Normally I take the opportunity of July 4th to reflect on my criticisms of the American state/society, but this year, with everything going on, I’m turning my platform over to Langston Hughes. It is a scathing indictment that these words, written over 80 years ago, still ring so true.
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.
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
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.
if you need background on why Christopher Columbus doesn’t deserve celebration, click here for an approachable primer
Tomorrow, Monday October 10, is Indigenous Peoples Day. If you’re thinking “Gosh, that doesn’t sound like a holiday one can or should observe by shopping the sales at the mall!” give yourself 10 points.
If you’re wondering what you might do instead, read on!
Research your local Indigenous people
Maybe you live in a place that was wrested from an indigenous group by force during a protracted military conflict, maybe you are living in your people’s traditional homelands, maybe you’re somewhere in between. You can find out.
Research the ethnic groups and languages that were present in your area before colonial control solidified. Learn about the history of those people, either before conquest or after. Imagine how your area would be different if the cultural frontier had been more amiable.
Find out what indigenous people are doing in your area now. Where is your closest reservation? What issues matter to native communities near you? How have their cultures influenced the dominant culture (consider language, cuisine, holiday and seasonal observances, etc.)?
Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.
Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:
Tea towels. The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out. I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
Coat for Númenor. Another year, another coat. This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use. I might draft my own pattern.
Hoodie for Númenor. Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
Twin-size comforter for Ithilien. In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night. At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife. I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it. The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones. But it’ll be warm regardless.
“What Lives Here?” picture book. This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time. The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives. I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there. It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien. I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus. How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
Autumn leaf babies. If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies. I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves. I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
Altoid tin boredom busters. We recently inherited a big box of mint tins. They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything. So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
More petticoats for myself. Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
Halloween costumes. This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry. Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.
What about you? What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?
But I cringe when I hear politicians talk about America and greatness. No matter who, and no matter how– whether it’s President Obama describing the things that make America great in a State of the Union, the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” swag, or Hillary Clinton stumping about how America is already great.
I wonder if they really believe what they’re saying, or if they just know that it polls well. I wonder if they’ve ever really thought about it, or researched it, this idea of America being somehow superior among nation-states. I especially wonder about Obama, the black child of a white single mother, and Clinton, the civil rights activist and feminist icon– do they have to train themselves out of looking contemptuous when they spout these phrases?
I mean, surely they know. They have marginalized identities, they are well-educated, they are politically left of center. Surely they can see the opressions and injustices of the past and present– the racial warfare that accompanied the birth of the nation, as transatlantic slave labor created mercantile prosperity and westward expansion was synonymous with Amerindian holocaust; the toxic patriarchal agenda that permeates all levels and ages of American history, erasing the accomplishments of historical women and constraining modern femmefolk to a life of second-class possibilities; the racial, sexual, orientational, and gender-based disparities that have followed US society into the 21st century.
America isn’t great.
It has never been great.
Not for everyone.
In fact, America as a society has only ever served the needs of a small minority of the population. Perhaps it was, or even is, great for them, I wouldn’t know– at no time in history has there been an iteration of the US in which I would be in that minority.
The American Dream– come here, work hard, and by dint of your effort alone become rich and well-respected– is a myth. It’s a convenient fiction perpetuated by the oligarchy, designed to discourage lower-class rebellion in a cultural context where Calvinist predestination remains highly relevant and wealth disparity is stark and endemic.
There have always been a few people living the gilded life while many starve and freeze and even more hustle and graft to support them.
That, to me, doesn’t fit the definition of greatness.
In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to somehow magically exclude from consideration that the prosperity of the US came through the blood of chattel slaves, over the bodies of slain indigenous people, and in the ruthless industrial consumption of children, elderly widows, and vulnerable immigrants.
In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to forget that nearly every major liberal victory in its history was a case of America being late to the party, an embarrassing truth in the face of a pervasive narrative about America the great Enlightenment political experiment, especially as the US remains behind the curve today.
In order to insist on America being great, whether now or in the past, one would have to quietly pretend that its status as the sole superpower was somehow more related to its inherent superiority, or at least to the deliberate actions of its leaders, than it is to the confluence of greed, indescriminate slaughter, and simple accident.
America isn’t great. Has never been.
No amount of firecrackers and political rallies could change that.
America could be great someday. Maybe it’s even on the path to greatness now. But ahistorical national pride won’t bridge the gap.
Let’s have bold, critical conversations about the American state instead. Let’s talk, not about how great America is, but about how great it could be if we perservere. Let’s talk about how to make America great, how to honor the promises of the liberal principles and founding narratives we hold dear.
Let’s talk about how to create liberty and justice for all. What it means for Lady Liberty to lift her lamp beside the golden door. What we can do now in order to form a more perfect union. How we can come together, and be one out of many.
