Here’s an excellent game for family night, especially if you have older kids home for Christmas: Fictionary. It’s the basis for the boxed game “Balderdash,” but simpler, and the only equipment you need is a large dictionary, paper, and something to write with for each player. It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.
BASIC RULES: The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.
Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.
Details: Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is.
If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.
You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.
The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.
Here’s some examples from last night:
The real definition turned out to be:
-A kind of oak or bindweed
-A state of disquiet, nervousness
-A smiling climax
-A substrate of xylem in some ferns
-A type of mountain sheep bred in Algeria
-A kind of soap commonly used up until the 19th century, when industrialized factories rendered it obsolete [this one was a joke, as the smarty pants who wrote it thought the pun on “rendered” was too good to pass up]
The real definition:
-In India, a curtain used to screen women from men and strangers
-Keeping from one another
-A type of ink used commonly in newsprint
-a fog, especially one though to carry illness
-Scottish term for spitting noises
-A very purdy thing
-A cone-shaped device towed behind an aircraft as a target
-A unit of measurement equal to two miles
-Dreaded, a tyrant
-The feeling of morning dew
-Swamp, marsh, Elijah
At one point, the person who was “it” had to drag one of the less scholarly players into the other room to find out what was meant by “MARGOLD GROWING PLAL.”
Have fun! It’s a good game, and thorough.
A few weeks ago, a fellow complained that the winter concert at my kids’ school shouldn’t include any songs about Christmas, because here in New Hampshire, it’s cold, people are hungry, and some of them don’t even have a place to sleep at night. We should be focusing on them, he argued, not on Christmas.
That won a pretty strenuous eye roll from me. But I assumed he was so mistaken about Christmas because he is a secular guy. A secular person could easily believe that “Christmas” means only tinsel and lights, steaming hot chocolate, and extravagant electronic toys. Surely, I thought, any serious Christian could see the connection between the Christmas story and the desperate search for a warm, safe place to sleep in a cold, dark, world. It’s right there, right in every nativity scene you see.
Surely? Nope. It’s not only ignorant pagans who can’t see the connection between celebrating Christmas and caring for the needy. The Vatican nativity scene, which includes a large group of rather gaudy instructional figures acting out the corporal works of mercy, has been irritating many of my Catholic friends. One friend said that the corporal works display has “stolen Christmas” and “placed the emphasis on liberal social justice themes.”
Spoken like someone with a full belly and warm feet.
It’s very easy, when your body is already well-cared for, to dismiss the corporal works of mercy as some kind of SJW pocket sand used to distract Catholics from the actual faith. Try being naked, hungry, lonely, or dead, and get back to me about how open you are to hearing the Gospel. It’s hard to pray when you’re very hungry, and it’s really hard to pray when you’re hungry and someone who’s already eaten is chiding you for your spiritual flaws.
These tiresome “liberal social justice themes” come directly from the mouth of Jesus:
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Faith without works is dead. Even at Christmas!
Fr. Longenecker has a slightly more nuanced take on this idea that Christmas is no time to think about the corporal works of mercy. He says:
The biggest temptation in Christianity today is to make the church relevant by focusing on good works rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hold up. “Good works rather than the Gospel”? Because the two are . . . different? Opposed to each other? Mutually exclusive? I kept reading, because I thought I must be misunderstanding. He says:
We quietly forget the message of a lost and sinful humanity alienated from God and in need of redemption, and we substitute a religion of helping people, and making the world a better place.
He’s right, you know. This kind of thinking is just poison to the Church. Helping people, pshh. I know a guy who claimed that this pagan hooker was doing God’s work just because she let a couple of guys hide in her apartment.
Oh, um, that was St. James who said that.
[W]as not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Faith without works is dead. Yes yes yes, even at Christmas.
The corporal works of mercy are important, yes, and theologically it can be said that they flow directly from the nativity of Christ. Because Christ took corporeal form we are engaged in the corporal acts of mercy. Because he took a human body we care for the human bodies around us. Because he entered this world of matter–matter matters.
And before the Incarnation . . . matter didn’t matter? In the old testament, you could just let people starve and it was no biggie? In his haste to condemn people who care too much about pandas and global warming (yes, he specifically mentions both), Fr. L has stumbled into some choppy theological waters here. St. James also says that
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”[d] And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Serving God with your body is not some newfangled idea cooked up recently to put an extra polish on man’s relationship with God. Matter has always mattered. What we do is not some kind of also-ran. Faith and works go together. Even at Christmas.
Corporal works are not optional extras in your spiritual life, like nuts nestled in a cake. They are the bare minimum that we are required to do for each other, if we want to serve God. They are what we absolutely must do, if we can, before we can even dare to start putting our fingerprints on someone else’s soul. If we are not at least willing to perform corporal works of mercy for each other, then our spiritual lives are hollow.
