WIP Wednesday


start date: today
time elapsed: none
completeness: 0%

Sometimes you spend money and effort and time incalculable on a project for a child, and they are unmoved by it.  Sometimes you throw together something quick and necessary, and it becomes the #1 Best Most Loved Favorite Thing That Accompanies Them Everywhere Until It Is Destroyed By The Sheer Force Of Their Adoration.

Meet Ithilien’s alligator pants.  Or what’s left of the seat of his alligator pants, after nearly 3 years of weekly or better wear for the rough-and-tumble kinds of activities which small children find most appealing.

Frankly, I think they held up really well considering they are just linen and muslin and a few errant patches of baby wale corduroy.  But now they are no more.

In fact, they met their demise about two months ago, when Ithilien slid down the boulder next to the chicken yard for the bazillionth time.  And he was completely distraught when I told him that they were too far gone for the mending basket– not only were they worn transparent in the seat and the cuffs, but they had a permanent crease where I’d let out an earlier hem, and they were size 4T on a child who is now wearing 6/7.

I promised that we could make new alligator pants.  And he said, tears still shining on his face, “I want them to be soft and fuzzy like my favorite gray pants.”  Which are, of course, some synthetic fleece sweatshop-produced crap that my parents bought at Target when Númenor unexpectedly needed back-up pants while staying with them.

I hemmed and hawed and tried to convince the child of the merits of wool flannel and the all-seasons practicality of midweight linen-hemp canvas and briefly considered buying $24/yard organic cotton sweatshirt fleece in a green he didn’t think was alligatory enough before finally caving in and buying a yard of bright green polyester fleece.

I hate it so much I think I might die.

But Ithilien loves it.

And I’m trying to see the bright side: at least it’s warm.  It was cheap.  It won’t fray.  It looks okay with the patches and accent pocket from the old pants.  I won’t lose it in the laundry.  My parents can machine wash and dry it if necessary.

Oh, the things we do for love.


I’m using Rae’s Parsley Pants pattern in size 6.  I know she designed it for woven fabric, but I’m a rebel (and the previous alligator pants were Parsley Pants).  I’m not linking to the cheap polyester fleece, and you can’t make me.

Where We’ve Been

Lately, we’ve been reading ALL the bad news.

I have been crying for all the sweet babies and other human beings in peril and deprivation.

I have been writing all of the angry letters to politicians and leaving all of the broken-voice messages with their staff.

We’ve been washing every handkerchief in the house probably once a week.

Each of us has had a whole day, minimum, when we just couldn’t do it.  Couldn’t get up, couldn’t wake up, couldn’t be brought to bear with the day’s work.

We’ve been running low on the resources that keep us from yelling and pushing and fighting among ourselves.

We’ve been eating ALL the comfort food: starchy, creamy, cheesy, oh yes.

Robert has been listening to people say they’re scared to come to school.

Robert and I have been sitting up until dawn, talking.  Angry.  Scared.  Sad.

I have been quoting The New Colossus and warning people that this is the moment.  This.  Is.  The.  Moment.  in which they can choose to collaborate with evil or use their privilege to agitate for what’s right.

Mostly, though, what we’ve been doing– what, I think, we’ve ALL been doing for the past few weeks, is turning to everyone we meet, holding up what we loved about our lives in this country, and saying “Fix it.”

When Númenor was a toddler, he would bring things to me and plaintively lisp out “Broken.  Fix it?”

That’s where we all are right now.

It’s broken.

Fix it?

Someone?

Please?

At least tell us where to start.

What glue do you buy to put families divided by immigration policy back together?

What stitch can we use to patch up our hopes for the future?

How would you break down dismantling the imbalance of power between the traditional checks and balances into easy weekend projects?

Which infomercial tells me about the space-age no-mess solution for getting back what little transparency and accountability our government had?

How can we restore life, re-build places of worship, un-do what just happened?

Ultimately, a society isn’t a toy, and no amount of clever clamping and wood glue will fix a government that’s cracked through.

But still we stand here, outraged and unbelieving, sad and furious and on the verge of a toddler tantrum, demanding that someone fix it.

 

That’s where we’ve been.

