holiday gift ideas

Over the past few years (and even more so over the past few weeks), I've been having conversations with friends about how December has become a month of gift buying; and with many people I know focused on minimizing unnecessary possessions, the thought of buying so many gifts feels especially ironic and burdensome.  But even so, I truly enjoy figuring out perfect (if simple) gifts for friends & family.

Handmade gifts are wonderful, but not always right for every recipient, and realistically, I'd need to start working on gifts in January in order to finish making presents for everyone on time (and maybe not even then...)  So, I make a few gifts every year (usually for my children's teachers), but my go-to gift for nearly everyone else is a book -- even used books are fair game, because it's not about how fancy the book is, but what's inside.  And it's gratifying to get a call or email from someone saying, "I just finished reading that book you gave me & it was wonderful."

So, here goes... my list of holiday gift ideas.  However, please note: if you suspect you might be receiving a gift from me, go away. Scram. Now.

1) Donations to Non-Profits :: When my husband asked what I wanted this year as a holiday gift, I told him to please make donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Violence Policy Center. It's not that I'm feeling like a martyr or don't like gifts, but there's nothing I personally want or need for myself right now and these foundations are doing important work.  This is not to say that donations to non-profits are good gifts for everyone, but it might be something to discuss with your children -- and make a group decision regarding which non-profit (or non-profits) you would want to support as a family with a donation this year.

Not all non-profits are what they seem, so it's a good idea to do a little bit of research into what each organization really supports and what percentage of donations actually go toward doing the work they say they're doing (as opposed to spending your donations on telemarketers, sending endless junk-mail and lining the pockets of their CEO's & CFO's). I checked in with Mother Jones and also appreciated the information in THIS article plus THIS article.

2) Tickets to a Performance or Membership to a Museum ::
Okay... so maybe there IS something I want for myself: tickets to Cirque du Soleil (and because tickets for Cirque du Soleil are crazy-expensive, I think this will count double as my birthday present).  Cirque du Soleil might not be setting up their tent in your town any time soon, but maybe there's a concert, play or ballet performance you've been wanting to see?  A museum you've been wanting to visit? An ice-skating or hiking adventure? You get the idea...


3) Gift Ideas for Teachers ::
Last year I made these for my sons' teachers, and this year I potted grape hyacinth bulbs together with tête–à–tête jonquil bulbs (see photo above).  My other favorite plants to pot and give as gifts are cyclamen or amaryllis bulbs.

4) Books for Teens & Grown-Ups::
These books were my favorites this year (though not all were published this year) and they have made my list of "go-to gifts."  Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and also A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy by Sarah Lazarovic. (This last suggestion is sort of an ironic gift, but really, the author's premise is brilliant -- instead of buying things she wanted, the author painted pictures of them and chronicled her impulses to spend & acquire.  It's thoughtful, inspiring, not at all preach-y, and very funny.)

And for my fav Harry Potter fans, young and older, there is THIS and THIS.

5) Books for Younger Children ::  
Home by Carson Ellis (because it's gorgeous), Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi (because there's an impromptu parade through the snow... and cake), The Complete Polly and the Wolf by Catherine Storr (because we could all use a good laugh, and this book is hilarious), and finally The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy (because this delicious version is by Elisa Kleven... and hint-hint... there will be a give-away for a copy here next week).

6) Craft Books for Children (and for the adults who hang out with them) ::
Paper Suncatchers by Christine Gross-Loh -- This little book is sold as a boxed kit with some translucent paper to get you started, but you will quickly need more paper (which you can find HERE).  We are obsessed with making window stars right now so this book lives on the kitchen table; we also love Window Stars by Thomas Berger which is sadly out of print, but if you can find a used copy for a good price, grab it!!

My younger son really enjoys activity books published by Usborne -- especially the Book of Things to Find and Color and I am fascinated by this optical illusion book... 

Make Faces by Tupera Tupera -- My mom gave a copy of this book to my son a few months ago, and trust me -- it's super fun (in fact, I'm surprised Amazon hasn't sold out because I've personally bought so many copies as gifts).

Magical Miniature Gardens & Homes by Donni Webber (there's a give-away for a copy of the book HERE)

7) Other Cool Stuff ::
My teenage son eats so much ice cream that our scoop is perpetually sitting in the sink in a puddle-y mess so I decided he should have his own special ice cream scoop.  This one seems really great so I got one for him.

I bought a box of rocks for my younger son; not regular rocks -- geodes.  He's going to love smashing them open with a hammer.

My parents bought this scooter for my younger son as a splurge-y holiday gift and gave it to him early so we could all enjoy it together over Thanksgiving.  I'm not sure who likes riding it more, me or my 6 year old.

And finally, when another family member asked what to buy as gifts for my kids, I suggested subscriptions to Kiwi Crate.

8) Stuff that Smells Good ::
My newest obsession is this Grapefruit Cardamom Skin Balm by Etta + Billie. It. Smells. So. Good.

9) What Would Dumbledore Want?  
These Socks.

For more ideas, Rachel's list of 101 Toy-Free Gift Ideas on her blog Clean is worth checking. Plus Catherine Newman's list HERE.

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