Faith without works is dead. I’m not making this up.
So follow the logic. If everyone is going to make it to heaven in the end, what’s the point of all that talk about sin, hell, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? None of that matters is everyone is going to heaven in the end.
And all that is left therefore of the Christian religion is to be kind, preach a sort of bland message that every cloud has a silver lining, look on the sunny side of life and let’s solve the problem of climate change if we can.
I can’t follow the logic, because it’s not there. When we give a homeless guy sandwich before we bring up the topic of confession, that’s the same as saying everyone goes to heaven? I read this four times, and I can’t make any sense of it.
Here’s that lame-ass social justice warrior St. James again:
1If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does itprofit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Look. I know there are some Catholic parishes that have become the Church of Christ without Christ. It’s all about fellowship and donuts and new playground equipment, and God doesn’t enter into it, except as a kind of ambient lighting designed to flatter aging skin. This is not what Christ died for. I get it. I’ve heard those sermons, where sin is largely imaginary, but if you can’t sleep, you can cut a check to Catholic Charities, amen.
But I’ve also been at parishes where there is nothing but talk about spiritual things, and if someone needs help — tough shit. Someone shows up at Mass wearing skanky jeans, because that’s what she’s got? Tough shit. Someone doesn’t have a car and can’t make it to the six required baptism preparation classes? Tough shit. Someone smells bad, someone is weird and noisy, someone’s kid with autism makes the other parishioners uncomfortable? Again I say unto thee: Tough shit.
I have been at parishes that have acres and acres of crushed red velvet and every last inch of everything is covered with gold, but if you say you want a wheelchair ramp, they roll their eyes and cry poverty. I have been at parishes where they pride themselves on jam-packed perpetual Eucharistic adoration, but no one signs up to make a casserole for the single mom with a baby in NICU.
Dead. They are dead. Because faith without works is dead.
swamp the Nativity–over ride the Nativity and make it take second place. The good works are literally front and center. The nativity of Christ the Son of God and Son of Mary is in the background.
Does he have a point here? Is it appropriate for the corporal works of mercy to be set up in front of the creche?
It reminds me of something that happens routinely with my kids. I ask them to clear the table. No response. I ask them again to clear the table. Nothing. I ask in a slightly louder voice if someone will please clear the table. Still nothing.
So I start to yell. “CLEAR THE TABLE NOW!!!!” And everyone looks at me like I’m some kind of maniac. What is she making such a fuss about? Like clearing the table is the most important thing in the world all of a sudden! Sheesh, lady. Try and have some perspective!
Well, I would, if you would listen to me the first time.
Even the demons know what baby was born on Christmas morning. But do we know that, in His name, we’re obligated to care for each other? Every day, even Christmas day?
Faith without works is dead. If you don’t like being shouted at, then listen the first time.
Image: Coptic icon of Christ feeding the multitudes, author unknown, via Wikimedia Commons
If it’s wrong to gorge on cookies and electronic toys on December 25th, it’s also wrong to gorge on cynicism and criticism in the name of Christ.
Ooh, I’m in such a hurry! We’re headed out for a day trip as vacation week wraps up. I’ll just have to talk about food and skip the jokes, to save time.
We decorate the tree on Christmas eve, and then we went to “midnight Mass” at 10 PM. Part of me was sad and a little irritated that the parish wasn’t giving us our rare and special twice-a-year midnight liturgy this year; but the other part was like, HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT, WOOOOO! Because we did manage to get all forty presents wrapped, but there were still ten stockings to fill . . .
Christmas brunch; Pupu Platter for 15
Our traditional Christmas morning brunch is cinnamon rolls, bacon, grapes, orange juice, and egg nog.
Tip: The way to keep kids from drinking egg nog until they throw up is . . . buy tiny cups. Cheers!
I made Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon roll dough the day before, and rolled out the rolls in the morning.
I made a double recipe, which was insane. I make this same mistake every year. We ended up throwing out both unused dough and uneaten cinnamon buns, and we brought a pan to my mother-in-law’s house, too.
We ordered Chinese from the restaurant down the road. We used to do the whole “Thanksgiving recreation” meal, or sometimes a glazed ham with cherries and pineapple rings, until we realized nobody wanted a huge, formal meal, and also it was kind of crappy that everyone else gets to relax and have fun on Christmas, but I was spending all day cooking. So, Pupu platter!
Leftover chinese food, leftover chicken burgers
Plus some extra frozen pork rolls my husband picked up because he is crazy. I also threw in some sad peppers and avocados I found in the fridge, because it felt like we hadn’t eaten vegetables in six years. Somehow the vegetables are always the first to drop out.