I think we might be here for a while yet.  And that’s okay.  But it won’t be forever.  Someday, we will find the way forward.  We’ll land on the methods of resistance that work best.  We’ll find a strategy, and identify a first step, and then another, and another.  We’ll crawl back to the light.

In the meantime, people may be a little quiet and a little fragile, me included.

So take good care of yourselves, folks.  And watch out for each other– sometimes people lack the good sense to come in out of the rain.

WIP Wednesday (on Friday…)

I was all set to do WIP Wednesday this week, and then life happened.

So here it is, a little belated.

start date: 8 January 2017
time elapsed: 3 days
completeness: 80%

Númenor has a January birthday.  It’s tough, having a birthday a few short weeks after Christmas, because everyone is kind of over buying presents and eating to excess.  And your poor parents are likely feeling glutted for toys and books, not that I would know.

People can’t spend the kind of money and time on January presents as they could on summer birthday presents, but you are just as special to them as you would be if you were a Gemini.

So the things you get are simpler, more likely to be homemade, more likely to be experience-based than object-based, but life is still good.  For one thing, a January birthday is a great excuse to get new add-ons and accessories for your favorite Christmas presents– a sequel to your new favorite book, perhaps, or an extra set of wheels for your fancy new building set.

And, of course, everyone is ready for a little deviation from the usual winter flavors, too.  A strawberry cake in November might seem unseasonable and strange, but a banana cake in January is refreshing and novel.

And so is ice cream.

This knitted and crocheted ice cream, for the smalls’ play kitchen, is high in fiber (alpaca and wool!) and warm to the touch, making it perfect for winter.  And it’s festive enough to be a gift for the happiest of birthdays, of course!


Project details on Ravelry.  The ice cream sections are my own improvised patterns.

Spiced Citrus Beard and Scalp Oil

This luxurious blend of oils encourages healthy, supple hair and skin, supports new hair growth, and helps fight dry, itchy winter scalp.

  • 4g argan oil
  • 5g castor oil
  • 7g sweet almond oil
  • 8g extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 drops cedar essential oil
  • 6 drops bergamot essential oil*
  • 5 drops tangerine essential oil*
  • 3 drops frankincense essential oil

*citrus oils can cause photo-sensitivity, so please substitute these for another favorite essential oil (rosemary, sandalwood, or lavender would be nice) if your intended recipient will be getting a lot of sun

Weigh the carrier oils into a small bottle with a dropper top.  Drop in the essential oils, cap, and shake.

To use: apply a few drops (2-4) to the face at the roots of the beard or crown of the head and use fingertips to massage in a circular motion.  Best used immediately after a shower.

Too Much Jam

I have this heady fantasy that someday, while I’m browsing the shelves of a used book store, I will happen across an old, stained, turn-of-the-20th-century book with a title like “Too much of a good thing: how to use up an excess of anything.”

This fantastical book will have chapter titles like “What to make with too much ________” and “How to use up extra _______” where the blanks are filled in with those things I usually don’t have enough of, but sometimes manage to be totally buried in.  Things like milk, and little scraps of leather, and decorative rivets, and palm-sized bits of cotton calico, and those temptingly sturdy boxes fancy chocolates come in, and jam.

Yes, jam.

Right now, I have a scraping of raspberry preserves, a scraping of quince paste, two and a half jars of quince jelly, and about 3/4 of a jar of huckleberry compote all clamoring for my attention in the fridge.  And we *just* managed to use up a pint of strawberry jam, after I shamelessly instructed Ithilien to scrape out the last spoonful and eat it straight.  I know how this happened: we were out of jam at the end of the summer, so I bought a jar of raspberry preserves on special.  Then I borrowed some strawberry freezer jam from my parents to make Ithilien’s birthday cake.  Then I found a forgotten pint of quince paste from last time at the bottom of our canning jar stack.  Then we canned our quince jelly for this year, and had an awkward half-jar leftover, plus two jars that didn’t seal.  Then my dad got some huckleberry compote for Christmas that wasn’t sweet enough for his taste and I volunteered to take it home because, for real, who wouldn’t accept free huckleberry jam?

And here we are.

So I’m spending my new year making homemade Pop Tarts and Jammie Dodgers in the desperate attempt to turn the preserves that we use sparingly at breakfasts and on the occasional PB&J into things we can eat up right away without any particular effort.

