddler son, and remains constantly vigilant that her haircut not look like Justin Bieber's.)

Karen - Gift Ideas That Won't Break Your Budget
I live in a place that was in a recession before the recession started. People raise chickens and forage for berries without irony - well, maybe with some irony. Still I love giving gifts and finding great ones for under $30 is a challenge. But I have become an expert. From my corner of the world to yours, I humbly offer Budget or Bust Christmas Giving List.

Run Wallet:  This is a genius little item for people who like to exercise. I am sure you know some. This wallet holds an iPod Nano, keys, cash and credit card. Your jogging friend can strap it to his wrist with velcro. This would be nice gift for my brother in law, maybe combined with a $10 iTunes gift card or fingerless gloves.

Handmade Bracelet: Budget shopping on Etsy! I love shopping on Etsy because once you weed through all the complete crap, there is some really unique stuff. Then you get to feel as satisfied as you would if you found a cute outfit at TJ Maxx but so much cozier because you can shop in your pajamas at home.   If I am only getting my mom or my sister one $30 gift that tells them how appreciate them,, I need it to not come from the mall. I just do. This bracelet has some really pretty details and I love the berry colors for Christmas time. It costs $27 plus some shipping.  

Lace Flouncy Skirt for American Girl Doll: I am knitting this skirt and a few other pieces for my nieces who are receiving American Girl Dolls as their BIG gifts this year. Handmade gifts are an excellent way to stay on budget. I will admit that not every person on my list is fully capable of truly appreciating and loving the handmade gift. Those people are just as awesome in their own way and I like to shop for them on Amazon. My nieces will be delighted- and any child of a certain age who is very into dolls probably would be too. If this costs me  more than $15, it will be a surprise.

Lego Space Shuttle:  As a mama of three boys, I cannot say enough about the incredible joy on the faces of my kids when they open a huge Lego set at Christmas.   What I like about this set is for about $24, it is going to have about $50 worth of impact - because it is a SPACE SHUTTLE. Awesome.

Penzey’s: We actually live in pretty reasonable driving distance of a Penzey’s spice shop.
I am happily related to a bunch of men and women who enjoy cooking with excellent ingredients. Perhaps some people might think this is too much like giving groceries, but I enjoy receiving really nice quality ingredients. Feel free to shop for me at Penzey’s as the Baker’s Catalogue. For $11.95, you could get a mini gift set of 4 spices. We have a really good friend who loves to coo for his family. He’d love this. If shopping for my fairy mother in law, I would probably splurge and get the larger sizes for $15.99.

Dr. Hauschka:  I realize that it is only acceptable to buy toiletry items as gifts if they are really nice ones. Dr. Hauschka is the very best.  I probably wouldn’t buy it on-line but rather at Whole Foods or if feeling extra loyal at smaller shop in town, though that will probably cost me an extra $5. Still for $22.95, it is a really sweet set including Hand Cream, Lavender Oil, Quince Moisturizer (quince, I love this antique fruit!), Rose Moisturizer, and 2 body oils.  This gift is tiny but when budget gifting, quality is very important. If you buy this, give it to your best friend or someone you want to have be your best friend. This year I may give this to my sister in law as she is getting taking a very trip for the holidays.

Kindle Cover:  My dad got himself a Kindle recently. He is really the perfect candidate for one. He can even do his beloved New York Times crossword on it. I want to get him a truly class Kindle cover to protect it. Once again, Etsy saves the day. I think my dad will look dignified and cool pulling out his herringbone-patterned Kindle on the subway. It costs $20 & the shipping is $4.00. Hipsters, beware!

Cell Phone Skins:  Tweens! The tweens of my world love to accessorize. My niece and my son both have texting addiction. All day long they text back and forth to their friends. Saying stuff like “Hi!” and “That math took too long!” Don’t even try to tell me they text about any other topic besides homework and geeky greetings.  Cell phones skins are pretty cheap $5.99. I can stick these in their stockings or wrap them up with an iTunes card for a nice grown-up gift. Apparently, toys are out....

The New Way Things Work: My boys already have this book. It would be a lovely family gift to anyone with a houseful of curious kids. It is a book I bring places where the kids might be bored. It gives them something to pour over together. The kids love looking at the way machines work. The illustrations are excellent and fascinating to children. $22.95 at Amazon and probably a few more bucks at your local bookshop.

Stemless Stemware: My mom gave me these last year. Everyone who comes over loves drinking out of my very elegant, dishwasher safe stemless stem ware. This nice set of 8 from Crate and Barrel costs under $20. Note to people everywhere, stemless glasses hold about a bucket of wine. You’ve been warned.

Whatever your budget, Happy Holidays from my family to yours.

(Karen is a writer, mother of 3, childbirth educator and doula and lives in New England.)

And there we have it - THE END. I hope you've enjoyed this series and maybe even found it helpful. If you have any ideas for great gift suggestions that the writers this week haven't mentioned, feel free to post them in the comments! And even if you don't, it's always nice to hear from you.

I'd like to -finally - thank all of the writers involved in this project. I know that all of you put a lot of time and effort into your lists, and it was really appreciated. Thanks so much for helping me out with this! - Beck

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Part Three - Kids!

One thing that I've loved about this series of posts is that each of the lists are so unique. I gave each writer the same basic outline - 10 or so items, reasonably priced - and then stepped aside and everyone involved came up with such different, fun lists - not just the gift suggestions themselves, too, but the way their individual voices come through. Something that I wanted to say is that - since it was asked yesterday in the comments - no one was remunerated in any way for any of these lists and so what you're reading was written just for fun. (However, if anyone wants to get me that fox tote bag down the page, I would CHEERFULLY accept it.)

