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.


  1. Thanks for pulling all of these together, Beck! And when your media empire gets off the ground, please note that spa gift certificates make excellent Xmas bonuses for your hard-working employees. ;)

    Christine, I'm pretty sure your crafty ideas have saved Christmas. Last year I did baskets full of baked goods for my family - this year, too pregnant, no way, I say good day. But these ideas are so easy! And totally doable! Thank you!

    Nan, I was unaware of the existence of chicken in a can. You have enlightened me. Thanks. I think. ;)

  2. Excellent suggestions all around. I might give the Chicken in a Can to friends and family b/c nothing screams laid-back vegetarian quite like the gift of Chicken in a can.

    As for stocking stuffers, my darling mate seems to think they are meant to act as a vehicle for practical joking. Each year, I get several cans of beans from our pantry in mine. Did I mention that I do all the grocery shopping? This means that not only do I get kidney beans in my stocking, I had to buy them in the first place. I had better get some of that Mexican hot chocolate to make up for this.

    And Christine, these are great suggestions all around. I think I might make some spice mixes to give out this Christmas. I've got a number of teachers on my list who deserve the world and more this year. I think that thoughtful and handmade will be the way to go. You know, with a side of Lindt truffles.

  3. After a quick perusal of this list I especially appreciate the small town gifts because I a] live in a small town and b] increasingly detest going in to The City to shop. We love campfire fx mostly because it is MADE in a small town too.

  4. Love. And I totally need to find a chicken in a can to give my brother, who curates a food museum in his pantry.

  5. Googling "chicken in a can" is eye-opening. No, I didn't click through to any of the YouTube videos.

  6. BECK! You are Teh Oprah of Blogging. Please, please, please let me be your Gayle King!

    I'm thrilled to be sharing space with Hannah and Christine. I'm going to look into Hannah's mood mud and make Christine's flavoured sugar. Thanks.

  7. I can't believe I'm so dumb that I thought the whiskey stones might be cool for my husband or my Dad and it never occurred to me that I could use them EVEN THOUGH I DON'T DRINK WHISKEY!

    I want Campfire FX but I worry that it would lead to my kids lighting everything in sight on fire.

    Christine - I love you. Marry me.

    Guys - Oprah's list is this list's bitch.

  8. I have so much to say I don't know where to start. Here goes:
    I want a massage bar.
    I have never before heard of chocolate dipped coffee spoons, but that might be one of the most brilliant ideas ever.
    I think I may be related to Nan's Great Aunt Beatrice.
    I might need to get my husband those manly bath salts, for after he uses his power tools and does his heavy lifting, since he's always bogarting my stuff (that I never use, but that's beside the point).
    How do they fit an entire chicken into a can?
    I might actually make some of those homemade gifts, since they don't seem to require artistic ability (I have none).

  9. I bet Oprah is soooo jealous right now.

  10. Oh boy, this little series of your rocks! Can't wait for the next installments!!


  11. What a wonderful list! It has given me some ideas of things I can give my son's teachers.

  12. awesome--beck! i wonder what kind of homemade gift one could make with the chicken in a can?

  13. They sell chicken in a can at the grocery store we frequent. It makes me gag every time we walk by.

    Also, my mom bought those whiskey stones for my baby sister for Christmas. I was appalled until I realized she is indeed, 22. Then I felt old.