25+ gifts our 10 kids loved! The 2019 Christmas list

Back by popular demand! It’s the 2019 list of Christmas presents our ten kids loved. I’ve been doing these lists every December since 2014. We actually own everything I recommend, so browse around and be inspired or horrified, as the case may be. I’ll include links to previous lists at the end. 

I’m not an Amazon Associate anymore, but if you’re ordering through Amazon, please consider going through this link and supporting my kids’ charter school through the Amazon Smiles program

Prices are about what we paid, but they may change over time. The list is a bit shorter than usual because we’ve been trying to shop more locally, which means I don’t have a tidy little list of past orders to refer to.

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An attractive little set. Seal letters and envelopes with your initial. Works as expected. 
 
Scratch away the black coating with wooden styluses to reveal colors or shimmering glitter underneath. Kids’ hands get a bit smudgy after using several of these, but they are pretty self-contained otherwise. Sheets come in sturdy little boxes. A big enough supply so you don’t have to stress out that they’re wasting them on scribbles.
 

3. Harry Potter Gryffindor Robe, about $40

For those kids who are still, still, still into Harry Potter. A comfy robe, very Harry Potter, holds up with lots of wear. Other houses available, of course.

4. Sorry We’re Dead Retail Store Sign, about $8

For that one kid to hang on her bedroom door. 

5. Lizard leash with wings, $8.99

For them as has bearded dragons. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, you could do worse than a bearded dragon, by the way. They require a large tank and heating elements and fresh food like crickets, but once you buy the supplies, these guys are pretty cheap and easy to maintain. They are surprisingly charming, and have a lot of personality. Our bearded dragon is much smarter than our cat. 

6. Multi-tool Swiss Army pocket knife, about $20

A good little knife. Cool translucent cover, comes in several colors besides this blue. 

7. Naruto Uzumaki Jacket

Quite snazzy. We have some rabid Naruto fans. This is not a costume, but a real jacket, albeit not the warmest one in the world. 

 

It’s either very comfortable, or just so fabulous you don’t care if it’s uncomfortable, not sure which. Not to be worn at Stations of the Cross, but good for every other last possible waking moment, including *sigh* school picture day. 
 
 
 
 
It’s still not clear to me why the kid wanted this so desperately, but she sure loves it. A smallish purse on a long chain, with an inside section you can remove from the outer, cut-out layer. 
 
 
 
Clever product for people who can’t leave their jigsaw puzzles lying around. It has an inflatable tube on one end of the felt mat. Roll it up and secure it with rubber bands, and your puzzle is safe from cats, toddlers, etc. I was skeptical, but it really works. 
 
11. A few nice puzzles:
 
 
 
 
 
 
Can you believe this is the first time we have bought Snap Circuits? They are just as much fun as everyone promised. Hours of fascination putting together all kinds of projects that really work, without welding. For ages 8 and up. 
 
 
 
Two game modes. Works well for parties, or you can play solo. Just like you remember: Very bright and very loud. Caveat emptor. 
 
 
 

Easy to learn, a little weird and crude, lots of laughing. You have to draw cards that say things like “see the future” (so you can look at the top three cards) or “potato cat” (they explained it to me, but I forget) until you choose an exploding kitten card, which has to be defused. Trip up your opponents and prepare yourself for the exploding kitten card. Good party game. 

15. Ukulele bundle, about $85

 
 
 
One hipster fad I fully endorse. It turns out a ukulele really is easy to learn to play, and it’s small enough to bring with you. Very pleasant to hear the gentle music wafting through bedroom walls. According to the seller, this “concert” size is the size “recommended for most adults & children age 9 & up.” Comes with case, strap, picks, tuner, and an instructional video. 
 
 
 
 

Lots of variety, great for learning. Opens flat (also comes in digital format).

Just as described! We had a kid who was really into making little beaded lizards for a while, and this kept her busy. Sturdy storage box, but note there is only one lid for all the compartments, so be careful!
 
 
 
 
Fun little set. My 13-year-old got a lot of use out of it. A generous supply of glitter stuff. The tattoos last for a few days, but are easy to clean off when you’re ready. 
 
