Monday, November 27, 2017

Gift Guide 2017

Portland! (The Maine one.)
We are actually still digging out from under our turkey and catching up with work, even though what really want to do is see all the movies and binge-watch Stranger Things. But I do realize that the holidays approacheth. Thus, this annual Gift Guide! Please note that this year's gift guide will not result in an explicit donation, since we did all our 2017 charitable giving prior to filing the dreaded FAFSA [shudder]. 

But we are saving to send our kid to college [sob], so I promise we won't be, like, buying a Lexus if we earn Amazon link commissions.

Anyhoo. Maybe you were in the mood to *make* something giftish? Please allow me to offer a few ideas!
More in a kind of a *buying* space? Please allow me to offer my thoughts from the past:
  • Last year's gift ideas are here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.
and the present:

Games and Puzzles



Don't Tip the WaiterWe don't have this game yet--or rather, it is in the house, but not yet out and about. I always like to give a silly game that kids and grandparents can play immediately without a lot of rules hoo-ha, and this one fits the bill. (The oddly-named Animal Upon Animal is the classic of this genre, and still the game I keep in my bag at all times.) Also, I'm sorry in advance if you fall into the Kikkerland rabbit hole.


Bounce-Off Rock‘N’ Rollz! So, everyone has been making fun of me for buying this because apparently it is kind of a *drinking game*! Who knew? But the truth is that I could picture Ben and all his crazy friends playing it all hours, and boy was I right about that. (They even play a hacked version where you have to bounce the balls in from a standing position.) But the four of us play it all the time too, especially at the end of the evening, when everyone is done with homework or needs a break from it. It’s just a brainless dexterity game of bouncing balls into a grid pattern on a tilty board, and you can play in teams or as single players, and it’s really fun and silly. I highly recommend it, with or without giant plastic red cups of beer.


Edited to add: Dutch Blitz Expansion pack! Because if you already have Dutch Blitz and you get the expansion, then you can play with up to 8 players instead of only 4! It is not unchaotic. And we ended up making a rule that if you finished a stack you were in charge of removing it from play to free up a little space. But it is really, really fun. I said this, initially, about the original game: Is it the vague Amish theme? The fact that it says "A Vonderful Goot Game" so campily on the box? I don't know--but make no mistake, this is one of our family's very most-played-ever games. It's got a very simple Solitaire-style of play (stacking consecutive cards) and is all about speed and concentration rather than, say, strategy. It's a great game to play a few rounds of if you've got just 15 or 20 minutes to kill, and it's good with 2, 3, or 4 people. We've given it as a present at least a dozen times. I'm never quite sure what makes it so much fun, but it is, and we continue to play it regularly.

p.s. Feel free to queer it up, if you like. That is, rather than the mandatory boy-on-girl style of play, play girl-on-girl and boy-on-by. Just saying.


Juxtabo is a game I recommended in the summer, and I'm recommending it again. The pieces are lovely and heavy, and it's quickish and engaging, which makes it a great game to play when people have odds and ends of time, but can't commit to a real board game. But what's it like? If I say a combination of Othello and Blokus and Colorku, will you think I'm a dork?

CodenamesThe company kind of adorably describes this as a "social word game," which is pretty much all my favorite things rolled into one! There's some kind of spy theme, but it doesn't really come into play that much. Mostly, you are working with your teammate (2 teams of 2 people works well, but you can play with bigger teams and that's fun too), hoping to give them one-word clues so that they'll guess which word cards from a 5 x 5 g rid belong to your team. 

You might say "powerful," hoping that your partner will guess that two of your words are "king" and "superhero," but then they might pick "kangaroo" and you will want to kill them, even after they explain about the animal's powerful leg muscles.
There's a picture version too, and a special two-player version. Please report back if you've played either of them!


Modern Art is a game I recommended many years ago, but it's been out of print for ages until recently. It was our second-ever European-style board game, which is kind of funny because it is the most deceptively complex of them (for the record, Acquire was the first, and it is a wonderful game). What I wrote a long time ago was: "Of the mind-twisting games we play, this is the mind-twistingest. In fact, every time we play it, I say, 'Oh, wow, I think I'm only just beginning to understand this game now.' And we've played it, like, a hundred times." That is still true. In sum, it's an art-themed auction game that progresses over four rounds. The art is new in this version, but it looks just as ugly as it was in the old version. We hacked our game to make new art cards that we liked better. 

I don't assume that every family will share this inclination.
We did this neckties puzzle over Thanksgiving, and I can't think of a better puzzle I've ever done. It is gorgeous, for one thing, and just the right cross between challenging and doable. My mom and I spent many pleasant hours side by side with it.
 