All that starts with saying, out loud, in your biggest speech of the year, on your bumper stickers, and in your stump speeches, that America isn’t great– yet. That America continues to fail the poor, the elderly, people of color, immigrants, queer people, women, and the differently-abled. That America cannot be great when there are still children facing hunger, women tasked with preventing their own rapes, communities fighting the extinction of their cultural identity, cities bereft of safe drinking water, families unable to make the best choices for their children, people who don’t have enough of what they need to thrive.
A nation is its people. America won’t be great, can’t be great, until each and every American has the resources and support they need to live a great life.
And on that day, I will fly the flag and be proud to be an American.
We used our backyard chickens’ eggs (these browns from our orpington, australorp, and SLW and a pale cerulean green from our ameraucana) and dyed them in glob paints pomegranate red, plum purple, berry blue, and basil green. To make the dye bath, I poured each paint packet into a half-pint jar, added a tablespoon of vinegar to each (and then a teaspoon of baking soda to the blue jar because I forgot it’s mostly red cabbage), and added enough water to cover two eggs. We let them sit for one or two 35-minute stretches.
“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
—Through the Looking-Glass
My five-year-olds spent the weekend with their grandparents so that Robert and I could get in some quality couple time before the new baby comes and we descend into complete chaos and madness for a few sleepless, teary weeks.
To our credit, we did housework. And nesting work. We also ate sushi and watched foreign films, though, because that’s what grown-ups do. But when our sweet babes were returned to us by grandparents who had unwisely taken them to the zoo even though animals defecate (which fact five-year-olds are THE BEST at remembering, pointing out, and discussing at length), I was met with a moment of total panic.
My mother handed me a sheet of notepaper with the explanation that it was “Númenor’s presents list”. Apparently he’d demanded that she take dictation for this critical manifesto.
That’s right, folks.
My kid came home from grandma’s house with a Christmas wishlist.
Why is this a problem, you might ask?
Um, because it was December 5th when this happened, and I had already compiled the wishlists and distributed them through the family network weeks prior, not to mention that I had also long finished the shopping I was intending to do. Because we plan ahead in this family, at least when lists are involved. And in my defense, the wishlist I had was based on things I thought Númenor would like. I pay attention to the smalls’ interests and research toys and games and books constantly, and moreover, I asked them explicitly what they wanted for Christmas and they were both totally uninterested in telling me.
To be fair, that was in October. And when you’re only a few years old, the subjective time-dilation is extreme. Númenor probably genuinely couldn’t fathom wanting things for Christmas when I asked him about it with a jaw-dropping 11 weeks to spare.
And he has NEVER made a wishlist before. We don’t do Santa, so we never write letters to Santa, which means my children had to be developmentally capable of picking up this idea from fiction, and even then, they hadn’t previously shown interest in the activity.
But the fact is, he came home with a Christmas list.
And three things on it were alive, one thing was impossible, and two things flew right in the face of our standards for toys. Which left only one item. Which, to be fair, I already knew he wanted and had plans to make. One out of seven, I thought, would likely disappoint him.
Perhaps the worst part of this debacle was not the list itself, in fact, but that I found non-living, non-impossible work-arounds for things and Pinterest projects for cardboard versions of other things until I felt that I had satisfied his list, and only then did I realize that only ONE of my TWO five-year-olds came home with a list.
Which meant I had to ask the other one what he wanted.
And he wanted one impossible thing, one alive thing, one thing he already has (?!?), two things that don’t meet our guidelines, and that same item from the first child’s list that I was already making anyway.
You love them, and you do your best to give them a well-balanced, fulfilling, and overall positive life experience, and they go around asking for impossible things and exotic pets all the time, like that’s any way to behave.
Of course, that’s what children do; it’s their simultaneously inconvenient and inspiring function in society to be the ones tilting at windmills and dreaming the impossible dreams and riding off to brave adventures with their parents as their loving but often flummoxed squires.
And someday, soon enough, they will come to the inevitable end of their quests. Laid low by a reality that did not go away when they stopped believing in it, they will grow up. In twenty years, they may be making business plans instead of drawing a picture of the storage system for their happy rainbow dreams. In ten years, they’ll almost certainly be more concerned with the opinions of friends and external authorities than with quoting imaginary advice from a well-worn teddy bear.
But today, Númenor wants a Star Destroyer and a rectangle tank of deep-sea jellyfish, and Ithilien wants a pet baby talking opossum and a self-driving car that transforms into a self-flying plane. They never doubted for a second that these were things they could ask for and hope to receive.
There is a wild power in not knowing the bounds of reality or accepting the limits of possibility.