Finished making caramel chocolate-covered almonds from Smitten Kitchen today. This project had been lagging on and on for weeks. We eked out a few batches in time to give to teachers, and finally finished the rest on Monday.
If anyone’s interested, I have a series of photos showing exactly what the caramel should look like while it’s cooking. It goes through an alarming series of transformations, all of which are normal. Just say the word and I will share the pics.
I made the first few batches right, but then I got lazy and didn’t separate the caramelized almonds properly. So I just broke it up into clusters, rather than individual almonds and dipped those into chocolate, which was way easier and faster and just as good. I thought the gold sugar was especially pretty.
This recipe could be used for any time of year — just change the colors of sugar and sprinkles you use.
Husband ran out to the store for meat while we all lazed around eating chocolate and playing video games.
We also made stained glass cookies, on the principle that it is better to make Christmas cookies late and slightly crabby then not to make Christmas cookies at all. We used this foolproof sugar cookie recipe for the dough. Then we sorted out some Jolly Ranchers by color, bagged them, and smashed them.
Then we cut them out and used smaller cookie cutters or knives to make cut-outs inside the cookie shapes. You’re supposed to bake the cookies part of the way, then fill them with candy bits, and then finish baking, but I forgot, and filled them before baking.
They turned out great! Note the parchment paper.
Look, I even made a corny pro-life cookie.
That baby head-to-pelvis ratio is pretty accurate for Corrie, as I remember it.
Irene, of course, made a skull with glowing red eyes:
Murry Christmas, weirdo. The key to the success of this recipe is, and I cannot stress this enough, USE PARCHMENT PAPER. Not wax paper, and not (brrr, your poor molars) tin foil. Parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, do not make these cookies!
Bacon, Brussels sprouts, and eggs; french fries
How I love this one-pan dish from Damn Delicious. It would make a wonderful brunch, but I think it’s super for supper, too. Bacon needs balsamic honey, eggs need hot pepper, and everyone plays well with Brussels sprouts, what do you know about that?
I had microwaved leftovers for breakfast the next day, and had a banner day for productivity. I owe it all to protein, and Brussels sprouts. Even kinda congealed, it was so very good.
Spaghetti and meatballs, salad
I stuck with Fannie Farmer’s recipe for meatballs, which is basically one egg and half a cup of breadcrumbs for every pound of meat, plus whatever spices and herbs. I used about 6.5 pounds of beef and a little ground turkey, and made 85 wonderful meatballs. Rather than frying them, I put them on a broiler pan and cook them in a medium-hot oven. They keep their shape and don’t get all greasy, and it’s so much easier.
Yum yum. We were pretty much snowed in all day, so I was happy to have a very hearty meal.
Speaking of snowed in, here is my recipe for completely delicious hot chocolate: Put into a pot one heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder and two heaping tablespoons of sugar for every mug of hot chocolate you want. Add enough water to make a thick syrup, and mix over low heat until the sugar is all melted. Then add the milk and a glug of vanilla. Stir and heat until it’s hot.
Benny insisted on drinking out of her doll tea set. As I mentioned before, the key to success and happiness in life is and always will be TINY CUPS.
I think pizza.
And now my poor family is waiting for me in the car! Happy trails. Hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas and using parchment paper like I said. I’m not kidding.
Today is the feast of St. Stephen, first martyr of the Church. That’s what kind of faith it is: One day we celebrate the birth of the Savior, and the very next day, we celebrate the death of a man who died for that Savior’s sake. It’s an especially poignant feast to remember as we see the images of Syrian Christians celebrating Mass in a church half-filled with rubble, the roof blasted away.
Imagine if this were your church?
This is your Church.
This is the Catholic Church, and these are your brothers and sisters. After this footage was taken, the Catholics remaining celebrated Mass on Christmas eve, in a roofless, blasted structure that’s safer than it’s been for a long time. Christians have not been able to enter for years, but they came back to Christmas to find it still standing, still waiting for them to come and worship God. They brought in flowers and candles from God only knows where, and they assembled a nativity scene out of scraps of rubble, covering it with branches from the trees that are still putting out green leaves.
Do not forget Syria. Catholics suffering around the world don’t want to take away the joy of us Christians who enjoy peace and plenty on Christmas. But do not forget them. Do not forget what kind of faith this is. The Savior does not promise to keep our bodies safe; but He does promise that the Church will always prevail against evil.
The ornament featured above was painted by Erica Ploucha (more of her work is here). Her husband Nick sent me the photo, saying “I can’t see this ornament and not think of Syria.” God has not forgotten the people of Syria, and neither should we.