This popsicle puzzle and this bookshelf puzzle are what I have on hand now--one for generalized  eggnog-fueled December puzzling, and the other for actual Christmas-Day puzzling, which is a longstanding tradition. Usually, I am in my nightie, working on the puzzle with my mom, when I suddenly look at my watch and say, "Fuck! I forgot to put the ham in!" 

(Quick question: Has anyone played this game? I am thinking of getting it for Ben and Birdy. . . Also, I'm adding a tiny unillustrated plug here for Kan Jam because we play it so much.)

Writing, Crafts, and Activities


Stitch Camp looks like a GREAT BOOK! But don't take my word for it, since I wrote it with my friend and it's filled with pictures of my daughter! Take Amazon's word for it, since it's on their official Holiday Toy List. (Right? I mean, even though it's not a toy.) It's a craft book for kids and teens and tweens that introduces all the main fiber crafts (sewing, embroidery, felting, knitting, crochet, weaving) and is filled with projects, many of which use recycled materials. If I were giving this book as a holiday gift, which I can't really do in good conscience given the aforementioned facts, I would give it paired with an excellent pair of sewing scissors--the kind that makes crafting so much easier, and that someone will have for their whole lives. These, for example. Or you could gift the book with a sewing kit, an embroidery kit, or a pair of knitting needles and some of our favorite wool.I can't bring myself to mention crochet supplies, because crochet baffles me.


My Rad Life is a journal filled with feminist prompts, quotes, and inspiration, and woodcut illustrations of women authors, athletes, artists, and activists. The publisher describes it as "An inspiring, empowering journal that encourages its owners to think, create, reflect, and explore their own radness." I know lots of people who could be exploring their own radness in journal form! My friend Kate Schatz created it with the illustrator Miriam Stahl, and it's a companion to their other rad books, Rad American Women A to Z, and Rad Women Worldwide.


I have written about Journal Sparks before, here, but this book would make such a lovely gift for any writer or artist in your life. And just because it has pages of really cute stickers at the back doesn't mean an adult wouldn't be thrilled to get it! (And while we're at it, Emily's first book makes a supremely wonderful gift for creative children.) Again, if you wanted to package the book with a related item, I might include this set of Flair pens, which is our go-to, pens-wise. Here they are in use by our Ava friend, on our perennially paper-covered coffee table:



Speaking of pens: we bought this Bullet Space Pen for a great friend of ours who is exactly the kind of person that needs a pen originally designed for NASA. It has a pressurized ink cartridge and can write upside-down, on wet and/or glossy surfaces, and under any conditions: extreme cold and/or heat, for example, should you find yourself trying to take notes in the arctic while being burned at the stake. Suffice it to say: he loved it. It also happens to be exhibited in the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art, which may or may not speak to your snobbery, but it speaks to mine.
We also gave our friend this set of Expedition Field Notes, because if you've got a pen that can write in all conditions, you need a notebook that has waterproof pages. Also, they're super-stylish and cute. Please note that these are smallish notebooks (3.5 X 5.5). I love the idea of giving this set of pen and notebooks to more of our friends. It's kind of perfect.
When my kids were small, our sealing wax kit pretty much turned thank-you-note writing from a chore to a kind of fume-filled arsonist's fantasy. If you still have younger kids, or or giving presents to the kinds of children whose parents won't never speak to you again if you give them a gift that involves matches and fire and melting plastic, then I can't recommend this bit of old-fashioned and elegant fun highly enough. Note that you can pick your own child's initial, not just my children's! (Is it wrong that I want this anatomical heart sealing wax kit for myself?)

Books for Kids

If I haven't managed yet to pressure you into buying One Mixed-Up Night, let me take this fresh opportunity! If I were giving it to my kids, I'd probably include a gift certificate for an IKEA trip complete with bonus plate of meatballs, but maybe that's just me! (Besides, how lame would it be if I gave this book to my kids?) If you would like a signed bookplate for this book, or any other book of mine, please just contact me here, and I'll send you one. Edited to add: If you email me for a bookplate, please let me know the name, if any, you'd like me to dedicate it to! And please send me your address.


For an engineering-y kid, consider this young-reader's version of the Elon Musk biography. Ben read the original over the summer and was enthralled and inspired.


If you are giving books to younger kids, some of my favorites are in this post (along with the Maira Kalman book I still give to adults and teenagers at every opportunity). Other perennial winter delights include The Snowy DayOwl Moon, and The Mitten.

Books for Adults

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer are three wonderful novels that happen to be about loss. But so, so good, I promise. The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness by Heather Harpham and The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs are two astonishing memoirs that happen to be about illness. Both fantastic and both utterly life-affirming, even as they skirt death or meet it head-on.