Today's lists are especially fun - Kimberly's list consists of well-thought out suggestions for hard-to-shop-for little boys, Megan's list has kids' music suggestions that won't drive YOU nuts, and Gretchen's list is not entirely for children but rather has gifts that are evocative of childhood past and gone. I hope you find all three lists interesting and helpful. - Beck 

Kimberly - Little Boy Gifts From Girly-Girl Moms
I am a girly girl. I like makeup, and played with Barbies. I have one sister, who is even more of a girly girl than I am. We had some building blocks, and cars, and my parents were fairly progressive about gendered toys (it was the 70s, after all) but we were, and are, still girly girls.

Therefore, of course, because God has a sense of humor, I had two boys. So, I have put quite a bit of thought into toys for my kids. I wanted them to play with something OTHER than just cars and trucks and trains (though we have an enormous number of those, also). They are still really little, my oldest is just 5 and my little guy is not quite 3, but they still need well-rounded play time. There are three basic types of toys my boys need: physical, mental, and imaginative.

Physical toys: My boys are very physical. They are incapable of just sitting and watching a video. They will watch it, WHILE they are rolling around on the ground "wrestling." They need an outlet, especially when the weather is inhospitable.

Pounding toys are especially useful when the kids are 2-5 years old. A nice old-fashioned bench one is great. But there are some really nice plastic ones that are well-made, like the "Hammer away" on page 8 of this Discovery Toys catalog.

Trikes/Bikes/scooters are also useful, even inside. My boys received a Radio Flyer ride on Scoot-about when my first was about 18 months old. This lived in the house until this summer. Great exercise, and it IS furniture friendly. Then, when my first was two, his grandparents gave him this Fisher-Price convertible tricycle. It was good for what it was, but now that my second is almost three, he wants to really ride it outside, and it isn't grippy enough to pedal on anything but the flatest of surfaces. Stick with ones with true rubber wheels, not plastic wheels. Also, our experience is that the "retro" steel bikes, which look solid and nostalgic, are not quite as hardy as some of the newer metal and plastic ones.

Outside tools: My boys have gotten a lot of use out of these mini-tools.

My parents live in the country and the boys each have a set down at their house so they can "help" Grampa do yard work. And we have a set here. Keeps them occupied nicely when we are trying to get things done outside.

Mentally stimulating toys: I have bright kids, who like to be challenged. They like to watch television and play on the computer, too, but what parent wants their kids watching hours of tv a day? Not me. *Ahem*

Puzzles: My little boy, especially LOVES puzzles. Any kind, but these "four in a box" wooden puzzles are especially nice. And you don't have to buy the "name brand" ones. I found another set at the craft store for just $5.00. They are portable, and not so messy, and he does them over and over, and then breaks them up and puts them back in their little compartments. My bigger boy enjoys the floor puzzles that are as big as he is. He received this dinosaur puzzle as a gift for his fourth birthday and it still gets great use. Word of caution, I think the more expensive floor puzzles are worth the price. I have purchased two much cheaper ones and they are so thin that the pieces don't hold together well, which is REALLY frustrating for the boys.

For a puzzle that is more flexible, a friend gave us a Mighty Minds set a couple years ago. When the boys are little, they just play with the colored pieces. As they get older, they really enjoy trying to figure out the shapes. Practical tip: put the little pieces in a plastic baggie for storage.

And lets not forget, books, books, and more books. The "Scholastic" books aren't great quality, but they do have a breadth of interests and are good for ideas if you aren't familiar with what is out there. I have been blessed with a mother-in-law who has taught little kids all her life, and she is our book-giver. And one thing I have learned from her, don't overlook "other" titles from famous writers. Robert McCloskey wrote more than just "Make Way for Ducklings" (my boys particularly enjoy his "Lentil"). Same for Virginia Lee Burton and Margaret Wise Brown, to name just two.

Imaginative play: My boys have great imaginations. They are spurred by books and videos and animals and cars and rescue heroes. They love to play dress-up and I take the opportunity post-Halloween to purchase some costumes at super cheap prices, and not-so cheap prices. And for the non-sewer DIY-ers among us, all you need is a "superhero" cape and a pair of swim goggles. Take your kids to the fire station and get one of those fireman hats. Easy peasy.

Don't overlook some of the girly stuff. My 2 1/2 yo is super excited with a $5.00 plastic pink and purple tea set that his dad got him from the big box store one day. Let's start training boys how to be polite and pour tea and learn manners in a fun way. It works!

Blocks are probably the oldest form of imaginative play. They don't need to be fancy, though they can be. They should be safe for the age group. If you have a teething or mouthy kid around, a nice hardwood set with sanded edges will be better than paper blocks. The stone ones are very nice, but I am not about to get those for my kids until the youngest is out of the throwing stage. I hate plastic ones, and my kids don't seem to enjoy those much.

Last, but not least, I would be remiss if I didn't say something about building/play sets. In addition to the erector-type sets (K'nex, etc.) there are both Playmobil and Legos. People say that you should pick one or the other as you will have little tiny pieces around and they might as well be the same kind. My kids have never really been into the plastic connecting blocks that are for little kids, Duplo and Mega Blocks and the like. (Waste of money, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.) My husband played with both Legos and Playmobil and liked both. The Playmobil sets have more play value because they don't have to be built, again and again and little kids don't get frustrated by not being able to put them together. We started off the boys with inherited Playmobil sets, and have selectively added one or two. They are expensive, but the nice thing is that they really are interchangeable. The set that my husband had in the 1970s is completely integrated into the modern ones.

