Off we go! Lots of lovely stuff this year, some Catholic, not all. I could only feature a few items from each store, but many of these artists make a wide variety of goods, so do follow the links and shop around. If you’re ordering for Christmas, be sure to check shipping dates, especially if you’re requesting custom work.
SARAH BREISCH of RABBIT DOG FINE ARTS
Delighted to see my friend Sarah offering her lovely, lively designs on these hand-painted cards.
“Located in Claremont, New Hampshire, Sarah spends her days with her husband, 8 children, two dogs, one cat, and working in her community. In the moments between, she creates ink and watercolor images inspired by her love of nature and literature. A lifelong artist, Sarah began selling her work in earnest a year ago. Currently, she offers individually hand-painted greeting cards. “
“I make sacrifice beads in a variety of styles, featuring different saints. I have several ready-to-ship options in my Etsy store, and I am delighted to take custom orders. As a form of reparations/penance especially given the recent sexual abuse crisis, I always give a portion of my sales to charity. Recent charities have included a pregnancy center and food bank. This month and in December I am giving to a couple families, for their basic needs and also to help provide Christmas presents for their kids.”
“I sell religious fine art prints and printable Catholic coloring pages to spark interest in the saints and an appreciation for classical art. Currently I’m illustrating a Marian Consecration for Children, coming out next summer, which is why 95% of my pictures are of Our Lady, haha. My new prints are being released November 28.”
I love these Morse Code necklaces by my friend Theresa. They look like elegant necklaces but hold a secret meaning spelled out in beads. Customizable.
“Theresa makes all kinds of beaded jewelry. Her shop started years ago with wrap around rosary bracelets, but her biggest seller now is her beaded Morse Code necklaces. You can even request customized phrases or colors – just make sure to reach out before Dec. 10 for custom orders. Standard orders need to be placed by Dec. 15.”
“I work in many different fiber arts– pattern design, knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, dyeing, and more. In my shop you’ll find one-of-a-kind embroideries, hand dyed yarn, saintly and geeky crochet dolls (and their patterns), felted art pieces, and whatever else I happen to be making!”
Our Lady of Guadalupe DOLL or PATTERN
Persephone from Hadestown:
And then there’s this:
Also pouches, patterns, and hand-dyed yarn, plus a teeny tiny Fred Rogers.
“a variety of products with my digital illustrations: portraits, apparel, and prints for the home. My most recent creation is a series of plush prayer dolls featuring Catholic saints and/or prominent figures on the front, with a prayer on the back.” Illustrations will be rendered as cloth dolls, on the site soon:
Impressionist art, encaustic, watercolor, and more. Many small pieces available for sale.
“All around me, I see the world blossoming. Flowers are blooming, fruit is ripening, children are growing, and colors are exploding. In my art, I love to explore the lusciousness of the natural world. Through painting the moving and growing world, it can be captured and exaggerated to show the pleasure of viewing our stunning surroundings.”
Have I read this book? No, I have not! But the author is funny and smart and interesting, so chances are good her writing is, too.
29-year-old Lee has a Park Slope apartment with easy access to Manhattan, loves her job as an auto mechanic, and can see her guardian angel (a wisecracker with a fascination for the Rumours album.) That’s kind of a full life for a kid in the world’s biggest playground. Despite what everyone thinks, she doesn’t need, or want, a romantic relationship.
Far more comfortable in blue jeans and flannel than in heels and satin, Lee finds herself lying to every man she dates. To the physical trainer, she’s a preschool teacher; to the guy at the bowling alley, she’s a secretary. The lies keep romance at arm’s length even as they drive the angel to distraction until the day she realizes she’s fallen for a straight-laced accountant who’s exploring his dark side through bizarre foods (please note: sea cucumber is not a vegetable). But now he thinks she’s someone she’s not.
Now she’s got to turn those mechanic skills on herself to diagnose and repair the most important relationships in her life. And just think, she used to find it tough repairing a transmission!