Quick summary: In Renaissance Italy, a ragged street boy falls in with a travelling show troupe, and as he grows, he becomes an expert juggler. Eventually he strikes out on his own, and becomes a celebrated performer all over the country. He has a complicated routine, but always ends with a rainbow of balls and then “The Sun in the Heavens,” a single golden ball that he tosses impossibly high.
He enjoys his fame; but then times get hard, the clown gets old, and no one cares about his act anymore. He even drops “The Sun in the Heavens,” and the crowd jeers. Now a ragged beggar, he stumbles back to his old hometown, where he takes refuge in a dark church and falls asleep. He wakes up in the middle of the night to blazing lights and music, as a procession of villagers and religious present Christmas gifts before a statue of Mary and a somber Child Jesus.
When they are all gone, he gazes as the statue; and, remembering that he once made children smile, he suits up and goes into his old juggling routine one last time. He works his way through all his tricks, and finishes with the rainbow of colored balls. Finally he adds “The Sun in the Heavens.” He juggles it higher than ever before and cries out, “For you, sweet child, for you!”
And then his old heart gives out and he falls dead to the ground. A sacristan finds him and calls a priest, who blesses the old man’s body.
But the sacristan backs away in fear: The child Jesus is smiling, and in His hand, He holds the golden ball.
Among other things, it’s a story of when things are almost too late — when we almost miss Christmas, because of all the hustling and costume changes and juggling and fuss.
If you can, remember that phrase: “For you, sweet child!” — and toss Him one golden ball.
Apologize to someone if you were rude.
Put your phone down and read a book to your kid.
Let an insult pass without comment or retaliation.
If a street person asks for one dollar, give him ten.
Stop and pray for someone, or give a word of encouragement, before you go on with your juggling routine.
For you, sweet Child! He will catch that ball, and smile.
Trying to tamp down the guilt that rose like a cloud of evil dust, I mentally ran through my week, comparing it to the week that my brothers and sisters have endured in Aleppo. I shouldn’t have bought any presents, I thought. How could I even dare? How can we light our Advent candles and sing “O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel?” We are not captives. We are healthy, wealthy, safe, pampered. Our walls our intact. We are home. Our children are with us, safe and warm in bed. The Syrians, they are the ones who need rescuing, Lord. Lord, isn’t there something I can do?
Image: By Ahill34 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Feeling a dearth of burlap, foxes, chevrons, fairy lights, and mason jar lids in my life, I went on Pinterest to see what was happenin’.
I always start out with wholesome intentions, sincerely searching for neat DIY ideas. I even bought a set of plain glass balls, and I intend to spray paint them, using tiny paper snowflakes as stencils. As stencils! It is going to be pretty. Tell me it’s going to be pretty!
I start out, I say, with good intentions, looking for ideas that we will enjoy trying out; but I always end up calling my husband over for backup to help me mock stuff more thoroughly.
Because son, there is some stupid shit out there.
For your convenience, I’ve organized my thoughts into some basic rules to help you identify when you’ve slipped past DIY and landed smack in the middle of WTF, by which I obviously mean Where’s the Fphrenologist to feel your lumpy head and figure out what would impel you to follow through with some of these hideously inexcusable projects?
Things that would bring shame to hobos. Okay, so we all have failed crafts and stupid crafts and crafts that don’t turn out so great. That is fine. I have a number of them displayed around my house, because I have low standards.
But when I do come up with something lousy, I do not then use an expensive camera to take luxe photos of it and offer tutorials for how to recreate it in your own home. And not only because it didn’t occur to me! It’s because when you take a sweater and cut it up into heart shapes and then stick a paper clip through it, that’s not a cozy winter ornament. That’s garbage.
When kids make things that turn out a little rough and wobbly, that’s cute. When disabled people make things that are kind of naive and clunky, your heart is allowed to melt. But functioning adults are not allowed to just churn out crap and call it “adorable” just because it looks bad! Bad is bad! It’s not twee or offbeat or funky! It’s just bad! Bad bad bad!
(If you want to live a little, browse around in this chick’s site. Do not miss the confetti updo, which, the tutorial will instruct you, can be achieved by braiding your hair and then using your head to clean under the couch. In another spot, she instructs you to roast a turkey, cram some pom poms up its ass, and call it “festive feast.” I BET IT IS.)
Craft projects that require you spend $18 on a hobby store fake version of something people used to throw out back once the hogs were done with them. You know it must be within ten days of a major American holiday when local message boards are full of frantic pleas: Does anyone know where I can find wooden pallets? No, honey, nobody knows, because they have all been painted like terrible flags for the fourth of July, hung on the walls of pretentious condos for terrible wine racks, transformed into terrible herb planters in the front yards of people who wouldn’t know what to do with basil if grew with instructions right on the leaves, or tacked together by someone’s gloomy husband who would be perfectly willing to shell out cash for an actual, real, non-wobbly coffee table that doesn’t give you splinters, but now we have to spend all Thursday night sanding, and the Raiders are playing, too.