Honestly I’m a little jealous.
But mostly, I’m nervous about my ability to fulfill these requests.
The word “patriotic” is an adjective used to describe things that are patriot-like. The word patriot was loaned into English from middle French patriote, but its lineage can be traced back to Latin and Greek words for father, making the meaning of the word less about being proud of one’s homeland (or patria), and more about it being a feeling one has in conjunction with others who are of one’s father. It’s about human relationships, common history, shared identity.
It’s not the opposite of “terrorist,” “godless,” or “anarchist.”
For European Americans, the 4th of July is a celebration of their people’s victory over their oppressive colonial rulers. For people of African and Native descent, it is, at best, meaningless.
That’s patriotic all around.
After the Declaration [of Independence] there is a long list of justification given for why the colonies were declaring their independence from the control of England. And the 7th justification reads:
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
13 years prior, King George issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation a line was drawn down the Appalachian Mountains and the colonies were essentially told that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian Lands west of Appalachia. Only the crown could thereafter negotiate treaties and buy or sell those lands. This deeply upset the colonies. For they wanted those empty Indian lands and King George was “raising the conditions of new Appropriations of (their rightful) Lands.”
Justification 27, the final justification in the list, states:
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
How can a declaration that begins by stating “All men are created equal” go on to include justifications that dehumanize the Indian tribes and peoples who were already living in this land? Clearly the founding Fathers had a very narrow definition of who qualified as human. Therefore they could state “ALL men are created equal” because they did not believe that the “merciless Indian Savages” who occupied the empty Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains were actually human.
Given the current state of race relations in the US and the heatwave, I would like to remind people, especially white males and others with privilege, that there is much to criticize about this country, its history, and the conduct of its modern state. Try to hear criticisms and anti-nationalist sentiments as an ally, or at least a neutral bystander.
The 4th of July isn’t for everyone, just as the Declaration of Independence wasn’t about the self-evident and inalienable rights of women, slaves, native peoples, and other marginalized people. So don’t be an asshole to people who choose not to be excited about what is, in reality, a celebration for a small number of already privileged people that they worked up the courage to challenge a far-distant government for dominion over a vast and diversely-peopled continent none of them had any right to claim.
Yes, simple and special is nice. There’s some kind of spiritual purity reserved for the families who agree to exchange just a couple gifts each year and not go overboard.
Personally, I don’t have the restraint.
Thankfully, there are some ways to balance having an overwhelming, hedonistic, indulgent Christmas morning against the Recession, the wealth disparity, or having a single income. Obviously, as with all economization advice you read on the internet, your mileage may vary, but these are the top five ways I’ve found to save money without having to cut back on the scope of gift-giving holidays.
Yes, scheme. Plot. Machinate. Plan. Think as far in advance as you can and make a list of things your children might like next year, the year after, or even just “someday”. When a friend raves about a gift she gave her 8-year-old, save the product page so you remember it when your kids get there. I do this with an Amazon wishlist– not only are lots of things available on Amazon for the best price, but also Amazon has a universal add to wishlist button so I can keep all my ideas in one place. Then, every year, as I’m sitting down to plan my family’s holiday gifts, I can review the wishlist and pick the things that are relevant to the smalls that year.
Set aside some storage space for future gifts. I have a couple of 18 gallon plastic containers set aside as my gift stash, so whenever I come across something that will be a great gift for the smalls in eight months, three years, or just “someday”, I have a place to put it. When I see something great on a flash deals site in March, I buy it and stash it away for Christmas. I buy a discounted bundle of 12 tubes of touchable bubble solution when I only need 2 and put the extras in the bin to fill stockings or goody bags or make a trip to the park better months or years from now.
Most of the things my family gets for free also go into the gift stash– things like ID card lanyards and conference nametags are excellent fodder for the dress-up box, penlights and flashlights and keychain pens and coin purses all make great stocking stuffers, and obviously the bigger stuff like travel mugs and notepads can be small gifts on their own. It’s worth taking an extra pass through the stuff you’re about to trash or donate, too, just in case any of it could be put in the gift stash for your kids later on– Mardi Gras beads are excellent dress-up necklaces or decoration for fairy gardens, scarves can become playsilks, old plastic combs are good painting tools, kitchen gear like colanders and cooling racks can be used in art or pretend play or the play kitchen, and a dead flip phone (with the battery removed, of course) makes an awesome pretend phone for a toddler.
I also have a big box of upcycling– things that are too interesting to recycle or throw away, like sub-divided boxes that used to hold chocolates or sandwich picks or those little plastic tables that keep your pizza box from squishing your toppings. One of the best gifts you can give a little kid is an assortment of “junk” like this and some basic art supplies.