Long-time comedy writer and novelist Jane Lebak serves up a hilarious comedy with angels and spare tires and a recipe for the best omelets you’ve ever tasted. Also what may be the most romantic toilet-fixing scene in the English language. But there really isn’t an award for that, so we’ll never know.
Guys, I will tell you a secret: Women love secret marriage stuff. If you have a romantic in-joke or something sweet that only you and she know about, a morse code necklace is a very good bet, because it’s romantic but not lady-generic.
Theresa at Apple and Azalea makes Morse Code necklaces for men and women. While there are always some great choices in stock in her Etsy shop, necklaces can by customized by color, phrase or even length of necklace. Popular ideas are nicknames and pet names, children’s initials for a parent, or personal sentiments like “all my love,” or “to the moon and back.”
Never will I tire of reminding you to shop around Kyra’s amazing chainmail jewelry store. Never, I say! I’m breathlessly awaiting my latest order. These incomparable pieces would not be out of place in a gallery, but you can have one for your very own.
This stunning steampunk choker combines elegant Victorian filigree with authentic Japanese chainmail, carefully linked by hand. It finishes with an astonishing one-of-a-kind pendant, made of authentic vintage watch gears that have genuine movement with sparkling inlaid ruby bearings. This truly magical piece is nineteen inches long, and closes with a lobster clasp.
Named in honor of the perennial classic show Doctor Who, this tiny time machine is a magical piece that promises to be your companion–not just for occasional cosplay wear, at which it excels, but also for everyday enjoyment. Let its beguiling marriage of lace with steel, and the radiance of its ruby bearings, be a reminder to you that fantastic things are possible, and that making magic is worth your time.
The Selene Lace, like the rest of the popular Byzantine line, embodies the Iron Lace ideal of knitting with steel, combining spun moonbeam elegance with lasting strength.
A made-to-order variation on my popular Byzantine-style choker, and the heavier version of the Byzantine chainmail choker, this handmade stainless steel necklace is elegant enough for a formal evening dancing in the moonlight, but tough enough to withstand swimming in a pool or ocean tides. The Byzantine line is designed to make you feel like an everyday empress.
[Kyra’s in Canada, so order by February 5 to get your jewelry before Valentine’s Day. Six-day shipping is possible, but let’s not be silly!]
Isn’t this lovely? Tender and dignified. This is one of several pocket rosaries available.
One-decade “tenners” or pocket rosaries are elegant gifts for your sweetheart. Perfectly portable to keep in the pocket or under the pillow, Grotto pocket rosaries feature stunning bronze medals cast in the USA that will remind your beloved of a special saint, occasion, or intention. (Pictured: Holy Marriage in the Garden set with Aqua Terra jasper).
All pocket rosaries feature 8mm gemstone Ave beads and a 10 mm Pater bead set between czech fire-polished and bronze, giving them just the right amount of sparkle while not overwhelming the natural beauty of the gemstones.
Artfully packaged with organza gift bag and jewelry box. Handmade in upstate Central New York.
Have you Lent someone your heart and want to ash them out? Do you think you’ve met a special someone, and you wish your guardian angel could intercede? Door Number 9 is here to be your wingman!
Here are the classic Catholic pick-up lines, now printed on 2.5×4 inch cards. Carry them with you inside the included slide-top metal tin so you can smoothly operate the top and slide out one of sixteen suggestions, including: “Confess here often?”; “Your eyes are so [Marian blue, Carmelite brown, or Ordinary Time green]”; and “Do you attend the Latin Mass? Because your form is Extraordinary.”
Don’t just watch that special someone pray the rosary when you could be spending decades with them. Open your heart (and your pick-up cards) and act now!
Quick, before it’s too late! Here are five of my favorite shops selling handmade goods that would would make delightful presents. All the goods are handmade by busy moms (including three single moms and one military wife). In the comments, please feel free to leave a link to your own shop for handmade goods for sale.
So much better than fuzzy dice! You can’t actually light it on fire, but you can open it up and put a drop of essential oil on the little lava rock “coal” inside, to keep your car smelling holy (or lavender-y or lemon grassy or whatever you like). Of course you can use it in your home, too, in your prayer corner or anywhere.