Dinner is the best new cookbook I got this year. I took it out of the library so many times that I finally ended up buying it. It's full of delicious, unfussy recipes that solve the main problem, which, as everybody knows, is dinner. It might be nice to give it with a wonderful pan, like this one that I recommended last year and still love.
I will also be giving the new translation of The Odyssey, which is by a woman. (YAY!) If you look at it on Amazon, it will say, "by Homer and Emily Wilson." And it will sound like it was translated by a married couple. Until you think about it for a second.

Misc.

Even though we already have and love a regular angel-chime candle holder, I really want this Moomin one. (Also, kind of, all the Moomin things.)


Ben and Birdy went in together on this aromatherapy diffuser earlier in the year, and they love it. I feel like it would make a great gift for any stressed-out teenagers you happen to know, since it offers such a lovely opportunity for calmness and self care. My kids' favorite oil is rose geranium. (The price is alarming, but it lasts a long time.)


As always, our friends' beautiful cider products are the most intensely wonderful additions to your pantry or the pantry of a loved one. (Ew. But why? Because it sounds like "panty"?) And you don't have to take my biased word for it, since Ruth Reichl wrote them up! #superstars


I bought myself one of these teeny ramekins from Facture Goods, and I use it every day. It is crooked and rough and somehow just the most perfect thing in the world for olive pits or a bite of cottage cheese. I think it would make a special present.

Finally, okay, this is a gift only for you. . . Are you attracted to those Yoplait Oui yogurts because of the glass jars, but then you have these little glass jars, and you aren't quite sure what to do with them besides drink Limoncello? These Weck covers fit them! Not, like, tightly. But well enough that you can use them to store odds and ends of things in the fridge or on your countertop. You're welcome. 

But I can't even say that as a joke, because: Thank you. Enjoy the season. Light the candles. Call your representatives. Take care of each other. xo

41 comments:

  1. How can you be baffled by crochet but not knitting? Knitting is way beyond my brain's comprehension.
    And, oh the love of little glass yogurt jars. I like to drink a shot of buttermilk out of them. The lids are genius. ILYSM.

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    1. Different strokes, amiright? xo

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  2. I was just thinking this morning that I needed to check here for the 2017 gift guide so I can know what our family's new game will be! I usually take your recommendations and head to our locally-owned toy shop, but oh, do I hear you about college. We sent our oldest this fall :::sob::: to my now-alarmingly-expensive alma mater (...and received last week the letter regarding next year's tuition increase, you know, so we can start the holiday season off right with the proper amount of dread?? I feel like they could have waited until after Christmas. If I wanted to know right!now! I could have checked the website on my own, right? Anyway....), so I am more than happy to click through your links and support Ben's college fund, even in this tiny way. :)

    I hope your holiday season is filled with all the good things. So much love to you and your family. XO

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    1. Thank you so much, dear Beth!

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  3. Happy holidays <3 <3 <3.

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    1. And to you, dear Swistle!

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  4. Thank you so much for these gift guides! I love them so.

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  5. Hot damn! I LOVE your gift lists. Thank you for all of these ideas. And I have a game for you! Maybe it's even new to you! We learned it over Thanksgiving. I'd say it's war (the card game)-like-solitaire. Maybe more time with it will yield a better description. Regardless, it's fun and had us shouting, slapping cards down, and "Ha HA!"-ing at each other very quickly. https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=dutch+blitz&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=178149434338&hvpos=1t1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=3712808589979573521&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9031907&hvtargid=aud-344389568820:kwd-334709127&ref=pd_sl_iyttzpia7_e

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    1. Sorry, that link is unhelpful. Dutch Blitz is the game, and it is here: https://www.amazon.com/Dutch-Blitz-201/dp/B000BBU0KS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511843720&sr=8-1&keywords=dutch+blitz

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    2. That game will be under our tree this year because of good things I read about it. Glad to read another person's view.

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    3. I remember Catherine mentioning Dutch Blitz in the past. But it is a "Vonderful Goot" game! If you like speed games. I haven't been able to get some family members to play it with me because of that.

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    4. Anonymous9:18 PM

      We own the "Vonderful Goot" game also (thank you Catherine!) and we love it! However, my son is *significantly* better at it than everyone else. We have resorted to making him take 11 or 12 cards compared to our 10, which gives us a fighting chance. :-)

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    5. Thanks for the reminder! I added the expansion, which was new to us this year. . .

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  6. Yes to Tokaido! We love it around here. Maybe I haven't quite figured out the strategy yet, but it is the most relaxing game to play and then at the end, someone happens to win. And then we all want to play again immediately with different characters. It's kind of meditative, but really fun.

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    1. Okay, great! Thank you for this. And shhhh. . . . ; )

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  7. Thank you for the puzzle suggestions! I love bright rainbow colored puzzles and games--it's what gets me through these dreary Maine winters. ;-)

    I haven't tried Tokaido yet. I've heard the app is good. One of my friends in our gaming group has it, but we haven't tried it yet. Great to hear others like it!