(We have policemen on our Noah's ark, frequently, and you should SEE a monkey flying in a rescue helicopter. It is quite a sight.) They last FOREVER, if you can keep the pieces together. They are NOT for the littlest of kids, as the pieces are super tiny, but my little boy has been playing with them for a year and mostly not ingesting pieces. Hint for keeping all the tiny pieces in one place. Add one of these IKEA boxes in with the set, and train your kids to keep all the pieces in THAT box. Even my messy kids do it, mostly. Saves mom's sanity.

There you go. Surely one of these gift ideas will be perfect for your little boy.

(Kimberly - Former lawyer, current genealogy nerd, new dog owner (Basset! and Rottie! and retriever! All mixed!), blogs (sometimes) about her two little boys and assorted other trivia at

Megan - Music For Kids That Won't Drive Parents Out Of Their Minds
I fully realize music is one of the most subjective, personal areas to tackle here, but I'll do my best to offer some quality kids' music suggestions that won't drive the majority of you insane. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Ahem.

Some disclaimers before I begin. We are Christians and hold to a reformed, biblical worldview. This does not mean we only listen to Christian music, as you will see in the list below. (Though we do listen to some, as you will also see in the list below.) We appreciate good music. I hope this list reflects that for you.

Picture 15

They Might Be Giants: Here Come The 123s
We also have Here Come the ABCs and Here Comes Science. Of the three, the 123s is by far *my* favorite. The science one has some iffy stuff on it, so know that before getting it, should you choose to do so. The 123s is super awesome, all the way.

Coal Train Railroad - Well done jazz for the younger set. I think my girls have *just* about aged out of this, but it's so well done, I will hang on to my copy for a long time. In fact, I bought a pack of five of these when it first came out and gave it out as baby shower gifts. It's awesome. They are just now coming out with a second one, Coal Train Railroad Swings. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm sure it's just as good.

Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George (Jack Johnson) - Hey, it's Jack Johnson on every track. What's not to love? Personal favorites: Upside Down, People Watching, We're Going To Be Friends, well, pretty much all of them.

Slugs & Bugs & Under Where - The CD you see above is their second regular kids album. They also have a Christmas album (and I'm giving away 3 copies of it over here!) - Funny stuff, kids like it, doesn't drive me nuts.

Country Goes Raffi - I fully realize I'm going to be entering serious eye-rolling territory with this one. After all, Raffi? Country? Together? But I'm telling you, it works. YOU may not appreciate The Bowling Song very much, but your kids might. *wink* And the surprise favorite is the sweetest little lullaby, Blessed Be, sung by Alison Krauss. Trust me. It's worth it just for that one song alone. Well, that and The Bowling Song.
Picture 7
Phineas & Ferb Soundtrack - Okay, I don't have personal experience with this entire album myself, but I have thought on more than one occasion that the songs they do on the show are pretty clever. It just never occurred to me to buy the CD. I bet my girls would love this. So...guess what's going on my "to buy for Christmas" list?

Elizabeth Mitchell: Sunny Day - Oh my word. Don't walk, RUN and get an album by Elizabeth Mitchell right now. So well done, my word! How have I not heard of her before now? I just scrolled through several song samples on iTunes and I really really want to get one of these albums soon.

Phil Joel: Deliberate Kids - We found this in 2007 and really liked it a ton. Phil Joel, of Newsboys fame, put together this collection of decent songs on theology for kids. So, yes, it's Christian, but it's good Christian (as in, the art aspect has not been sacrificed for the message here.)

Seeds Family Worship - The title of this CD implies it's also Christian. Seeds Family Worship has several CDs of scripture set to music and again, the key here is that it's really well done.
Picture 11
The Jellydots: Hey You Kids! - Oh wow, where have I been? This is another new recommendation to me and it's fantastic. I'm trying to figure out who to compare it to and I'm having a bit of trouble deciding who they remind me of, but I did just pop this on my Amazon wish list. We've been missing out

(Megan and her family of six recently moved from the Midwest to the Pseudo Southwest. She's been hobbling along at the Half-Pint House since *gasp* 2003.)

Gretchen - Nostalgia-Inspired Gifts

Set of 10 1950s Children's Metal Tin Plates, $26. Children love play cooking and play eating. I love the variety of designs. They’d make a great gift for someone who decorates with quirky plates, too. It’s an instant collection.

Fabric Children’s Board Game Motif 2012 Calendar, $18/yard. The print on this fabric is a work of art. Buy a yard and make your own wall hanging, calendar pillow, or mat it and invent a game. The colors and adorable animals are so charming, you won’t want 2012 to end. Bring on the end of the world! There’s no way 2013 could top it.

2012 Tea Towel Fabric Calendar , $18/yard. For most of my early childhood, my mom received a tea towel calendar every Christmas. She hung them in our kitchen using a dowel. When the year came to a close, the calendar would become a towel we’d use to dry dishes. Take that, 1978! This fabric calendar has great muted colors and a fun head-turning design.

 Clear Retro Christmas Bubble Lights with Silver Glitter, $19.99 for a set of 7. When I was in high school, my best friend had the best everything. Best frozen treats, best TV channels, best car, and the best Christmas tree. They had old fashioned bubbling Christmas lights and I couldn’t get enough of them. I vowed someday to own a string. They’ll take your tree back to the 1940s---or at least the 1980s.

Enstrom's Almond Toffee, $19.95/pound. I would be forever barred from my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado, if I didn’t advise people to buy and eat huge amounts of Enstrom’s. As anyone from there will tell you, it’s World Famous. My opinion? It’s a much-deserved reputation. This toffee is buttery, smooth, brittle but not teeth-shattering. The chocolate coating is rich and in the perfect ratio. They ship anywhere in the world. Check out their peppermint bark, too.