Next up: The shimmering chainmail wonderland that is Iron Lace Design. Here’s my current favorite from the genius of Kyra Matsui:
Thayet of Conte. Breathtaking. And what do you know, before I could publish this post, it sold! These are works of art and many are one-of-a-kind. Luckily, Kyra does take commissions.
A perennially popular item: One-decade fidget rosaries.
“Sturdy enough for children, deeply satisfying for people who fidget when they pray.” The semiprecious stone beads spin and the chain mail feels wonderful in the hands. I’ve never seen anything like these anywhere else.
Browse around and be amazed, and follow Iron Lace Design on Facebook to get in on the ground floor when Kyra comes up with something new and breathtaking, like this
before it gets listed and snapped up.
And finally: Apple and Azalea has a wonderful array of elegant and stylish memory wire rosary bracelets. Here are just a few that are in stock. I have one of these Theresa’s rosary bracelets and it is wonderful.
“Unakite is a beautiful natural stone that is mostly olive green with swirls of salmon pink, brick red, forest green and even a little gray. This amazing range of color has the over all effect of being both earthy and feminine. The five decade rosary bracelet begins with a jet black bead that has a gold crucifix stamped on it.”
It’s fina-lully here! My Christmas gift suggestion list for 2018. These are all (with a few exceptions, which are noted) gifts our own kids received and enjoyed. They are in no particular order, and they are almost all from Amazon. Hoping to get an Etsy/handmade list up soon.
I’ll add links to lists from previous years as soon as I can. I have to remove a bunch of defunct links, boo.
It has pulsing, multicolored lights and makes space laser noises. Everybody loves this gun, not just the three-year-old. Sometimes we sit around at night and talk about why it’s not more annoying than it is. It’s a space laser mystery!
We’ve bought many CowCow dresses in the past, and this one may be the coolest. It flares wonderfully, and the colors hold up after years of washing. CowCow dresses come in a bewildering number of patterns, some of them truly bizarre. The material is a thick, stretchy synthetic fabric, almost like swim suit material.
I bought a bag of these on a whim over the summer, but my kids did not actually end up using them, to my surprise. They are plastic screws designed for attaching cardboard together, so you can build all kinds of awesome things, with moving parts if you like. If you have a kid who’s always building stuff and getting frustrated with the limitations of tape, this could be awesome.
Again, we haven’t gotten around to playing this yet, but I bought it because it was recommended by so many friends. It’s supposed to be easy to learn, suitable for people who aren’t super into gaming and fun for all ages, even little guys. We’ll crack it open over vacation and report back!
Cute, kinda weird. Easy enough for my six-year-old to play. You don’t absolutely have to know how to read, but it helps. Not terribly noisy, but the creatures make strange twittering noises instead of talking.
Okay, we have bought a lot of walkie talkie sets in our day. A lot. These have held up the best. They are on the small side, but they are not toys. They’re easy to use, stand up to a lot of abuse, and don’t gobble batteries. We haven’t tested the limits of the range, but the reviews say 16 miles.
*sigh* This is not a good toy. It’s a bad toy. But oh, do they love it. It has dozens, maybe hundreds of terrible, pointless little games with squalid little graphics and meandering, senseless tunes. THEY LOVE IT.
This is not razzle dazzle, but for the price, it’s a fine little digital sketch pad. Press the button and the lines disappear in a wink, which is satisfying. Good for car trips, waiting rooms, etc. It feels very flimsy but is surprisingly long-lived.
This is actually mine. I got it with my birfday money. It’s way bigger than I was expecting. It always makes me think of the Flannery O’Connor line: “she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”
Cute and durable. Note: This is not a full-sized tea set. The cloth it’s sitting on is the size of a kerchief. The kid we got this for saw that as a bonus, luckily, because smaller is cuter; just know what you’re getting!
OH THE BABY. Ahem. This is a neat toy. Fill it up and it empties itself in a dome of water. Fascinating for the little guys. We’ve found that TOMY toys hold up very, very well to hard use, and don’t get moldy easily, either.