Which I suppose bodes well for our new year, because an embarrassment of riches is an auspicious way to start anything, right?

Happy (and sweet and sticky) 2017 to you and yours!  May this year be as kind to us all as possible.

No Tooth Fairy Needed

I am honest with my children.

Always.

No matter what.

It’s difficult.  It means sitting with a lot of uncomfortable truths.  It means prefacing a lot of statements with “I think” or “basically.” It means admitting to my own ignorance and failings more often than my ego would prefer.

It also means we don’t do those childhood myths designed to scare or haze children: no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Sugar Sprite, no Boogeyman, and no Tooth Fairy.

We do preserve the parts of those traditions that are important or fun, because growing up is significant and life should be fun, but there’s no fanciful explanation for it.  My kids know that Robert hides the Easter eggs, that I make the majority of their Christmas presents, and that the house takes a cut of their Halloween candy action (which is only fair, since we supply transportation, room and board, and attire).

And most of the time I feel like it’s magic enough to have a loving and stable family,a safe home, and a beautiful world to explore.

But for some reason, when I looked in Númenor’s mouth a few months ago and saw two VERY loose front bottom teeth and the permanent teeth already erupting under them, I felt a little tug of sadness about the fact that our house is a Tooth Fairy No-Fly Zone.  I worried, just a little, that somehow this milestone wouldn’t be as important or as marked as it should be.

So I thought about how we should shape our family traditions as we turned this new corner.  Here’s what I came up with.

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Some practical equipment, namely toothpaste.  Until now our smalls have been brushing their teeth with just water, which works fine, but we want to be extra-careful with those new permanent teeth coming in because they have to last.  So now Númenor has his own little pot of baking soda, bentonite clay, and coconut oil to help him clean and polish.

A special gift for this special first tooth, in this case, the A-frame play tent I’ve been planning.  There will probably be a special gift for the last tooth, too, when we get there.

Two tiny bits of tradition: a tooth traded for a gold coin, and a special place for the dead drop.  The trade is the magical part, and the pocket money is the bit kids actually care about.

This is the beginning of the end of the little-kid parenting in our family.  Now that those first teeth have dropped, Númenor is just a regular kid, no longer a little kid.  There are still others coming up the ranks, of course, but we will have one child who is too old to be called little anymore.

Which is equal parts frightening and wonderful.

And plenty magical.

Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist

It’s Advent and time to get ready for Christmas!  In celebration, here’s a list to help with your elving.  It’s current as of 2016, and I will update it as necessary in the future.  I hope you find something to inspire you here– enjoy!


If you’re like me, you have no problem coming up with presents to give people for the holidays, but filling stockings is a bit more difficult.  Picking out a dozen appropriate trinkets is much harder than finding a couple big gifts!

As I have filled my children’s stockings over the past several years, I’ve struggled with exactly what belongs.  I don’t want to fill them with cheap junk, or with too much candy, and I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on stocking stuffers.  I want the things in my family’s stockings to be worth getting, but still small.

So I brainstormed up a list one year, based in part on what I’ve found works and in part on what I predict will work but haven’t had occasion to try yet.  A lot of the things on this list (I’ll use an asterisk * to denote them) can be made at home with only a hobbyist skill level.

Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist

For babies and toddlers:

  • fruit— it’s cheap and they love it.  Easy-peasy.  If you aren’t doing baby-led solids, you can always tuck a couple of their favorite *purées into the stocking instead.
  • wooden spools— great for stacking, rolling, even lacing.
  • recycling— seriously: yogurt tubs, the metal lids from frozen juice concentrate, and squeezable condiment containers are all excellent toys for kids this age
  • *playsilks— one of the ultimate open-ended toys
  • *massage bars or food-grade oil— for baby massage.  We use almond, but olive or sunflower would work equally well.
  • wadded paper— not only does it take up a bunch of space in the stocking, but you know they’ll love it.  It’s fine to just use printer paper, but unbleached newsprint is ideal.
  • *crunchy snacks— puffed grains, yogurt puffs, or crackers in a little container are a great treat for a toddler, and they promote fine motor development.
  • hairbrush— a soft goat-hair brush is not only the perfect tool for keeping wispy baby hair groomed, it’s also a good sensory stimulation tool for teaching names of body parts and promoting coordination
  • small board books or indestructible books— Sandra Boynton books are a great size for most stockings.
  • *cake crayons or crayon rocks— this is a great present for older siblings to give a toddler as they can recycle their old crayon stubs.
  • *knot doll— perhaps the easiest doll to make, a great introduction to dollmaking for the giver and to dolls for the recipient.
  • *playdough— a single container of storebought is the perfect size for a stocking, or you can fill a baby food jar or other small container with homemade.
  • *bath toys, bubble bath, etc.— older babies are moving from just getting bathed to actively taking a bath, and that means it’s a great time to make sure they’re having good cleaning fun.  Our favorite brand of bubble bath comes in a stocking-dominating 1-quart size, but it’s still an awesome way to make bathtime more playful.
  • *hat— whether it’s a soft stocking cap for a tiny December babe or a funny animal-eared hat for a toddler, a little warmth is always a welcome addition.
  • *bubble solution— most kids won’t be able to really work out how to blow bubbles at this age, but they’ll love watching someone else blow bubbles for them.
  • *fingerpaint— with art, it’s best to start them young.  A tasty, good-to-eat fruit-based paint is best for this age, because you know they won’t be able to resist.
  • *blocks— whether it’s a thick branch cut into chunks or a delicate, German-made rainbow of fancy shapes, blocks are a great filler gift that even a newborn will quickly grow into.
  • *rattle— soft fabric or shiny silver plate, old or new, there’s a reason rattles are classic.
  • *teether— we prefer silicone here, but natural wood is nice, too.
  • large buttons— to this day, I don’t think I’ve topped the Christmas when I gave my 1-year-olds a collection of 1.75-3″ buttons.  A mix of colors, textures, shapes, and materials will be even more compelling.

For symbolic functionalists (ages 3-7):

  • magnifying glass— learn about bugs, optics, and the world in general.  A great stepping-stone for kids who aren’t quite ready for a microscope.
  • hand-size ball— nothing too hard or too bouncy for younger kids, just a nice-sized toy for rolling down ramps and off of tables and using as a pretend egg.
  • colored pencils, *crayons, or markers— give good-quality tools that are a true pleasure to use.  Everyone has their favorite brands and varieties; ours are Lyra Super Ferby, Prang, and Giotto Turbo Maxi.
  • craft sticks, large wooden beads, ball of string— open ended and cheap, these are an excellent way to get young engineers thinking about How To Make It.
  • glue stick, *ruler, and paper-only scissors— all great simple tools.
  • flashlight— something rugged, waterproof, and with a wind-up, shake, or squeeze-charge battery will save future headaches.
  • *small dress-up elements  animal ear headbands, fancy gloves, pirate eye patch, false mustaches, domino mask, etc.
  • magnet— a nice, big one is the best plan; something that can be used for testing surfaces and making paperclips dance but won’t wipe hard disks.
  • *paper airplanes— virtually free, this one is easy to underestimate, but a few sturdy pre-folded paper airplanes will give a kid this age at least a full day of play, if not a whole weekend.
  • crazy straws— be ready with a strongly-colored drink for maximum effect (grape juice works well).
  • *stickers— a guaranteed hit.  To save money, buy up a bunch of stickers on clearance after seasonal holidays throughout the year.  Kids this age will love stickers and stickering no matter how strange it is to be decorating with Easter bunnies in December.
  • sunglasses— equally for dressing up and eye protection, a cheap pair of kids’ sunglasses is the perfect size for a stocking.
  • *small soft toy— 90s Beanie Babies are cheap and ubiquitous and the perfect size for a stocking.
  • novelty socks— whether the kid in question loves Winnie-the-Pooh or sugar skulls, you can probably find something.  The bargain section of Target often has great novelty kids’ socks throughout the year.
  • inflatable ball— deflated for a stocking, just blow it up for Christmas afternoon burning-off-energy.
  • temporary tattoos— especially if a kid has an inked parent, this can be a fun addition to the dress-up possibilities.  In our house, we use temporary tattoos as post-bath incentives (because they stick better to clean skin, of course).
  • *hair accessories— the “ouchless” style of hair elastic made from fold-over elastic is best for kids this age.  Don’t shy away from sparkly, glittery, fuzzy, or generally over-the-top– little kids understand exuberance, but have no concept of tackiness.
  • *alphabet or number toys (stamps, stickers, games…)— a set of mini alphabet stamps or a spinny speller, number stickers or a set of dice with Arabic numerals on them, or even place-value blocks are all great learning tools and toys for this age.
  • small notebooks, sketchbooks, or writing pads— some kids will make a single mark on each page, flip through to the end and declare themselves done, while others will fill every blank space and still be trying to cram more in.  Either way, they’ll love it.
  • small musical instrument such as a whistle, ocarina, mini hand drum, maracas, etc. for making noise and (hopefully) contributing to the family band more than to the family headache.
  • *small motion-based toys— paper yo-yos, tops, bamboo-copters, hooey-sticks/whammy-diddles, buzz saws, pinwheels, Slinkys, Jacob’s ladders, climbing bears, etc.
  • non-toxic nail polish— little kids love to dress up and adorn themselves for special occasions, so a tube of Piggy Paint or another kind of non-toxic nail polish can be an awesome little treat.
  • *glow-in-the-dark anything— no really, anything.  Buy some glow-in-the-dark beads and seal them into an old spice jar and call it ectoplasm or toxic slime or magic beans or ghost pills…
  • sunprint paper— as always, a fun little novelty and a good opening to talk about the science of sunlight.
  • small building sets— Playmobil, Lego, etc. often have mini-project grab-bags for a good price around the holidays.
  • *Ostheimer-style figures— look around online or in a natural toys catalog for inspiration, then grab a jigsaw and see what you can do.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if you portray a favorite animal, because it’s driven by imagination anyway.
  • Play house accessories— doll clothes, felt food, dollhouse furniture, play tools, mini spray-bottles, whatever the kid in question is into.