Leave pallets alone. Also milk bottles, mason jars, pre-weathered planks, and fruit crates. Gosh.
When you have a display, rather than decorations. Stores put up holiday displays. Businesses put up holiday displays. School children get together and work on a nice display together. But why are we doing this as individuals living in our homes? Why do we buy three shrink-wrapped bales of disinfected hay upon which to prop up some easily-identifiable symbols of the current holiday season in a studiously asymmetrical fashion, and set it up just to the left of the entrance to your home, and then forbid the children to play in the front yard because you’re trying to make it look homey with all those corn stalks you bought for eleven bucks a bunch? It’s your house, and you’re supposed to be living in it, not marketing it.
A small-scale rendition of this trend is when you take perfectly good stand-alone ornaments and tag them with keywords designed to snag maximum pageviews. You know what I mean: You have five glass balls in tasteful blue and silver, and that’s fine, but then you have to buy a special glass-writing marker and label each one with a Certified Holiday Word (without upper case letters or punctuation, of course, because we are having fun!). “Jingle” says one. “Merry,” explains another. “Star,” posits a third.
What? What? What is this for? This is stupid. If you like jingling so much, maybe use a bell, eh, smartacus? This is one of those things that people only do because other people are doing it, so it seems normal and cute and pretty, but it’s not. It’s stupid and it’s making the word stupider.
Subset: those astronomically smug, oversized wall decals that literally spell out exactly what kind of family you are. “WE DO LOVE! WE DO MESSY! WE DO OOPSIE WOOPSIE DOO ON THE REGULAR! WE SHINE FULL TIME! LOOK AT MY WHITE TEETH! I DEMAND A GOLD MEDAL FOR NOT FLIPPING OUT WHEN CARTER DROPS A CRACKER ON THE CARPET! CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE YOU GET TO BE FRIENDS WITH US!” No, I can’t. Please give me my coat back; I really must be going. I think I left my humidifier running, and the cats are going to get all waterlogged.
Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re not there for guests. They’re there for the actual family, to remind them of their own ideals. Except they’re not. They’re totally there to impress people, along the lines of those “Another family for peace” bumper stickers. I’m going to start my own auto insurance company just to design a rider specifically to cover people who deliberately rear-end another family for peace.
Inedible food ornaments. This may just be a hangover from some stinging childhood disappointment, but I feel like it’s bad form to fill the house with marvellous scents and then not get to chew on anything. Gingerbread cookies? Those are for eating. Applesauce is also for eating, and not for compressing into little weird brick stars and hearts that only look like non-poop if you tell people, “Those are made of applesauce, you know!” I’ll make an exception for clove oranges, because they really are pretty, and they have a venerable past. But no more dried applesauce poop. It doesn’t make me mad, it just makes me sad. I like applesauce.
Complete non-ornaments that just stare baldly at you, daring you to wonder if this is, like, the lost and found shelf, or what. Skis, ice skates, sleds, bicycles, wagons, whatever. You are not TGIFridays, nor were meant to be. Just because you manage to hang it on your wall, that doesn’t magically transform them into decor. This offends my thrifty heart, and it also violates the whole “decoration vs. display” rule.
Now, if you’re trying to sell me on the idea that industrial design can be beautiful, that is one thing. I will actually go to a museum and look carefully at a very good toilet or a telephone or a circuit board, because I like design. But that is not what is going on here. What is going on here is that some deranged housewife gets it into her head that anything that is no longer for sale at full price at Bed, Bath and So Forth must be automatically nostalgic, and therefore decorative. My only comfort is that deranged people are bad at hanging stuff, so it will probably fall down at some point and hit somebody. Kapow! Where’s your nostalgia now?
Things made out of books. Okay, so if the book was going to be destroyed anyway, that’s fine. But the thing that gets me is “She loves books so much, she made a whole chair out of them!” Hey, that’s great. I’m entirely blown away with your thorough grasp of the purpose of the written word! Or maybe you love books so much that you cut them up into bits and torture them into a gluey diorama depicting a scene from that book, that’s how much you love books!
Super duper. Remind me not to let you babysit my kids. Yes, I know you said you love kids. I heard you.
In closing: Yes, I write things like this because I am a bitter, unhappy person who finds fulfillment in criticizing others, even though their behavior in no way impacts my life. Please pray for me.
Yes, mason jars are still a thing, still. I checked.