 
Generous size (3.5×5 feet). My then-six-year-old made this almost entirely on her own with no trouble, and found it very satisfying. 
 
 
 
Lots of fun, great for tournaments. Brings together characters from all different Nintendo games, and you can also design your own Mii fighter with their own moves and voices and clothes. One of my kids fights with an axe-wielding Abraham Lincoln. 
 
 
You need two, so they can fight with each other! Or help each other down off horses, or hand each other grapes. Great present for an aspiring artist. 
 
 
 
This is what my daughter, THE PUBLISHED ILLUSTRATOR, recommends as a good starter set. 
 
 
eeBoo games are hands-down the best games for little kids. In this one, you spread a cheery red picnic blanket and start spinning the spinner to collect food. You win when you’ve collected all the elements of a perfect picnic meal. The pieces are bright and sturdy and the spinner works well. My then-three-year-old adored this game, and the older kids didn’t mind playing with her. 
 
 
 
This is just cute as all get out. The color is somewhat brighter than it looks in this picture. Glossy and solid, sturdy enough to hold up under some living room rodeo action.  Kids love having their own special chairs. (It also comes in brown, pink, blue, and white.) Very well made for the price. You do have to assemble it, but it wasn’t difficult.
 
 
 
Just a pretty headband for your little flower. Comes in many different colors. 
 
 
 

This is just an awesome, basic sewing machine that makes sewing as easy as it can possibly be. It has dozens and dozens of cool stitches, it’s easy to thread (with instructions printed right on the machine), and it takes a beating and keeps on sewing. Comes with hard case and many accessories. I showed my teenagers how to use this machine in about 15 minutes, and away they went. 

If you want to spend less (or more!), you really can’t go wrong with Brother.

 
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And that’s it! Happy shopping. Here are my lists from previous years. I haven’t checked through to make sure all the links work, but at least you can find some ideas. 
 
The 2018 list (50 presents)
 
The 2017 list (50 presents)
 
The 2016 list (50 presents)
 
The 2015 list (25 presents under $50)
 
The 2014 list (50 presents)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sold by: Amazon.com Services, Inc
 
 
 
 

2019 Catholic fine art and handmade gift guide!

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. 

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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. “

Sarah’s picks:
 

 

and my favorite:

 
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RACHEL SCHMITZ of SOUTHFARTHING STUDIO

Digital portraits of families and pets, as well as a handful of Tolkien themed goods. “Custom artwork, created by a hobbit at heart.”

An example of a wedding portrait made from a photo:

and a rather cheeky Lord of the Rings-themed vinyl sticker:

Watch the store for painted ornaments, coming soon!

The shop: Southfarthing Studio

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ELIESE CALLAHAN of VIANNEY BEADS

“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.”

 
The Shop:Vianney Beads
 

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REBECCA GÓRZYŃSKA of DELPHINA ROSE ART

“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.”

Our Lady of Perpetual Help print:

 

Marian Coloring Book PDF:

One of my favorites: Mystical Rose print:
 
 
 
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NICHOLE LANTHIER

Art for Prayer. Prints of charcoal, pastel, and oil paint original works. 
 

Our Lady in Prayer:

Mary Undoer of Knots:

 
 
 
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GINNY AND SAJE CATHOLIC DESIGNS

 

“We create original designs inspired by our Catholic faith that are laser cut in wood and leather for unique pieces of jewelry.”

Our Lady Star of the Sea dog tag with prayer:

 

St. Patrick Rose Window earrings:

 
 

The shop: Ginny and Saje  

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MARIE HEIMANN of FAWNLY

 
“fine art prints, mugs, blankets, pillows, and other home and paper goods with original hand painted and hand lettered art”
 
Hand painted Christmas ornament:
 
 

“It’s okay to feel your feelings” mug

 
The shop: www.fawnly.com

 

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WILLIAM FERRY 

“Capturing everyday miracles”

Gorgeous landscapes and scenery still catch my eye but it’s the spiritual more than the temporal that has my focus. They also overlap, as you’ll see in the portfolio.