A cooperative strategy game, unpredictable and spooky. Kind of like Scooby Doo with better graphics. You gradually build the map of the house as you explore it, but can you really trust everyone? (NO.) Doesn’t drag on too, too long. Good party game.
This is the best game for little kids I’ve ever seen. Suitable for pre-readers. You spin the spinner to collect different elements of a story (a scene, a hero, a magical helper, a rival, a magical object, transportation, and a treasure), and the first one who collects them all gets to tell a story using them all. It’s adorable. The pieces are very stout and durable cardboard, and they are just lovely. Just lovely. Of all the games they want me to play, I’m least unwilling to play this one. 2-4 players
I hope you know about Dover coloring books. There is one for every conceivable interest, and they’re all done in that same blandly reassuring style, with tons of carefully-researched detail. Dover is awesome.
Can I just pause a moment and express my delight at the nice little wooden boxes that Melissa and Doug sets come in? They really hold up. You can’t depend on anyone, but you can depend on Melissa and Doug wooden boxes. *sniff* Anyway, these are pleasant wooden beads painted carefully with a good gloss for that kid who loves to string beads.
Imagine you’re a college campus minister, and you’re also the mom of two young kids, both with special needs, who each have “specialists up the wazoo.”
Imagine you live out in the country in New Hampshire, with only your chickens and your vegetable gardens for company as you boil sap for maple syrup and research the ins and outs of farming hops. Your husband is in the military, and you’re waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted to a Ph.D program at the University of Aberdeen. And you have your eye on some goats, and maybe beehives.
These are thoughtfully composed knitting kits designed as gifts “for anyone who needs something to keep their hands full while their heart is on the mend.”
Cheshire received a similar gift herself several years ago, after enduring the traumatic birth of her first child in Juneau, Alaska. The newborn was airlifted to another hospital, and Cheshire was too weak to join her for several days. Then followed a time in the NICU that she describes as “brutal, brutal.”
A friend gave her some knitting materials and instructions, with the note: “You need something to keep your hands full until you can hold your baby.”
That idea of full hands remained with her, and now she’s offering it to other people, hoping to share some healing while helping to build connections between people.
People don’t know what to say, so they say nothing
Since Cheshire works with college students, I asked if she thought it was mainly modern people who struggle to come up with appropriate words. She does believe modern people have trouble sharing “deep, authentic communication,” and that pervasive social media can make human interaction superficial; but she’s defensive of millennials. In the past, she said, there was no internet, but people were not necessarily warmer or more connected.
“I know some 65-year-olds who don’t know how to relate,” Cheshire said. “Very often, people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything. The tragedy is, that happens when their friend really needs them to say something.”
A beautiful experience
Each element of the Busy Hands Boxes is chosen with care.
“Anyone can go to Michael’s and get cheap yarn,” Cheshire said. “I wanted it to be something that had heart at every level. Something sourced from a company that cares, something aesthetically pleasing, and beautiful to open. I wanted it to be a whole experience, to make you feel good even if you’re not knitting yet.”
The hand-painted knitting needles are made from New England maple and Russian birch.
Like the needles, the wool yarn Cheshire chose is locally sourced from Peace Fleece, a New England fiber company that “works to support pastoral communities that have been historically in conflict with the U.S.”
They are currently blending domestic wool and mohair with Navajo Rambouillet, which has been purchased at fair market prices from families living on the reservation.
Then there’s the slightly cheeky “empathy cards” from Emily McDowell , which bear messages like “I promise never to refer to your illness as a ‘journey’ unless someone takes you on a cruise” and “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.” One Full Hands box includes a foil card featuring a medal that simply reads, “KEPT GOING.”
Value in particularity
For Cheshire, a natural introvert who spends much of her day in pastoral work, knitting is often how she keeps going. “I need alone time, or I go crazy,” she said.
After a series of stressful meetings at work, she’ll often find a quiet corner and knit for five or ten minutes. “Knitting gives me something to do in that space, to clear my head.”