We have ten kids, ages eighteen to almost two. We buy . . . . a lot . . . .of gifts. Here’s a list of fifty that our kids tried and liked this past year. They’re mostly under $50, and are in order from cheapest to most expensive, so it’s a little book-heavy in the beginning.
I’d also like to apologize for the graphic.
Most of these items are from Amazon. I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and all of the Amazon links in this post have my code embedded, so I earn a small percentage of the sale price, which is how we buy more presents for ten kids next year, and on and on it goes.
Here is my Amazon Affiliate link:
Please consider bookmarking it and using it every time you buy from Amazon! Thanks a million.
Here’s the first list of fifty from a few years ago, and here’s a list of twenty-five more the next year. And here are this years gift ideas:
1. Orthodox icon suncatchers and nightlights, $3.50 – $6
You can see a few in the window of my dining room here:
Jesus’ beard is sparkly! They are plastic and vividly colored. I want them in every window of the house.
2.Stretchy tattoo choker necklace, $3.99
Apparently these are back in style? My daughter wore one to the senior prom, along with hot pink Doc Martens (see below). (I wore my grandmother’s pearls to my prom, if anyone’s wondering.)
3.Nixon decal, $4
“I’m meeting you halfway, you stupid hippies!” Possibly specific to the needs of my family. For the right person, it could be the best $4 you ever spent. When people ask how my kids deal with being one of the few Catholics in a giant public school, this sums it up pretty well.
4.The Mysterious Benedict Society, about $5.
This book came highly recommended by trusted friends for kids grade four and up, and it lived up to the hype. Original, exciting, and the author actually wrote it with care and wit, rather than just assembling a plot with the right keywords. Kids and I both enjoyed it. It’s part one of a series of four.
5.Betsy-Tacy collection, $5.99
Another book my friends have been lauding forever. My first-grader just adores this series, which has ten books total. I admit I haven’t read it yet, but my daughter doesn’t put up with a lot of nonsense, so I respect her opinion.
6.Hanging glass egg vase, $6.99
This is the one of two items on this list that I haven’t actually bought yet, but it’s on my list — in this case, on my wish list. If someone gets it for me, I plan to grow ivy in it. Ivy will grow easily in water. I need green in the house to tide me over until spring!
7.Bubble motion tumbler, $7.50
This was a gift for the six-year-old, but everyone loves it, from the baby on up. Those orderly little drops, marching up and down the steps, hurrying or strolling, as you choose. Endlessly fascinating, miraculously never mixing. (There are any number of liquid motion toys to choose from. Great for babies, older kids who need calming down, or adults who need calming down. I once spotted a few of these toys in the waiting room at the washing machine repair shop, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t mind waiting.)
Matthew Alderman’s new offerings this year. Alderman’s style is so fresh and inviting, reminiscent of Trina Schart Hyman, who drew heavily on heraldry and illuminated manuscripts, nodded at the pre-raphaelites, and then opened the window to let some air in. Great stuff. Kids (and others) soak in knowledge as they color.
9.Oreo teether, $7.97
Corrie got this last Christmas, when she was teething hard, so it became known as the Corrie-o. The little ridges are perfect for sore gums. It’s bigger than a real Oreo, so not a choking hazard. Super cute, still a favorite after a year of gnawing.
10.Babies DVD, about $9
How I adore this movie. It shows, without comment, everyday scenes from the lives of four babies, from just before they’re born until they’re learning how to stand. The families live in San Francisco, Tokyo, the Mongolian steppe, and Namibia, and their lives vary widely, but some things are always the same. Sweetness and a little melancholy, but mostly sweetness. I always feel restored after watching this short, gentle, agenda-free movie, and the kids love it.
11.Mighty Jack, about $9
Ben Hatke’s first installment in a new graphic novel series. It’s a reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk, and it’s wonderful. You care about the main character right away; Hatke is generous with understated details that tell you what you need to know about the world they live in; and I have no idea what is going to happen next. Some serious themes — serious money troubles, danger, a younger sister who is autistic, and a difficult friendship — but suitable for kids age 7 and up, if they’re not highly sensitive.
12.The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, about $10
We loved The Pirates! Band of Misfits movie so much (made by the same folks who make the excellent Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep), and recently discovered that it was based on a series of books that are even odder and nuttier than the movie. These books do include some bawdy jokes and some violent details, but I feel that the most inapwo-pwo stuff goes over the little kids’ heads, and it’s just edgy enough to give the older kids a little thrill, without crossing any lines.
13.Slingshot rocket, about $10
Light foam, low-tech, lots of fun until the three rockets get lost. The feral 8-year-old daughter had a blast with it.
14.Garden fairies scratch book, about $10
Sturdy, spiral-bound (so you can open it up flat to work). Scratch away the black to reveal rainbow swirls and glittery colors underneath. Sweet little poems, pictures to copy if you like, and blank pages for sketching, besides the scratch-off pages. Many themes available, from outer space to mermaids to Jurassic creatures.