Baby's First Sock Monkey, $20. For some reason, I associate sock monkeys with raucous Christmas mornings. That’s why, when thinking of my theme of nostalgia, I wanted to include a sock monkey. I found this adorable specimen. He’s perfect for young babies to grip and bite and talk to when they wake in the night.

The Animal's Merry Christmas by Kathryn Jackson, illustrated by Richard Scarry, about $10. It wouldn’t be a nostalgic Christmas for our family if we didn’t read this darling book at least once. It’s a collection of stories about winter and the holiday season. I read it as a child. For some reason, the story that always stood out to me was “The Naughty Little Reindeer.” I wonder why? Scarry’s illustrations will never grow old or outdated.

Charley Harper Prints iPhone/Kindle/Gadget Skins, $14.95 and up. Charley Harper illustrations and art mix nature, geometry, bold motifs, and whimsy. He was at the top of his career in the mid-20th century, but his designs transcend. I love that you can take along his prints on your gadgety things. I truly love how unique they are.

 Think Inside the Fox Tote, $64.95. This fun tote would be perfect for a young lady who needs to carry many books. I was a young lady like that. When I found this bag, I fell in love with the fox, the colors, and what appears to be some quality construction.

Dahlia Cocktail Rings, $14-$16. These vintage-inspired rings are handmade and unique. The deep goldenrod colored dahlia ring caught my eye especially. The adjustable bands guarantee they will fit fingers without worry.

(Gretchen blogs at Lifenut, writes, and lives near Denver with her husband and eight kids. 8!)

That's it for today - make sure you come back tomorrow for the final list, full of great gift suggestions for spouses  - especially FEMALE spouses. - Beck

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 2 Of Non-Oprah's Favorite Things

(This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Part 1 is here.) You are obviously an above-average person, since you are here and reading this, and your friends and family are likely just as smart. What should you buy your smart family and friends? Today's guest bloggers have lots of great ideas:

Sue - Gifts For Smart Kids and Their Adult Equivalents.
You know that feeling you get when you're in a science centre or really cool museum? That feeling of geeky joy that too often gets quashed the second you step into the museum's over-priced gift shop? It's that feeling I most like to have wash over me on Christmas morning--knowing that Santa went out of his way to put his Edison Elf on my case. And so, I give to you 10ish gifts designed to make you either feel clever or marvel at the cleverness of others.

Reindeer Hexbug Nano in a Christmas ornament

 Glow in the Dark Hexbug Nano
$8.95: My daughter got a Hexbug Nano in the mail last year from her uncle. "Piffle," I thought when I saw it in the package. "What does this 50-something, childless, Philosophy professor know of the workings of the 5-yr-old mind?" We then took the little critter out of its package and let it loose on our kitchen floor. It was by far the most fun we had as a family with a gift last Christmas. Mind you, the Hexbug effect is heightened if you or someone you know is able to feel terror and glee simultaneously. I still marvel at the pocket engineering that went into its creation. Why, if it topples over, it somehow can figure out how to right itself. Priced for the stocking-stuffer budget, the Hexbug Nano is a must have for anyone on your list. Hexbug also sells a slightly more expensive larvae but, truth be told, the very thought of it crawling across my floor creeps me right out.

Air Swimmwers (clownfish and shark) with a compelling YouTube sales pitch:

I want the shark. I want to give the shark to my husband for Christmas and have it wake us all up on Christmas morning. I then want to set the shark loose in my library at the start of term and maybe again just before exam time. I want to get a close look at the shark to figure out how in Sam Hell it works and then I want to shake hands with the incredibly cool people who invented a floating, menacing air-shark that one could, theoretically, let loose in an academic library just before exam time. Well done, geeky practical jokers. Well done.

Human Planet DVD set  $49.98 This became the number one item on my Christmas wish list after I saw this short and compelling video promotional piece. With visuals like that, what's not to love? And since the macro lens I'd love for my camera is waaaaay over our holiday budget, I'd be perfectly happy just kicking back and looking at and learning from the pros. We've all but worn out our Planet Earth dvds; the entire family is smitten with this BBC franchise. Really, you can't go wrong with any one of these sets whether your recipient is young or old. 

Got a crafty kid on your hands? Why not let her make her own kaleidescope?  $14.99
Or, for just a few more smackeroos, you can give the gift of light in its full spectrum: ScienceWiz Projects with Light Kit ($19.99) shows you how to conduct 8 separate light-based experiments at home. Sure, you could likely figure out how to do all this stuff for free by being resourceful and searching the Internet for instructions for each of these projects, but that doesn't make for a great present opening moment on Christmas day, does it?

What kind of librarian would I be if I didn't include a book on this list? And who doesn't marvel at the craftsmanship of a well-made pop-up book? If you have never given or received a Robert Sabuda book, now's the time to do so. His latest, co-designed with Matthew Reinhart, is Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons And Monsters Pop-up.  I own Sabuda's Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. I've got a few others in my collection. All are stunning. 

St. Basil's Cathedral 3-D Puzzle

Art! Architecture! Geography! Spatial skills! OK, fine. I just think it would be really fun to build St. Basil's Cathedral as a puzzle. I get that not everyone enjoys doing puzzles. If you are that person then please pass this along to me if someone gives it to you this Christmas.

Star-gazing 70mm telescope
I really,really, really wish someone had given me one of these when I was a kid--even if it only ended up collecting dust after just a few months of half-hearted use. For some reason, I can't shake just how cool it would feel to step out on the back porch with your mom or dad and look up at the stars. Ah, but this is not an inexpensive gift, which means you would have to pick your recipient wisely.