She also knitted her way through a batch of nervous energy while she waited for a response to her dissertation research proposal. The topic? Identity Formation in Pauline Communities.
Cheshire says she wants to use the baptismal formula used in Galatians, Colossians, and Corinthians “as a case study to see how those communities might have understood identity, on a community and on a corporate level.”
She says, “When we read there is ‘no slave, no male, no female,’ we mostly use it as a kind of whitewashing. It doesn’t matter, we’re all one in Jesus! Everyone’s one!”
But this kind of thinking, she said, can make it easy to ignore how identity categories are actually hurting people in the congregation.
“It just perpetuates power cycles,” she says. “People in charge continue to be in charge, and they don’t have to look at other people’s experiences. But everyone has value in their own particularity.”
What do you want to do with your time?
I asked Cheshire if focusing on that particularity isn’t something of a burden for her, an already extremely busy introvert whose mission it is to foster personal, intimate connections in her work on campus.
She thought for a while, then listed all the many responsibilities she juggles. She noted that when people ask her how she does it all, she tells them she’s not doing as good a job as they think she is.
But also, she said, “God has made this situation into something good. He’s forced me and my husband to figure out something about ourselves. What’s non-negotiable? What do you really want to be doing with your time? Because you don’t have that much of it.”
Although she and her husband have no background in farming, they’re slowly learning.
“It’s a little difficult to really engage in care for creation when you’re surrounded by concrete.” she said. She’d rather work the land than support industries that exploit workers and contaminate the soil.
Their first harvests have been small, but encouraging, and they’re hoping to add berry bushes and fruit trees in the future. Of their harvests, the Cheshires save some, sell some, and give some to the food pantry. Cheshire was recently overjoyed to hear that, after she donated fresh eggs, one client was able to make brownies for the first time in ages.
“In my career,” Cheshire said, “I’ve gotten very comfortable with the fact that I rarely see the harvest. My entire job is to plant seeds and let God grow them, and maybe a few years down the line I’ll get a text message or an email from a former student saying how much their time at Newman meant to them.”
But establishing a farm gives her “something very solid to hold onto.”
Spiritual health is a real thing
One professional project she’s chosen is to reignite an interest in the spiritual life among apathetic college students. Very few students feel any kind of religious affiliation, she said, and the ones who consider themselves Catholic aren’t much interested in community; so she’s working on reformulating her approach.
“You can’t convince people to enrich their Catholic identity if they don’t see the value of spirituality to begin with,” she said. She had been warned that the campus was an anti-religious place, but is proud of the connections she’s made. She collaborates often with other groups, and sponsors “crafternoons” where students can work off some nervous energy of their own, making and building together.
“We’re trying to encourage the campus community to tend to their spiritual health, to realize that’s a real thing, just like their physical and emotional health.”
Cheshire is currently working her way through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which, she said, are about “finding the dignity of everything, finding God in everything.”
I asked whether even knitting was part of that.
She said, “I love watching the process of turning a pile of string into something beautiful. It’s something that’s real, and something that’s very elemental. It’s the absolute opposite of digital, and it connects you to all these generations of people who have done this before.”
Cheshire said knitting forces her to notice and intentionally relax the tension she holds in her hands. She was recently contemplating the hidden years of Christ, before He began His public ministry. The takeaway, she said, was Christ saying, “Remember, I was an artisan, too.”
Why the name, “Bethany Farm Knits?” Her shop, and her five-acre farm, are named after Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia. It’s a family of intentional Catholic communities, where Cheshire has led mission trips with the students from the Newman Center. The farms are named after Biblical towns, and the Cheshires chose “Bethany” for theirs.
She said ,”It’s where Jesus experienced friendship and hospitality” with His friends Mary and Martha — and also resurrection, when He raised their brother Lazarus from the dead.
“Those things are very much a theme in our family life,” Cheshire said: “Hospitality and resurrection.”