For concrete operationalists (ages 7-10):

  • glow sticks— whether they save them for the next summer’s drive-in movies or make a Boxing Day alien autopsy movie in the living room, there’s always a use for glow sticks, and you can buy them cheaply at the dollar store!
  • field guides— look at your local used book store or library book sale for a field guide to wildflowers, butterflies, minerals and gems, or whatever the kid in question always seems to need to know more about.  Pocket field guides are the perfect size for a stocking!
  • temporary tattoo paper/*henna kit— a great gift for the kid who is already planning their 18th-birthday tat or needs even more ways to dress up for parties.
  • Japanese puzzle erasers— you can get them for about $1/each, and they are cute and functional.  Kids this age love to collect and trade, too!
  • *small notebooks or journals— for secret thoughts, big plans, or just writing notes
  • stapler and staples, tape, scissors— the age-appropriate upgrades to the creation station, art table, or mini home office.
  • craft kit— a basic sewing/mending kit or an intro-to-knitting kit are great for this age, as are friendship bracelets, pin looms, beading kits, etc.
  • *tote bag— some kids this age are defined by their stuff– they need to organize it, secure it, travel with it, whatever, and a tote bag is a great, basic way to do all that.
  • pocket microscope— for the kid who wants to identify sub-species of ant or is always wondering what the inside of leaves look like, this is a perfect, stocking-sized upgrade to the magnifying glass.
  • magic trick— see what introductory tricks your local magic shop recommends– kids this age are finally ready to start learning some showmanship and they love feeling like they’ve outsmarted others!
  • book— “pocket” paperbacks are a great fit for most stockings.  Kids this age usually love adventure novels, sci-fi, and fantasy.  A book of jokes or a foreign language phrasebook could be great for the right kid, too!
  • origami paper— it’s pretty and versatile (it’s good for much more than origami), and it will spark creativity.
  • watercolor paints— the nicer kind that comes in little tubes is ideal for kids this age, and they’re still usually pretty cheap.
  • *jewelry— kids this age love fancier stuff, and a lot of it can still be affordable enough to be practical, such as a pendant on a ribbon, birthstone earrings, or bangles.
  • *pinback buttons— whether they have favorite characters, are themed for favorite holidays/seasons, or are just a cute typography of the child’s name.
  • *novelty keychains— tiny flashlights, a decorative initial, a pony-bead animal…so many possibilities here.
  • card/dice games— whether they play by themselves, with friends, or at family game night, this is a great fit for both stockings and older kids.
  • *coordination toys— yo-yos, diabolos, jacks, marbles, and jump ropes are all great for kids this age.
  • Mad Libs or single issue of kids’ magazine— a great way to make reading fun and approachable, even for early readers.
  • clay or modeling clay— for kids who have graduated from play-dough.
  • collapsible or transforming anything— collapsible drinking cups can be found with camping supplies.