Air Hogs Hawk Eye Radio Control Video Camera Helicopter 
My husband really, really, really wishes someone had got something like this for him when he was a kid. Now, he's just waiting for the perfect moment to give one to our daughter. I'm thinking next year or the one following. Did I mention that it not only flies, but it also takes pictures and/or video footage from on high. Oh, brave new world...

Ta-da! If any of you need my shipping address, don't hesitate to ask.
(Sue blogs at Mouse-Traps and The Moon, is a children's academic librarian, lives in Fredericton, and has a six year old daughter.)

Kate - Gifts For People Who Love History
Henry VIII Disappearing Wives Mug,

$12.95, The Unemployed Philosophers Guild
Useful AND decorative! Bonus: While you're drinking your coffee and trying to face your day, this will remind you that no matter what happens, you will probably not be beheaded. So it could be worse.

Magnetic Monarchs, £6.50, National Portrait Gallery
Who doesn't want all the British monarchs, in order, on their refrigerator? Who? (Okay, you could also break them apart into individual magnets. YOU could. I am too rigid for that.)

Historical Figure Cloth Ornaments, £4-7 each, The Christmas Company
Monarchs (including all the Tudors)! Pirates! Shakespeare! These are really nice quality, and if you start giving a friend one or two each year, you won't have to think about what to get them again for a decade.

Simon Schama: A History of Britain DVD set, $59.98 (though currently on sale), Amazon
This epic series will take you from 3000 BC up to 1965, and Schama is the perfect guide. It's educational but also fascinating and pretty entertaining.

World War II: A Day by Day History 2012 calendar, $12.95,
My mother and I found this while on a trip a few months ago and I insisted she buy it for Dad immediately. When she told him that his daughter had picked out a present for him, his immediate response was, I kid you not, "Hitler or Stalin?" Dad and I are a barrel of laughs. ANYWAY. The photographs on this calendar are really beautiful, and I love the little daily history entries.

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir, $28 (though currently on sale), Amazon
Alison Weir is one of the best pop historians writing today, as far as writing accessible and entertaining books that also have their facts straight. I'd recommend any of her books, but this is the newest, and would be great for fans of The Tudors or The Other Boleyn Girl who want to get the real story of Anne Boleyn's sister.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman,

$19.99 (though currently on sale), Amazon
This is, hands down, the best historical novel I have ever read. It's long but definitely worth it.

American Revolution Jigsaw Puzzle, $14.95, White Mountain Puzzles
This is intricate, educational, attractive, and SO much more fun to put together than a puzzle of a bunch of flowers or something. They have puzzles for several other historical topics as well, so browse around the site. (Bonus: This company is local to me, so I'm happy to give them some visibility! They only ship to the US, but it looks like carries their products.)

Chinese Calligraphy Scarf,

$60, Metropolitan Museum Shop
Scarves are sort of a cliched gift, I guess, but they work for a reason, and this one is based on a 13th century Chinese scroll! Awesome! Perfect for your friend who's into Asian history or art.

BBC History Magazine subscription (Price depends on location.)
This is Britain's best-selling history magazine for a reason, and magazine subscriptions make nice gifts because they keep arriving all year. This magazine focuses on British history but has good international coverage, as well.
(Kate lives in New England, where she reads, knits, watches too much TV, and writes for a bunch of sites, including,, and her personal blog.)

Allison - Book Recommendations (and I've purchased four books off this list for hard-to-shop-for people on my list, so heads-up. - Beck.)

For pre-adolescent boys:

End of Days by Eric Walters or The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch or pretty much anything with 'Plague' or 'Inferno' or 'Doom' or 'Death' or 'Buckets of Blood and Inordinate Amounts of Promised Adrenaline-Fueling Gobs of Violence and Cataclysm'. Or, as my eleven-year-old son says, "you had me at 'series of mysterious deaths leading to a deadly cat-and-mouse game!'" What can I say? He's my kid.

For anyone who's remotely like me:
The Newsflesh Trilogy. I love zombies. I can't get enough of zombies. But I don't read just any zombie books. They have to be well-written books with great characters and engaging plots that just happen to contain zombies. If the people in them don't actually HAVE any brains worth eating, I'm outta there. These books are fabulous, and topical - they take place in a near future in which bloggers are prime players in the news. In this future, two vaccines (which cured cancer and the common cold) have combined to generate a virus which is dormant in everyone, but results in zombification after death, with the added bonus that anyone can also undergo 'amplification' at any moment and zombify spontaneously. Also, everyone names their kids George or Georgia (after George Romero) or Buffy. Wait, that makes it sound stupid but it's actually not. Of course, the third book isn't out yet, so you can only give them the first two books and then they might actually try to eat your brain when they realize they have to wait until June 2012 for the third, so maybe wait until next year.

For - well, I don't know who, because even though I loved this book, every single person I've given it to has HATED it, so really I just want someone to give it to someone and report back to me if anyone else in the world besides me likes it:
The Magicians by Lev Grossman: A fair number of people have called it Harry Potter for grown-ups, and then a bunch of other people got really mad about that, and you know you don't want to mess with the Harry Potter people, but come on - dude doesn't know he's magic and then finds out he's magic and goes to a secret magic school. It doesn't take a genius. After that, it's much less quaint and adolescent than H.P. "Friendship, love, sex, booze and boredom", with MAGIC - doesn't that sound cool? AND, and, also, a beloved series of fantasy novels and then the magical land turns out to be REAL? Come ON. Seriously. I can't be the only one feeling it. And if it doesn't work for you, just start replacing all the names with Harry, Ron and Hermione. That should be good for at least a few cheap laughs.