Does your true love knit? How about a few skeins of luxuriously soft, ethically sourced yarns, some hand-spun (“on a spinning wheel like a legit pilgrim”), all hand dyed with safe, edible dyes? Em Ro and her family (including kids ages five and two, who help choose color pairings) have deliberately priced their goods much lower than similar yard of this quality. Here are a few that caught my eye:
Molded full grain leather three finger cigar case, 3.75″ X 7.5.” Made of premium full grained vegetable tanned leather and stitched with bonded nylon thread.
Handmade in Arkansas by Tanya and Gerrod Desselle of Lavish Expressions. Order soon; they take a few weeks to make. Also many other sumptuous leather handmade goods, including iPad covers, messenger bags, journal cases, and more.
Hand-hammered tin, hand painted in Mexico. I bought one of these with my birthday money last year, and it’s now in my kitchen. It makes me think of that line from Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation:” Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
Many, but not all of these are from Amazon. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
This . . . is a little hard to explain. The stem is a touch-sensitive electronic music-maker, so if you press or slide your finger along it, you can make different tones. Then, with your other hand, you squeeze the flexible sides of the mouth to open or close it, to change the volume, to make the sound staccato or give it vibrato, etc. It. Is. Hilarious. It looks like the little guy is singing. It’s the cheesiest imaginable synthesizer sound.
The library editions are compilations of the comic books bound in heavy, oversized hardcover. My son rather heatedly explains: “Hellboy is Catholic. He fights monsters. He helps save babies. He gets help from priests a lot. It’s mythology based. The art is pretty gory, appropriate for age 13 and up.” And that is a direct quote.
We don’t have this particular piece ($45), but we have several necklaces, bracelets, and a rosary from Kyra Matsui’s studio, and they are all fantastic. Beautiful, original, strong, and striking. Chainmail and vintage watch parts.
COUPON! Get 30% off storewide with coupon code: NARKNON Good until Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.
We have two of these (one for a college kid, one for a reporter). A good option for all-purpose computering, fine for movies and streaming. We used to buy refurbished, but now we get cheaper new machines so we can get the warranty. You have to get used to storing everything on Google Drive or saving it on a disk, rather than on your machine. A solid choice that doesn’t cost a million dollars.
Help a dead murder victim remember details about his grisly demise, using clues from arty and deliberately confusing “vision cards.” Lavish and complex cooperative game. Comes with an app to play spooky music to add to the atmosphere. (Full review here.)
These come in hundreds and hundreds of amazing, unexpected, sometimes inexplicable patterns. The material is clingy but not thin, and has a bit of a sheen and stretch, like a bathing suit. Gathers fall nicely, and flares way out when you spin. On the short side, as you can see.
Every single person in my household loves these pillows. (NOTE: The link above is just the pillowcase! You have to buy the pillow insert separately.) We have a blue-green-purple/black one and a few silver/gold ones, but there are many color combos. Draw with your finger to flip the sequins over, and reveal another color. Endlessly fascinating and soothing to play with, and they have held up remarkably well. Remarkably!
The much-anticipated sequel to Hatke’s graphic novel Mighty Jack, which follows a boy who has to spend his summer helping his single mom care for his sister, who has autism, and who doesn’t speak — until she does. Good stuff, with an exciting twist at the end for fans of Hatke’s other work.
We got this with great reluctance, thinking it would be flimsy for the price, and that the kids would get tired of it soon. Nope! They use it a lot and have a lot of fun. It’s great for parties, and fun for the little kids to play with their big brothers. Kinda loud, but it’s air hockey. They just stand it up on its end to keep it out of the way.
For the kid who can’t stop doodling. Also great for car rides. Write with the stylus on the black screen, press the button to erase. That’s it. Surprisingly durable for the price. We have a couple of these in different colors.
Toddlers really can control this simple RC croc. It does play manically cheerful music, flash lights, and chomp its mouth while it runs, but darn it, this thing does not break. It’s been in constant use for a year and is still going strong. Lots of fun to watch the little guys use it and baffle the cat with it. Good battery life, too.