    New game suggestion for you -- Starving Artists! I love the real artwork in the game. It's fun to see what paintings come up. And I love the colorful little cubes, of course!

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    1. Ooooh, that looks great, Amanda! Thank you so much for the recommendation.

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  8. Anonymous10:22 AM

    I am binge watching Stranger Things right now, too! And my 12 year old got One Mixed Up Night for her birthday and loved it. I took a picture to send to you, but she asked me not to send it (ah, 12. That's OK. I get it). --Cathy K

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    1. Oh, thank you so much, dear Cathy! That's so nice to hear.

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  9. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Oh, and I have a children's (picture) book recommendation because it reminds me of you somehow. It's "You Can Do It, Sam" by Amy Hest. Baking, the joy of doing small acts of kindness, early morning/first snow 'journeying' when you're 5 and the world is fresh and new. I think you'd like it.
    --Cathy K
    https://smile.amazon.com/You-Can-Sam-Amy-Hest/dp/0763636886/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511882181&sr=8-1&keywords=you+can+do+it+sam

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  10. Heather8:50 PM

    We have Tokaido... it is a big hit with Eight and not really challenging for Thirteen, although he plays cheerfully enough once we start. Even though it is competitive, it feels pleasantly non-competitive. Nice to have in the house for older not-quite-readers or younger kids who don't have stamina for something like Seven Wonders. It is lovely and tactile.

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    1. Oh, okay. Good to know!

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  11. Oo, Oui covers--thanks. I guiltily bought a few giant corporate but so cute yogurts by rationalizing that I needed a few more votive holders, and they're great. But now I can get a few more. You know, for storage. Code Names is our very favorite right now. We own both Pictures and Duet. They all work well, though the original is still my favorite. The nice part is that the cards are interchangeable, increasing the possibilities for any game.

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    1. Ahhh! Votive holders. Good thinking, KB! (Or packaging marmalade???)

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  12. We have both Codenames Pictures and Codenames Duet (the two-player version). I have to say the pictures one is my favourite. The pictures on the cards are all Escher-esque and odd: a melting clock, a pineapple that is also a grenade, a cat with a lion reflection, a yak with clothes on hangers hanging off his horns... While being exactly the same game, it is also totally different to work with pictures rather than words.

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    1. Okay, good. Good to know!

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  13. We are not nearly the game players that your family is, but we love Codenames! and I agree with Quinn above about Picture Codenames -- it's not nearly as good.

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  14. We love Codenames. I've played the Picture one with other family and did not like it as much. It is interesting in how many details (many odd) are on every card, so it leads to a multitude of words or concepts being appropriate for every card. Easier in some ways, more challenging in others.

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  15. Just FYI, I'd be okay with you buying a Lexus with your affiliate-link money. I know you won't, of course, but I wouldn't mind. But yeah, us too on the saving for college thing. Sigh...

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    1. Come on, Kim, don't the kids at least deserve to have their college tuition paid? It's their personal information that's been shared with the world since they emerged from the womb that made the money in the first place.

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    2. Thank you so much, Kim!

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  16. Code Names is fantastic; it's also great for a special occasion, as you can write your own word-cards for someone's birthday, graduation, etc--my fam did that over Thanksgiving for our annual make-your-own-game marathon, and it was the best we've played in years.

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    1. Ooooh! What a fun twist! Thank you, dear Rachel.

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  17. Hi! We got Code Names Pictures to play with my sons who can't read yet. It's creepy. I like it, but it's definitely harder because easier to have a clue apply to a lot of cards. When playing with the literate, I definitely go with the regular version. We also made up a different version where you give a clue of a movie or book title. It's surprisingly hard. Quick question: I'm trying to start writing at home. Can you remind me of your buddy system? You text your partner and promise to write a certain number of words or for a certain amount of time? Thank you for all you do! Good luck with those sweet teenagers.

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  18. Anonymous12:01 PM

    My mom started a tradition with my daughter a few years ago: a "book-of-the-month club" as a holiday gift (the "club" consists only of my mother and daughter, and the books are chosen and then furtively delivered by mom, who always wraps and addresses them so that they'll look "official.") I then read the books to my daughter before bed. Anyhow, we've requested yet another year of the "club," and I (somewhat selfishly!) asked if she would deliver One Mixed Up Night as the year's first read! I am so looking forward to this one! Thanks for your writing, as always! :)

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  19. how do you do all of this as a single mom?

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    1. Anonymous1:08 PM

      As far as I know, she's not a single mom. Unless I've missed something.....(?)

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  20. how do you do all of this as a single mom?

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  21. Karen8:04 AM

    Thanks, Catherine! Lots of great ideas!
    I just bought two copies of One Mixed Up Night to donate to our church's giving tree!

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