For the literalists on your list (I don't recommend trying to say that out loud):

John Dies at the End or The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had to: at first I thought "what kind of idiot came up with these titles?" but then I thought, maybe some people just need to know what they're getting into. Both books present themselves as rather weightless smartass hipster inside jokes, but both, particularly the second, have some real moments of wisdom, clarity and poignancy. Plus, in John Dies at the End, there's a meat monster. And a song called Camel Holocaust. Also, because it kind of fits in this category but not quite, and because it's one of my top five books of all time, I strongly counsel you to buy a copy of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett for everyone you know. It tells you in the opening chapter pretty much exactly how it's going to end, and yet you will still be riven by its beauty and devastated when it's over, partly just because it's over.

For people who are just too damned happy all the time:
Songs in Ordinary Timeby Mary McGarry Morris, or Broken by Daniel Clay: both brilliantly written studies of more or less ordinary people caught in horrible situations with miniscule nuggets of black humour and fleeting moments of snatched comfort, but no tiresome redemption to spoil the mostly unrelieved misery. Kind of like being stuck in grade four with all the school bullies in your class, a completely ineffectual teacher, and no hope of advancement.
For people who like to read mysteries but still want to feel smart:
Anything by Fred Vargas: She's not only a woman named Fred, but she's French and also a 'renowned archaeologist and vociferous political campaigner' - so this is obviously some sophisticated stuff she's got going on. The books are fantastic - mysteries tangled up with philosophy, legend, culture, and the profound sadness of the human condition. And the protagonist, Commissaire Adamsberg, is this absent-minded yet penetratingly insightful Columbo-like figure -- if you knew him in real life you'd be constantly tempted to stick your fist down his throat, but in fiction he's absolutely charming.

For, um, undecided:

I'm never the one who puts the really funny things on Facebook. I'm always the one who sees them when other people put them up. This is how I came across my first comics from The Oatmeal. The ones I saw were mostly about spelling and grammar, like ten words you need to stop misspelling, and they were all FREAKING AWESOME. So when I was in the bookstore and I saw 5 Very Good Reasons for to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (and Other Useful Guides), I picked up a copy on impulse for the ultra-erudite pair on my list - my brother-in-law and his wife. Then I got it home and started flipping through it. Eep. There were the ones nobody puts on Facebook. There was crudeness and filth. There were (nsfw! - Beck) dead hookers. So I thought maybe I'd give it to my Dad instead. Then my husband found it. I explained my dilemma. He started flipping through it and waving extra-funny pages in my face, while I said yeah, I said IT WAS FUNNY, that's WHY I BOUGHT it, but.... then I saw (nsfw! again! - Beck) this one and laughed myself into an asthma attack. Now we're getting one for everyone we know. Merry Christmas, Nana and Grandpa!

(Allison blogs at Bibliomama, has two kids, lives in Ottawa, and can say pillow and egg in five languages.)

Coming up tomorrow: gifts for actual children and not fur-children!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Your Favorite Things

This all started with me joking on Twitter - post-Oprah Favorite Things post - that if I'd had my act together, I would have organized a coterie of bloggers to write their own Favorite Things lists for me and from that launch my own Oprah-esque media empire.

Oh, foolish, foolish me.

So, a sizable number of my favorite bloggers have spent the past week coming up with interesting gift lists for your perusal, while I wasted my time imaging how totally adorable I would look in a rainbow of dresses, just like Oprah on her magazine's December cover and got absolutely nothing done. Luckily for you, however, this post does not depend upon MY hard work but rather the cleverness and good judgement of my blogger panel, who are all going to have cushy magazine writing jobs once my media empire ship comes rolling in.

I've tried to organize the lists - roughly - by topic. Today is... well, fairly miscellaneous, actually - stocking stuffers for adults, things to buy in little wee towns AND homemade gifts for those lacking in the craft gene. Tuesday will be Gifts For The Clever, Wednesday will be Gifts For Children (or Childish Adults) and Thursday will be Gifts For Spouses AND Gifts On A Budget.  There may not be something for absolutely everyone, but hopefully you'll find the lists fun, sensible and maybe even helpful. - Beck.

Stocking Stuffers For Adults - by Hannah.

Stockings were always a huge deal at my house. They were the first thing we went for; even before the (usually large and beguiling) Santa present under the tree, we dove into the stockings. Each present inside was individually wrapped (it's since dawned on me that this was to buy my parents more time to drink their coffee and wake up a bit more. Clever parents).

Once I went off to university, I didn't get a stocking anymore (yes, we continued to get them for that long). I still think of those stockings wistfully. My husband does try and he's getting better, but as I've donned the Santa hat not only for him but for my young children it's become painfully clear that stuffing stockings - really good ones - is HARD.

To my way of thinking, the ideal stocking should have a little of everything; some toys, some candy, one or two practical things you'd never think to buy yourself... in my experience trying a "theme" stocking just ends in misery, heartache, and too many loose pistachio nuts (this may or may not have happened to me once).

And so - stocking stuffers for grown ups. I found online retailers for almost all items, and tried to keep the base price per item under $20.

1) The Original Slinky,
Lee Valley, $7.50

Now, I know there are people out there who think that Slinky was a damn rip-off the first time they actually played with one, instead of just seeing them on TV. Do they walk downstairs, alone or in pairs? Not always. The stairs have to be the precise right dimensions and slope. What they are great for is slinking back and forth when you're occupied with a tedious task. Waiting on hold for customer service, say. Listening to a conference call at work. Infinitely more fun than building chains of paperclips. And when you're done, you can rest them on any flat surface and use them to hold papers or as a mail caddy. (Truly!)