Exciting, frustrating, some teamwork required, but lots of competition. Very entertaining to watch. Kids have to decide if they should push themselves a little further to do more and more challenging, silly tasks.
Our beloved kindergarten teacher introduced us to these lovely colored pencils. I balked at the price at first, but they are quite good. Vivid colors, nice and smooth, and easy to grip, even for lefties, and the tips don’t snap off.
Bright plastic tubes you whack to make different booming tones. You can arrange them in different orders on the mat and hit them with sticks, hit them with each other, or use them to hit other things. Music and hitting things! Sounds like a happy childhood. Longest tube is about two feet. These have been stepped on and mangled without any ill effects.
We looked at many, many shopping carts, and settled on this one because it has a little seat for your little friend to ride along. Irresistible. This gets constant use. The bigger kids have managed to take it apart, and then put it back together again, with no ill effects.
Uhhm, check the price on this one. The price currently listed is insane, but it seems to fluctuate. The game itself is nice for MLP fans and gets lots of play. Pony game pieces are heavy and well made, not flimsy.
A slightly odd present, but I knew my five-year-old would love it. These are just transparent colored paddles to play with, mix together, and look through. Despite they way they are arranged in the photo, they are not attached together. I strung six of them on a chain and put the rest away so I could replace them as needed. Kids love peering through them and seeing Purpleworld or Everythingisgreenville. It’s just cool! Good for car trips. There are also slightly raised different patterns on each.
I previewed tons of ballet videos, and this one is by far the best. It teaches the girls actual ballet positions, but is simple and easy to follow and has pleasant piano music. The teacher is cheerful and seems to enjoy children. It’s not manic or cutesy and has no unsettling mascots or animated characters (“Tinkerbell” appears to be some generic name; there’s no Disney fairy involved). Kids can use a chair back as a barre.
For the child who, for reasons of her own, is slowly building a collection of strange, oversized cat shirts. This is actually a men’s size, but that’s just not right, so I’m putting it in the kid present section.
Whew, that’s all for this year! Hope you find something good.
“I watch my kids cover themselves in duct tape and use whole rolls of wire to wire their siblings together,” says Kyra Matsui, proprietor of Iron Lace Design, “and I can see who I was from the beginning.”
“I was an isolated child, hiding in my room, making stuff. I remember when I was six, there was this plastic dollhouse stool. I figured out if I wove Kleenex around it and wet it, then when it dried, I could slip it off, and I would end up with a little basket. I started painting Kleenex with food coloring and hanging it all over the ceiling. My parents were so patient!”
Kyra, 39, who is separated, has boys ages seven and nine, and five-year-old twin girls. She recently got a diagnosis of autism for her oldest son, who also has diabetes. Kyra uses a combination of homeschooling and public school.
“My own public school experience was pretty bad,” says Kyra. “I didn’t really learn any kind of work ethic, or how to concentrate, but I did learn how to be quiet so I could get away with anything.
“What I wanted to do [with my own kids] was give them a space to socialize with people not just in their own grade level, but who were interested in the same thing. To give them the space to figure out what they were interested in.
“For me, that was making stuff. I remember reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Warrior Scarlet when I was nine or so, and teaching myself to weave on a little loom I made out of a cardboard box. I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. Instead, I pulled stuffing out of a pillow and figured out how to make a spindle.”
Here’s the rest of the conversation I had with Kyra about her current work:
How did you get started making jewelry? What is it about chainmail that appeals to you?
It’s because of my Japanese cultural heritage, plus historical interest, plus fantasy. When I was fourteen and hiding in the school library, they had a couple of really good costume history books, and I devoured those.
I was briefly in the Society for Creative Anachronism doing costuming, and some friends were doing chainmail. The kind I do, Japanese, is the simplest. Usually what you see in movies is European. It runs in one direction, almost like snake scales.
What I like about Japanese chain mail is you can hang it any way, like fabric.
You can attach dangly stuff to it and incorporate it into the construction.
You also have some jewelry made of watch parts on your page. Tell me how you got your hands on that.