For tweens and teens:

  • earbuds— easily lost or broken over the course of a year, and pretty cheap to replace.  Older teens might be ready for a high-quality pair that’s meant to last.
  • temporary hair dye/hair color spray/hair chalks— tweens and teens are all about decorating themselves, and this is a fun way for them to experiment without committing.
  • washi tape— a versatile and fun craft supply that makes great décor and personalization touches, it’s ideal for teens and tweens
  • *clothing embellishments— iron-on patches, hot-fix spikes or rhinestones, or just a pack of big safety pins can delight a punk-aligned teenager, although they will probably be too cool to show it.
  • *zip-up pouches— whether for makeup storage or organizing pencils, somehow young adults never have enough smallish, zip-up bags and containers.
  • *makeup and makeup tools you can make simple makeup at home, but even the most sensitive-skinned brand snob will need supplies, and the local beauty supply store can have great deals on brushes, eyelash curlers, sponges, etc.
  • gel pens and black paper— tweens love novelty school and office supplies for sending notes to each other and personalizing their spaces and belongings.
  • small journal or diary, preferably with lock— it doesn’t matter how cheap and easily-defeated the lock is, a tween will still appreciate it.
  • embroidery floss for friendship bracelets— even jaded, consumerist tweens love doing little crafts like friendship bracelets, and most older teens would be happy to continue exchanging little handmade tokens with their friends.
  • polymer clay or cold porcelain— for the tween or teen who has outgrown modeling clay or wants something easier than natural clay.
  • *amigurumi— there are free patterns for virtually any character, animal, or interest.  If you’re not crafty, you could still put together a kit for your teen or tween to make it themselves.
  • *accessories— a teenager’s need to play the fashion game can be met with a minimum of expense and trouble if they have a sizable and frequently-refreshed collection of accessories such as belts, hats, fashion jewelry, hair accessories, infinity scarves, etc.
  • *personal care products— teenagers are all about grooming.  Indulge them with moisturizer, bath salts, lip balm, shave soap, or whatever they might need.  Trial or travel sized goods are perfect for stockings and will help young adults figure out what works for them.
  • *favorite snack foods— if there’s any particular treat they love and you don’t like, or can’t understand, or normally refuse to pay for/make, slipping a few into their stocking is a great way to show that you love them.
  • novelty flash drive— for transferring term papers from home computers to school computers, sharing pics with friends, downloading movies to take to grandma’s 20th-century historical re-enactment (aka her house), or whatever, a fun flash drive is a must-have.
  • *monogrammed stationary— a fun, grown-up present for a teenager who loves all things personalized
  • calligraphy supplies— some teens pride themselves on the beauty of their handwriting, or the sophisticated ease of their doodling, or want to feel more connected to their Asian heritage.  A couple pens and some ink is a great way to try out calligraphy before committing to a big expensive set.
  • CD/DVD/iTunes gift card— used CDs and DVDs are cheap and a great way for a young adult to start building their own media library.  If you can’t find anything they like in a physical copy, you can put a little money towards their own digital purchases instead.
  • nicer, “grown-up” supplies for their handcraft of choice— whether it’s a nice pair of bamboo needles for a knitter, a little book of watercolor paper for a painter, a few remnants of silk for a sewist, a multi-needle punch for a felter, a couple fat quarters for a quilter, or something else entirely, a little investment in their interest now is a message that you believe in their talents and skills.
  • office/art/craft supplies— whichever ones they are always borrowing and forgetting to put back (sticky notes, nice sharp scissors, novelty hole punch, etc.)
  • gift cards to local food shops— ice cream parlors, smoothie stands, pretzel stands, candy shops, or whatever you have in your area, in small denominations.  Check the mall food court for ideas if you’re not sure.  This one is great because you’re basically giving them a chance to hang out with their friends.
  • *phone accessories— headsets, cases, car chargers, plugs/dust excluders, charms–we all know how teenagers live on their phones!
  • public transit passes/all-day-fare tickets— the gift of transport and independence, great for tweens and teens in a metro area
  • car wash vouchers— really a gift for you (if your teen doesn’t have their own car), but most teens are desperate for any chance to drive the car, even through the car wash, so they’ll like it, too
  • books— most teens have a favorite YA/pulp paperback author or series, such as Discworld, but if not, this is a great opportunity to introduce them to yours.  Teens also like banned books!
  • grown-up coloring book— this is a great trend, whether your teen likes it or “likes” it