2) Chocolate-Dipped Coffee Spoons,
Gourmet Coffee Express, $24 for 12
These are the gold standard of coffee spoons (literally - for an extra dollar per spoon you can get them sprinkled with gold dust). But buying 12 would help you stuff a stocking and maybe a little something extra to gifts for others; if you have to do a Secret Santa, for instance, or your kid's teacher is getting a card this year. Bonus points if you make your own chocolate-dipped spoons; there are all kinds of sites on the internet that give you detailed directions, and you could make it more special by using real spoons and high-quality chocolate.

3) The Honeymooner Massage Bar,
Lush, $7.95
Really anything from Lush will work for most people, and they have product lines for men, women, and children. If you're stuffing your spouse's stocking though, the melting massage bar with soft centre would be a decadent and awesome gift. Include a hand-written voucher or coupon for a massage at time selected by the recipient and what you'll be getting for Christmas is lucky.

4) All-Purpose Jar Opener,
Cucina Moderna, $10
 If I ever win the lottery - the big one, with $50 million or something like that - I will take care of my family, donate a large portion to charity, and then hit up Cucina Moderna. They have the most luxurious kitchen products imaginable. Most have price tags that will curl your hair. Some though are downright reasonable, like this very stylish jar opener. I cannot stand the contortions I have to go through sometimes to open jars; running it under hot water, turning it upside down and banging on it, wedging it in the doorframe... only to finally concede defeat and ask my husband to open it for me. So much better to have this handy tool in the drawer.

5) Spicy Mexican hot chocolate,
Just Us Coffee Roasters, $10 for 300g bag
We bought a bag of this on spec a couple of weeks ago, and OMFG WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE. The mix smells rich and cinnamony (cinnamonish?) with a hint of chili; it's got actual chunks of honest-to-god dark chocolate in it, and the taste is indescribably decadent. So dense and creamy you can make it with just hot water and it is still fantastic; I haven't even tried it with hot milk yet because I'm afraid the sheer awesomeness would cause a stroke.

6) Darth Vader USB Drive,
Best Buy, $20

For the fun-loving geek in us all. I lose USB drives at an alarming rate; I put them down for 'just a second' and poof, gone. I can guarantee that one shaped like Darth Vader would never ever get lost. I can't justify on buying it for myself; I'll just keep getting boring old regular ones with the Sandisk logo on them. I would love to get a Darth Vader in my stocking, though. (They also offer Boba Fett. Nerds FTW!)

7) Whiskey Stones,
Uncommon Goods, $19.50US for a set of nine
These are just cool. I enjoy a tipple, and I like most of my drinks cold, but I hate putting ice in them because it waters everything down. Those last couple of mouthfuls when the drink is more water than booze are so disappointing. Enter the whiskey stone! They are completely safe and non-toxic; won't scratch your glass or crystal; and chill your drink faster than ice cubes without diluting it. Also, they are ROCKS. I need say no more.

8) Paperback Books
Chapters, online, small local bookshops
I always got a book in my stocking as a kid. I still put at least one book in everyone's stocking every year. Be creative with the choice of books, though. An more expensive magazine that the recipient loves but doesn't often buy themselves (like National Geographic or Vanity Fair). Crossword puzzle books if you know the person enjoys them. Last year there was a Farmers' Almanac in mine, which might sound odd but was actually a gift I kept going back to over and over again.

9) iBottleOpener,
Uncommon Goods, $20US
I myself do not have an iPhone. Nor do I often attend events where there would be a need - right that moment! - for a bottle opener. BUT IF I DID, this would be a unique and fun gift to receive.

10) Leather Driving Gloves
various retailers, starting at $20
Canadian winters are cold. Vinyl steering wheels often feel like they are carved from arctic ice. They are the last part of the car to warm up. Not to mention your hands are usually already freezing from scraping the windshield. Enter a nice pair of leather gloves. Now, you can spend as much or as little as you want but it *is* possible to get a reasonable pair for around $20. Leather is better than mittens or microfibre because it provides grip on the wheel, making driving safer. Plus (and I speak from experience) the leather will gradually mould to the exact size and shape of your hands, making them super-comfortable.

11) Flower or Vegetable Seeds - for gardeners
various retailers, less than $2/packet
Stuffing a stocking for a gardener? Toss in some seed packets or small gardening tools. It's always nice to get a gift tied to your favourite hobby (even if it is the wrong time of year - spring will come!)

12) Mood Mud,
Office Playground, $2.99

I loved mood rings. I even loved those weird "Hypercolor" t-shirts  that were so popular for a while in the early 90s. So when I found Mood Mud I immediately coveted it. They have the texture of a stress ball but change colour depending on the temperature of your skin.

13) Essential Care  Kit,
Burt's Bees, $14.99
This is an inexpensive introductory kit to those unfamiliar with Burt's Bees products. One word of caution: make sure the recipient likes the smell of beeswax. (I don't know how you can do that unobtrusively. Bring home a beeswax candle, maybe?) But these products are lovely, last FOREVER, and will are sufficiently gender-neutral that they work for both men and women.