“First Frost” print:

“Psalm 24:10:

“Our Lady of the Petroglyphs”

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THERESA BARGER of APPLE AND AZALEA

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.”

“Defend us in battle”

“First Things First”

 
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CARA JOHNSON of STITCHCRAFT YARNS

“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. 
 

The shop: Stitchcraft Yarns

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ELZABETH SIEGER of SIEGER DESIGN CO.

“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:

 
 

A sample of a finished doll:

Many military designs available.The shop: Sieger Design Co.

 
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TURBO TUTOR Teaching Resources

Lesson plans, learning games and teacher aids. Joanne has a few Christmas items listed now, good for activities for Christmas vacation. 

Christmas Trivia Cards: A secular Christmas trivia game for grade 7 and up, drawing on history, literature, modern statistics, geography, and various holiday traditions in December.

 

Christmas Bingo, grades 6 and up: Out -of-the-ordinary call questions based on the Biblical Christmas story

 
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ELISA LOW of DOOR NUMBER NINE

It’s always way too hard to pick just a few of Elisa’s creations to feature. Here are a few new items:
 

Illuminated manuscript medieval animal ornaments:

 
 

Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart resin pendant or necklace:

 

Jousting Snails infinity scarf with hidden pocket!

 

And so much more.

The shop: Door Number 9

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MELISSA WILLETT

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.”

Available for commission. 
The gallery: melissawillett.com
 
 
 
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NANCI KEATLEY of PICCOLO DI LUCE

“Shining a little light” 

Customizable pocket Oratories, Rosary Cases, Prayer Blankets and other items.
 
A customizable linen and wool felt “portable altar” pocket oratory designed for toddlers:
 
 
Customizable family-sized pocket oratory:
 
 
 
The shop: Piccolo Di Luce
 
 
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KYRA MATSUI of IRONLACE DESIGN

 

My readers are by now familiar with Kyra’s stunning, shining jewelry. Here’s something new: tree ornaments made of crystal and steel:

 

Also available in steel chainmail:

 

Many new necklaces and earrings, and some gorgeous new rosaries and fidget rosaries:

 
 
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If you have handmade goods to sell, feel free to leave a link to your shop in the comments. 

Support the artists and craftsmen, save the world! 
 

Valentine gift guide, 2019!

Pshh, I bet you guys don’t even have your Valentine’s Day trees up yet, do you. Slackers! Here’s our special love tree, as of today:

I just love love, okay?

Now let’s get to the good stuff. Here are some lovely gift ideas for your love. Order now and get flowers when the day gets closer. Trust me.

(Etsy links are affiliate links)

Honest and for True, a Valentine’s day romantic comedy by Jane Lebak

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.

MORSE CODE NECKLACES from APPLE AND AZALEA

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.”

Here’s a few other designs:

Contact her by Feb 5th to get a custom design made and shipped in time for Valentine’s Day. In stock items need to be ordered by Feb 8 to guarantee they will ship in time.

CHAINMAIL JEWELRY FROM IRON LACE DESIGN

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.

The Time Lord’s Companion

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.

Tesseract earrings

“There IS such a thing as a tesseract.”, said Mrs Whatsit. These are lovingly dedicated to Meg Murry, who learned how to tesser and kythe.

Handmade of steel chainmail and Swarovski crystal, these earrings measure approximately 1 1/2in and are hung from sterling silver hooks.

The Selene necklace

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!]

HOLY MARRIAGE POCKET ROSARY FROM GROTTO ROSARIES

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.

And finally . . .

MORE LOVELY GEEKINESS FROM THE ONE AND ONLY ELISA LOW OF DOOR NUMBER NINE

Catholic Pickup Lines Card Set

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!

Grumpy St. Valentine Mug

Get back to the Catholic roots of SAINT Valentine’s day with this icon mug:

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
I was beaten stoned and beheaded,
These flowers and chocolates
Are for you.

.

Inspired gifts handmade by working moms, 2018

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.

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This kills me: A mini censer for your car.
$24.95 from Door Number 9.