It all belongs to my father, whose parents emigrated from Japan in the 20’s. He was eight or nine when the Japanese Canadians were interned. His family ended up in Toronto after they were relocated. He trained as a watchmaker and repairman and jeweler, and he had a workshop in the house I’m sitting in now, the house I inherited.
When digital watches came, he became a tool and die maker, but did watch repair privately. He had a workshop that was floor-to-ceiling tiny drawers full of watch movements, gears, springs, some of them almost microscopic. You need tweezers to pick them up.
After he died, I was clearing out all his stuff, and thinking, ‘This is beautiful stuff. ” I’m not going to learn to do watch repair. I tried to sell it, but I didn’t get any takers.
What would he think of the jewelry you make with his watch parts?
He would be appalled!
Well, he would be happy it was being used, but perturbed. He wanted me to go into fine arts and into jewelry-specific programs, metalworking, gemology. But I’ve always come at things more from a costuming and textile end.
Chainmail is a lot more like working with fabric then metalwork. I’d like to learn to solder, but that requires a lot of precision. Chainmail is more like knitting.
How long does it take you to make one of those necklaces or rosaries?
A rosary takes about four or five hours of intensive labor. Because I make them out of stainless steel, it’s really hard on my hands, so I split it up over two or three days.
I’ve ended up with carpal tunnel from doing too much! I made a Mexican wedding double rosary over a weekend, and that was a bad idea.
It’s very intricate work.
And I’m extremely myopic. I was told by an ophthalmology student that my close-up vision is excellent. I can see much finer detail than most people, as long as I hold it an inch and a half from my eye. I also have a jeweler’s visor loupe.
You have four kids, you’re completely renovating your house, you exclusively homeschooled up until recently, and you’re a single mom. So in your abundant free time, what do you do?
When I was in my early 20’s, I did about ten years of belly dance classes. Then I had four kids in four years. But I love to dance. I found that goth clubs are the only place you can go and belly dance for the entire night without being hassled. My friend Cynthia and I found this lovely place that has industrial goth night once a month.
It’s the same people from twenty years ago. We’re all older and tireder. We have a few drinks, thrash around on the dance floor, and then go back to our lives as attorneys or whatever. There are some really terrified-looking twenty-year-olds who turn up, too. Half of them embrace it, and half of them sidle quietly out the door away from the scary, old people.
[Below: Kyra in her Halloween costume as Jadis, Queen of Charn:]
If you had unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would you make?
I was looking around Etsy and found this chandelier thing you hang between your nipples. This . . . is not what I’m going to be doing.
If time and money weren’t a factor, I’d love to be working in precious metals and gems. I’m learning how to solder and make my own findings. I’d love to do some sort of elaborate fantasy set, with headpiece, necklace, hand flowers, and neck piece, and make a dress that goes under it. I’m not watching Game of Thrones, but the costuming is fantastic. I’ve been looking up jewelry for the Southern Kingdom. Very East Indian-Ottoman Empire-Persian stuff.
If people want to order from Iron Lace Design for Christmas, when should they order?
If they want a special order shipped before Christmas and they’re in the states, get the order in by early December. Regular mail tends to be a week. Priority mail is faster, but pretty expensive. But if I have to source material, I may have to order it online.
[Two special order stainless steel rosaries, one in lapis, one in garnet:]
Today I feature MY FAVORITE CATHOLIC ARTIST IN THE WORLD, MY OLDEST DAUGHTER LENA.
Lena’s just opened a Redbubble store, and would like you to know that you can order today and still get your stuff before Christmas. Lots of quirky and oddly elegant stuff here, mainly geeky, including fan art featuring Naruto, Big Hero 6, Psychopass, Metroid, Teen Titans, Gorillaz, Star Wars, X-Men, Ruroni Kenshin, and some other stuff that just fell out of her fevered brain.
Because I’m a big, elderly poop, I’m encouraging her to add some of her lovely outdoor watercolor scenes. She is uploading more art as I write. Here’s a few more images than I’m partial to. Far and away my favorite:
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.