You know the boxes your parents always nag you to take home from their attic? The ones full of pogs and Polly Pocket playsets and Jurassic Park action figures? Don’t donate that stuff! Your kids might love it someday!
Now obviously you should keep anything heirloom-worthy, like those handmade wooden toys from your carpenter grandfather, but most of the toys left over from your childhood are probably still worth playing with, even the cheap ones. Discard anything broken and anything that doesn’t reflect your values as a parent (bye bye Barbie!), but tuck the rest into your gift stash for later. Lots of things, like plastic animal figures 6-year-old you painstakingly collected from the zoo gift shop, are identical to their modern versions. Some toys, like Tangrams or card decks or prisms or marbles or jacks or rubber band boards, are nearly immortal in their appeal.
Now, I don’t necessarily believe that Gigapets will make a comeback, but tweens are into gimmicky toys like that. If your parents already spent good money on cheap plastic crap in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, why would you toss that cheap plastic crap only to have to spend YOUR money acquiring more of it for your kids?
Take credit where none is due: use necessities to bulk out holiday gift piles by adding office/art supplies, clothes, educational books, hobby supplies, and other stuff your kids will need over the next year, even if you might not normally think of such things as “gifts”.
Obviously kids love novelty art supplies like patterned duct tape and rainbow crayons and cute Japanese erasers, but standard supplies are giftable, too. Younger kids can always use a new notebook or pad of watercolor paper, a couple packs of those color-coding stickers from the office supply store, mailing address labels, hole-reinforcer stickers, index cards, popsicle sticks, or their very own roll of masking tape or painter’s tape. Older kids love to have their own pair of decent-quality scissors, puff paints, hole punchers, clear tape, white-out tape, glue dots, pens and mechanical pencils, kneaded rubber erasers, and report folders or 3-ring binders. Gum erasers are cheap and can be used for their stated purpose or to carve stamps.
Little kids love to wear clothes patterned with their favorite things, and tweens and teens will love the goth-esque accessories that go on clearance after Hallowe’en or the heart-themed ones that are on sale after Valentine’s Day. A book related to a project your child really enjoyed in the first half of the school year or one that you think will help them connect to something coming up in the curriculum can broaden their horizons and might lead to a lifelong passion or career interest.
The winter holidays are also a great time to make sure your aspiring NBA player has court-worthy shoes that will fit for the last half of the season, or to add to your little equestrian’s tack, or to upgrade the backpack or sleeping bag your child takes to summer camp. Make sure everyone in your family has warm socks, slippers, mittens/gloves, scarves/cowls, hats, and other winter gear. Maybe this year your child is ready for an embroidery kit, a tool box, or their very own wooden mixing spoon.
By far the most effective way to cut costs without sacrificing goods is to make those goods yourself.
You can make big things, like bean bag chairs and clothing and furniture. But you can also make little things, like playdough or hair accessories or notebooks. And you don’t need any special skill or a lot of free time to do some homemade presents: A bag of chocolate chips and a promise to make cookies with your 7-year-old before the end of winter break is a great gift that practically anyone can make essentially for free. A simple jar of infused almond oil or homemade balm and a promise of a massage is a similarly fantastic homemade present for your partner.
There’s still time to make homemade presents for this year! Even at the last minute, you can make great things.
Which means it’s not Advent yet, and if I were a decent human being who cared about the public welfare, I wouldn’t be posting any Christmas content.
But the fact is that I start my Christmas planning in July. Every year.
Because if I’m going to have time to make and do everything myself it takes six freaking months, that’s why.
Admittedly I brought this on myself. I *could* have established the expectation that we do Little House-style Christmases, where everyone gets some candy and a few things they need (like new wool stockings), and sometimes the youngest child gets a single toy.
But I love to make toys. I LOVE to give gifts. I love a big Christmas, like the ones I was lucky enough to grow up with.
So I start in July. I make a list and brainstorm ideas and inventory supplies. I usually start the first Christmas project in August. I like to be done with a week to spare, so I can enjoy the holiday with my family instead of frantically shutting myself in the studio.
It’s the third week of November now, and I am down to one big and one small project for each child, some stocking stuffers, a couple things for Robert, and a gift for one of my brothers.
But I know there are lots of folks out there who are just getting started, and let me assure you that it’s NOT too late to start making gifts for Christmas. There’s still time for one special, elaborate project for your kids or partner. There’s plenty of time for little stuff.
I’m going to post a handful of times over the next two weeks with ideas for kids’ stocking stuffers, tips for having BIG gift-giving celebrations without spending big money, some thoughts on establishing gift traditions, and maybe a couple tutorials.
Even though it’s not Advent yet. I’m sorry.
It could have been worse– I could have posted this stuff over the summer.