(Hannah blogs at Hodgepodge and Strawberries, lives in Halifax and is expecting her third baby this very winter.)
Gifts to Give When You Live In A Small Town With Limited Shopping Options. - by Nan

As my Great Aunt Beatrice use to say, long shafts are functional, safe, responsive and aesthetically pleasing. Of course, my Great Aunt Beatrice wasn't speaking of Starfrit's brightly-coloured, cotton-lined, pliable, long-shafted oven mitts. But still. Give a pair of these to the chef on your Christmas list. (Co-op Grocery store, $17.99)

There are two kinds of people in a small town: those who drink the coffee sold at the ice rink concession stand, and those with intact stomach linings. Bring your home-brewed, hot beverage to the rink in this cute alternative to the ubiquitous stainless steel travel mug. (People's Drugstore, $19.99)

After a day of doing masculine tasks involving power tools, heavy lifting, math and multiple trips to the hardware store, my husband likes a soak in the tub. Alas he is averse to flowery, lady-scented products, but doesn't object to the light honey-lemon scent of these crystals. (People's Drugstore, $16.99)

Backyard firepits are de rigeur in small towns. Once you've cooked your popcorn, s'mores or cowboy sandwiches, toss one of these packages on the fire. It's like flames and rainbows are making sweet, forbidden love right in front of your eyes. (Home Hardware, $2.56)

I love my sons despite their atrocious taste in music and their propensity to listen to the same audiobooks over and over again. These speakers take a lot of abuse, and are small enough that the boys can't deafen themselves (or me) when they listen to "Whip Your Hair" for the forty-ninth time in a row. (The Source, $19.99)

Buy one for your friend with the great sense of humour, or for your humourless cousin who's a member of the local militia force. (Co-op Grocery store, $10.99)
(Nan blogs at Wrath Of Mom, homeschools her two sons and lives in British Columbia.)
Easy Homemade Gifts For The Uncrafty - Christine

1) Sugar Body Scrub
This is my favorite homemade gift! I first heard of the idea from my friend, Niobe, and I was amazed at how easy it was. You'll need sugar, oil (grape seed or almond is best, but canola is fine in a pinch; olive is too strong a scent) and an essential oil of your choice. Now, be very careful when picking out essential oils as some can irritate skin and should only be used for very specific purposes. I like to stick with lavender for this project, as it is generally inexpensive, one small bottle will last a very long time, it is very safe, and the scent is pleasing to most people. If you plan to use a different oil please take a moment to research its properties.Here is a basic website that will help you out.

Mix a few cups of oil and sugar until you have a thick paste (just eye ball it). Add a few drops of the oil, mix well, and package in a small jar. The scrub can be used in the shower to exfoliate and moisturize while leaving behind a light, pleasing fragrance.
2) Homemade Cocoa Mix
Don't put the sugar away yet! You can use this recipe to make a homemade hot cocoa mix. Increase the proportions as necessary. You can use mason jars to package, but in the past I've just used plastic baggies tied with a colorful ribbon. Make sure to add a little tag with mixing instructions.
3) Flavored Sugar
Still have your sugar out? Good. Now put some in a cute little mason jar, add a few lavender buds or leaves or a vanilla bean, and put the lid on. Set in the cupboard for a couple of weeks and you'll have flavored sugar to make cookies, add to tea, or sprinkle over desserts. How cool is that? You can also use star anise, cinnamon sticks, dried rose petals, or lemon zest.
4) Gourmet Vinegar
Let's continue with the flavored condiments, shall we? Find some cool jars or bottles (try the thrift store!) and wash in hot water and dry thoroughly. Add stalks of rosemary, thyme, or lavender. You can also use lemon rind, raspberries, or peppercorns--use your imagination. Pour white distilled vinegar over your herbs or what have you and refrigerate for a few weeks. You don't need to refrigerate if the bottles are tightly sealed, but I am of the "better-safe-than-sorry" school of cooking. Add a cute little label and your good to go!
5) Cranberry Orange Bread
This year a $13 loaf of cranberry quick bread is listed on the Oprah list. Thirteen dollars? Really? Well, this is my all time favorite recipe in the world and doesn't cost $13 to make. You can whip up a few batches, freeze it, and package in parchment for a great hostess gift.
6) Handmade Book
I know this sounds hard, but I swear it really isn't. I took a class last year with some friends, and now I LOVE making these. I found this really great video tutorial, too. The video makes a five-hole sewn book, but I make it easy on myself and usually make a three-hole one.

You can use a Popsicle stick instead of a bone folder and just use the needle to make the holes rather than an awl if you don't already have one. Scrounge the thrift stores and your friend's craft closets for funky scrap paper. You can use inexpensive copy paper for the inside pages if you like. I like to add little beads and charms to the binding thread on the outside to add a cute little flair.
7) Limoncello
This is a great gift, and it is considerably cheaper than Oprah's sipping Tequila. We used this recipe in the past, and it is super easy. We used second hand bottles and cheap vodka, and it was a huge hit (the bottles were empty by the time we left every party we took it to!). You can get fancy and use Meyer lemons if they are available in your area.
8) Spice Mixes
An awesome professional chef (who also happens to be my sister!) gave me this very cool idea. You can use one of the many recipes listed here or make up one of your own. Package in mini mason jars or re-purposed spice jars of your own. Add a nifty label and you're in business! Making homemade spice mixes are most economical when you have access to bulk spices. Check your cupboard and local grocer and decide from there if this is the right way to go given your budget.
9) Kid Art
What grandma, grandpa, or doting aunt doesn't like art from your little girl or boy? Find a few special pieces and frame in inexpensive frames. Or scan the art into the computer and use to make custom holiday cards.

I think I was supposed to give you ten items, but my crafting abilities are seriously limited. I hope you can use one or two of the ideas listed here this season.

(Christine blogs at Grown Ups Are Like That, lives in Western New York and is a freelance writer with two children.)

That's it for today! Tune in tomorrow for Gifts For The Clever.