For grown-ups:

  • gift card— for their favorite coffee shop or other small indulgence
  • *consumable goods— especially nice soap or shave soap
  • *hair accessories— everyone always needs more hair elastics, bobby pins, etc. because the little stuff like that is always getting lost
  • *keyrings/fobs or luggage tags especially with their monogram or a favorite character or theme
  • *artisan chocolate— the Thanksgiving or Halloween clearance is a great way to pick up a couple little things that are still delicious, even if technically the snowflakes are would have been more seasonally-appropriate than the acorns.
  • *bottle of micro-brew beer or gourmet soda— Jones or Dry soda are my personal favorites, but check your local supermarket and ethnic stores (Jarritos come in some pretty wacky but delicious flavors!)
  • *cold-weather accessories— most adults suck at self-care.  Make sure they have a warm hat, gloves, mitts, scarf, cowl, slippers…
  • socks or underwear— if you know their favorite kind, it is perfectly acceptable to buy socks or underwear for the stocking of an adult
  • *photo art or memory art especially featuring their kids, grandkids, or pets
  • *shot glasses— plain glasses are cheap and it’s easy to DIY them into something amazing and personal– but it would be tough to fit most stemware into a stocking. A shot glass or two, or maybe a single tumbler, is the way to go for stockings.
  • liquor minis— if their favorite alcohol is too expensive to buy often, you can still likely get a mini of it for a very reasonable price.
  • *coin purse or pouch— especially people who carry purses or handbags tend to get a bit disorganized and could use more little secure containers, regardless of their system for coins.
  • *billfold or wallet— even the perfect wallet wears out, and you can easily and cheaply replace them with DIY options
  • sealing wax and signet— a great, low-cost present for the antiquarian, the anachronistic, the steampunk aficionado, or just the perpetual host or avid papercrafter
  • multi-tool— some people need all the help they can get perfecting their EDC.
  • *small puzzle or brain teaser— everyone likes a challenge, and everyone likes a toy, no matter how old or “grown up” they are
  • novelty standard card deck— whether they love flowers or baseball or Star Trek TOS, you can probably pick up a card deck that caters to them for a reasonable price.
  • *desk toy or fidget— mini zen garden, stress ball, worry dolls, paper construction set, or a magnetic sculpture of paper clips, everyone needs something to play with to help them work
  • old photograph of them— choose one from 10+ years ago that evokes a special memory or looks like it has a story behind it.  This is especially great for elders, because it’s basically an opportunity to reminisce for an audience.

These Two Things

I’ve been scrabbling desperately to get a grip on the way forward this month, so I’ve been hanging back, practicing self-care, and just trying to get my head clear.

Here’s what I have:

The world has gotten scary.  People are dying in the streets.  The white hoods are back.  The government is torturing Indians in furtherance of giving them poison to drink.  Children are learning that hate is an American value.

There are two things that I know are true, that we can use against this terror and darkness.

Over the past weeks, they have seemed like laughably inconsequential things and impossibly large things, but they’ve never stopped being primal.

The first thing is love.  We can love ourselves.  We can love each other.  We can love fat people, not-conventionally-attractive people, “fours”, “losers”, black people, people who don’t speak English, trans people, disabled people, gay people, people who have had abortions, Muslim people, native people, people who have been “grabbed”, all the people.  We can love them.  We can love us.