15.Galaxy infinity scarf, $11.95
My fashion-minded ten-year old would wear this every day if we let her (which we do). Pair it with the TARDIS hat (which she does) and and maybe the TARDIS dress, and you have a themed ensemble. The scarf is a stretchy rayon, machine washable.
16.Baby smartphone, $12.65
This toy distracts the baby from your actual smartphone for maybe ten minutes. Worth every second. I like B. Toys because they make sounds, but they are intentionally soft; and they have an off switch. This one has held up well, and doesn’t gobble batteries too badly. Also records your voice, so the older kids are always pranking each other.
17.Little Dalek action figure, about $12.95
Shiny and detailed. Perpetuate the Doctor Who obsession for another year. PER-PET-U-ATE!!!!
18.Wooden ball rattle, $12.99
The large wooden balls are linked with elastic, so you can wear it like a bracelet, or you can roll and twist them to make all kinds of lovely clusters of color. Each ball is painted a slightly different shade, it’s pleasantly heavy, and it makes a soft clacking sound. Fine, I bought it for myself, and sometimes I let the baby play with it. We’ve had good luck with this brand, Manhattan Toy.
19.Dragon scale leggings, $12.99
We looked at a lot of mermaid-print leggings, but realized that our kids are more the dragon type. Snarrrrl. These come in a few different colors.
20.Krakitten T-shirt, $13
I’ll let this magnificent garment speak for itself. Comes in a few different colors.
21.TARDIS hat, $14.88
Aized about as expected, even on the inside. The pom pom on top is generously poofy.
Whenever my kids put Calico Critters on the list, I grumble and complain about how stupid and pointless and expensive they are; and then I start shopping, and then I go, “AWWWWWWW.” They really are adorable. These are very small toys, so not great for kids who lose stuff; but they are sturdy and sweet, and come in dozens of different species. We also have the pool and sandbox set.
23.Headband kit, $14.85
I actually resisted buying this kit, because it seemed dumb (ALEX toys are hit or miss) but one kid desired it greatly. It turned out to be quite good. The headbands haven’t broken after a year of use, which is almost a miracle; and she had a surprising amount of fun making different combinations.
24.One Potato, Two Potato, about $15
My current favorite read-aloud. This book has an unusual focus for a children’s book: a very old couple, so poor they have to share everything, including a chair, a blanket, and the one last potato in the garden — or so they think. A simple and hilarious story of unexplained magic, but so much to unpack about what you really need in life. The illustrations are understated but extraordinary.
25.CowCow dresses, about $18 Something for everyone!
My ten-year-old daughter worked to earn her very own ice cream and candy dress, but maybe you’d prefer beetles, constellations, or cute ghosties. More varieties, some of them truly bizarre, than you can shake a stick at. These dresses are on the short side for adults of average height, but work fine for shorter folks. They come with or without sleeves, and are made of a stretchy rayon material.
26.Butterfly wings, about $18
Flap flap flap! Always in style.
27.Hanging glow lamp, $18.99
Oh, I lied, this is another thing I haven’t bought yet, but friends say it’s lovely. I’m a sucker for little worlds under a dome, and I love how this comes with a hanging hook. Friends say it’s brighter than you might expect. We recently redid the little girls’ room with two sets of bunk beds, so we may be investing in individual lighting for individual preferences.These come in three different colors, and you can get either the rabbit thing, or a plump little bird.
28.Melissa and Doug 12″ baby doll, about $19
A sturdy favorite. Here is Corrie on her first birthday, getting to know her new baby.
29.Tinkerbell learn ballet DVD, about $20.
By far the nicest instructional ballet video I’ve ever seen. The music is pleasant, there are no bizarre mascots or intrusive animation, the teacher seems to actually like kids, and you will learn some true, basic ballet. We put a broomstick between two chair backs to make the required barre.
30.Hooded cloak, about $20
Exactly what the kid was hoping for. It’s not real velvet, obviously, but it’s held up well. Comes in many colors.
31.Werewolf Deluxe game, about $20. Good for ages reasonably-alert-10 to adult.
The premise is that, when night falls in the village, a werewolf comes out and kills someone; and everyone else has to figure out who the werewolf is and what to do about it. Everyone closes his eyes, and the leader instructs one person at a time to wake up, take a look at the card that reveals his role (werewolf, bodyguard, witch, villager, etc.), and then go back to sleep. There are several rounds of play, in which the players anonymously decide to kill, save, protect, or silence each other.