And that’s the most powerful tool we have against hate and fear: we can choose love instead.  We can reject the notion that some are so different that they are unlovable.  We can laugh in the face of the cultural rubric we’re supposed to use to judge the value of femmefolk and just love them instead.

We can practice self-care.  We can make safe spaces for each other.  We can help one another.  We can reach out.  We can stand in the street in front of the mosque and say “These people are my neighbors.  I love them, and I won’t let you harm them.”  We can give a colleague a hug and say “You are loved.”  We can offer flowers to strangers, like hippies, and we can tell them– yes, those people we don’t even know– that we love them.  We can see someone struggling and offer our help.  We can ask what the family down the street needs to be safe, and help them get it.  We can love.  We can love the white working-class, and let them know that there’s a place for them in the future.  We can raise children who know, like Mister Rogers used to say, that there’s no one in the world quite like them and people can like them just the way they are.  We can tell gay kids and fat kids and brown-skinned kids that the world is fucked up, but they are just fine the way they are.  We can listen to people, especially when they say they are being harmed.

We can love the earth, too.  I know that this is like, “Again with the hippie nonsense?!”, but it’s still true.  We can love the trees.  We can lovingly plant wildflowers for pollinators to find.  We can pick up trash at the beach because we love the ocean, and the birds, and the sand.  We can sit outside and breathe deep and love the air.

We can reach out into our communities and our world and love what we find.  We don’t have to withdraw and fear what’s outside.  We can offer love as an alternative to hate.

That’s the first thing.

The second thing is a bit harder.

Yes, harder than loving strangers.

But it’s just as important.

The second thing is independence.  We can do it ourselves.  We can stop relying on the state to protect our interests.  We can stop calling the police.  We can stop shopping at the Wal-Mart.  We can stop expecting anomic society to take care of our problems.  We can take responsibility for our own needs.  It doesn’t matter how horrible, how corrupt, how oppressive these institutions become if we deny them legitimacy and reject their attempts to shape our lives.  They need US, not the other way around.

We don’t have to participate in systems that oppress us or others.  We don’t have to be complicit in the state’s oppression of its enemies.  We can choose and build our communities for ourselves.  We can think critically about our actions and listen to those who are harmed by them, even in steps of the process that seem beyond our control.  We can make slave labor, deforestation, pollution, and factory farming unprofitable for businesses by refusing to profit by them ourselves.

We can vote with our dollars for the future we want.  We can support local businesses run by our neighbors and friends.  We can see our supply chains and improve them.  We can offer help to people who are struggling instead of reporting them to the authorities.  We can share our resources with those in need instead of expecting the state to feed, clothe, and house them.  We can clean it up ourselves instead of filing a complaint about litter.  We can leverage our privilege to protect marginalized people.  We can protect each other and set expectations for our communities instead of relying on the police to enforce the state’s rules.  We can learn to make things ourselves.  We can grow our own food, or join CSAs.  We can buy things from independent artisans instead of faceless factories.  We can get together with our neighbors to do hard things together.  We can raise barns and put up jam and bring homemade bread and soup to the old lady next door who has trouble walking.  We can start a childcare co-op, or shop at the farmer’s market, or learn to sew our own clothes.  We can choose a midwife instead of submitting to industrial medicine.  We can learn about the natural world around us and work with it instead of destroying it.  We can buy good things, made with love and designed to work well, and maintain them.  We can mend things that break.

We can be proactive and make a better future for everyone.  We don’t have to accept the options the state-industrial complex offers us, and we don’t have to chase the 1%’s definition of success.  We can make our own society.

And together, if we all work on those two things– love and independence– we will be unstoppable.  Whether you can only participate in little ways, or you have the resources to make big changes, everything will make a difference.

I’m not saying that the dark forces at work in our world won’t matter or won’t be able to harm people, but we don’t have to sit back and let them take over.  We can both choose not to be bullies ourselves AND not to allow bullying around us.  We don’t have to give up ground.  We don’t have to stop pushing forward.  We can still make progress if we all work together.

We can find the way forward– or make a new one for ourselves– if we can all practice love and seek independence.

That’s what I think, anyway.

With love and gratitude for all of you,

Elizabeth