Quilling is making a comeback! A lovely, old-fashioned craft where you roll up thin strips of paper, loosely or tightly, then pinch them into various shapes. No end of possibilities here. You can make free-standing 3-D ornaments, glue the paper to eggs, make cards, or even jewelry. A very pleasant way to spend time. My nine-year-old needed a little help to get started, but she caught on fast.
34.Parachute hammock, about $24
An excellent hammock for the price. I wish I had had a hammock the last ten times I was pregnant! Heavenly. These sturdy, easy-to-use hammock straps, about $16, were a good investment, too.
35.Lenox ballerina jewelry box, $25.
With eight daughters, we’ve tried a number of jewelry boxes. A number. This one is by far the sturdiest, but it still looks delicate and dainty. The ballerina still pops up, the music still plays, the hinges still function, and the box is still a box. Pretty, silver-satin quilted design. Plays “Fur Elise.”
36.Godzilla hands, about $25
I don’t know what to say about this. We have these. They are by far the most luxurious Godzilla hands we’ve ever owned.
37.Ramona complete collection, $27.50
A much-desired gift. For the right kid, a boxed set of every single one of their favorite character’s stories is a wonderful prize. Ramona really holds up all these decades later.
38.Blowfish tea set, about $30
Quirky but elegant! A very good product for the price. This is a full-sized, functional tea set for two, not a toy.
39.Toddler slide, $31
Probably the most-used piece of furniture in our entire house. This lived in our living room for at least five months, and saved my sanity while Miss Insano clambered up and threw herself down hundreds and hundreds of times. Folds for storage.
40.Legend of Zelda stained glass backpack, about $34
Just a light nylon backpack, but it was what the kid wanted. It’s a little roomier than it appears, and the pattern is actually more vibrant than the picture shows.
41.Long Ballerina Tutu, $36
This is the absolute last untested item on this list! We’ve bought many items from The Little Dress-Up Shop, and have always been completely delighted, so I’m confident that this sweet, poofy ballerina skirt with rosebuds will be well-received.
42.Portable Bluetooth speaker, about $37
Exactly what we needed. It works with my kid’s phones, and lets them blast music while slaving away in the dirty dish mines or cleaning up the yard after the last raccoon garbage party. Easy to use, and a good value for the price.
43.White bird mobile, about $38
Marketed as a baby mobile, but it’s a real work of art, and very large. A cloud of white birds in constant, gentle motion. We got this for our fourteen-year-old, and it really transforms a space.
44.Darth Vader Skechers, about $40
These are adult sized, in case your kids grow out of kid’s shoes before their brains grow out of a love for Star Wars, which of course could never happen.
45.Punk tartan purse, $41
Sturdy and awesome, lots of zippers, buckles, and studs, perfect for that one punk kid who needs a place to keep all her black lipstick. Has an adjustable shoulder strap and shiny black insides.
46.Dark Prince sword, $43
It wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one sword. This one is long, shiny and seriously heavy. Not sharp, but you definitely could kill someone if you tried. Not meant for heavy fighting, but good for stage or costumes or just swaggering around with a big-ass sword.
47.Stilts, about $45 a pair
Greatest inspiration I’ve had all year. We now have two sets (they come rated for different weights), and they are adjustable. First kid went from zero skill to wobbling across the floor in a few minutes, and now she can jump, run backwards, spin, and do all kinds of terrifying stunts. Good exercise, good for improving balance, and great for building confidence. Excelsior!
48.Hot pink Doc Martens, $75
For the prom! For everyday wear! For making yourself awesome from the ground up. A million colors, all shiny and rugged and BACK IN STYLE. Aw yiss.
49.Casio Keyboard, $129.95
A very serviceable electric keyboard for people learning to play. Comes with a stand and headset, so you can practice without driving your sister crazy, assuming that’s your goal.
Yes, this is the second trampoline we’ve bought. We finally destroyed the mat of the first one, and after several unsuccesful attempts to replace it (we kept buying the wrong size, the wrong spring size, etc. etc.) we just threw in the towel and bought a new one, upgrading to fifteen feet. I know all about the horrible stories of mangled faces and splintered tibias, but we are still a trampoline family all the way.
Baby loves it. Kids love playing with the baby on it. It’s instant entertainment at birthday parties, with or without water balloons and a sprinkler or Easter dresses.
Grouchy or sullen teens discover that life is worth living after taking out their troubles on the trampoline. And it’s a perfect spot for stargazing or sunbathing or lying down while the kids run around you, blissfully under the illusion that you are playing with them.
You really need a trampoline. (And if you happen to have a spare trampoline frame, you can wrap some chicken wire around it and make a garden fence, or maybe a chicken coop.)
Okay! That’s it for this year. Happy shopping! Thanks again for using my link when you shop on Amazon.