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.

Also check out her delightful collection of unique religious jewelry, including a Joan of Arc replica ring, pins, bracelets, brilliant pendants, medals, and more.

Also hilarious: This bickering angel mug, $15.95. “It’s alleLUia, not alleluiA!” Shades of Hermione Granger’s “Wingardium Leviosa” pedantry.

More cool and funny mugs in the shop.

And for the Hamilton fan in your house, this amazing set of handsewn dueling fleece-and-faux fur stockings with brass buttons, embroidered “A. Ham” and “A. Burr.”

They come in a burlap gift bag with a brass star charm. A steal at $19.95 for the set.

For lovers of history and cosplay, Elisa has an impressive array of geeky T-shirts and splendid handmade costumes. And of course the “Hail Mary Full of grace, punch the devil in the face” onesie you didn’t know you needed.

I’ve seen this design all over the internet, but I witnessed Elisa come up with it herself, so now you know!

You definitely know someone who needs a “Heretical Nonsense: For Research Purposes Only” stamp.

Admit it, someone sprang to mind right away.

Hundreds more strange, beautiful, and original gifts in this store! Browse around and be inspired.

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Something a little different: These sparkly, hand-pressed salt clay ornaments:

My sister just opened up this little shop, Magpie Street. Aren’t these pretty? And so reasonably priced. Here’s a lovely one pressed from an evergreen branch:

More designs in the shop. Give this fledgling business some love!

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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.

These are customizable. She also sells lovely and sturdy customizable one-decade rosaries, full rosaries, and fidget bracelets.

What else? Spectacular, queenlike earrings!

Chokers. This one is milky, iridescent moonstone and stainless steel, so basically magic. I’m lucky enough to own a necklace in this design, and it’s one of the best things I own.

The chainmail solution to the problem of constantly losing your medals. Attractive and unusual and strong as heck. A variety of silver-plated medals available.

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.

Order by December 16 for Christmas delivery:

Ocean Jasper!

Ocean jasper and glass seed beads. So elegant.

This one is ocean blue ombre glass and copper.

Fresh and lovely.

And one more especially striking choice:

“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.”

Theresa also offers clever Morse code necklaces with a secret message spelled out in beads.

This blue and green glass “COURAGE” necklace could make a powerful and meaningful gift for someone who needs a tactile reminder of their own strength.

There are also dozens of simple, lightweight earrings like these honeycomb ones:

Perfect for a beekeeper or just someone sweet. Shop around!

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Finally, these luxe and heartfelt learn-to-knit boxes with thoughtfully sourced components, instructions, and card , like this Deployment kit:

from Bethany Farm Knits. 

Many more lovely items in the store, including this lovely soft wool cowl

available in several colors, with or without wooden buttons

and this adorable octopus lovey blanket

soft and cute, perfect for your little white whale on the go.

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Order soon! All five stores are run by extremely busy moms working hard to get all your orders to you as soon as possible, so do check delivery times if you’re hoping to get them by Christmas.

Other sellers of handmade goods, feel free to leave a link to your store in the comments. Handmade goods only, please; no essential oils or other multilevel marketing products. Thanks!

50+ Gifts our ten kids loved: The 2018 list

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.

Okay, here we go!

Cosmic shock phaser light spinner

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!

Metallic paint markers

Satisfyin’. Paint markers draw on just about any surface, including shell, rock, glass, ceramic, and metal. These are bright and shiny and would be great for making ornaments or personalizing gifts.

Tales from Grimm book

Every household should have a copy. Wanda Ga’g’s storytelling and illustrations together are the fairy tales everyone should know. Includes a few head scratchers and all the classics.

Lightweight Brother sewing machine

A real sewing machine, not a toy, but lightweight and compact. Nice and simple for beginners. I’m a complete moron and I can use this machine.

Dragon wall decals

The instructions are kind of baffling, so we couldn’t figure out how to make them three-dimensional like in the picture, but they’re pretty neat as plain silhouettes. They stick well.

Animal print hoodies

If you are thirteen, this hoodie will give your life meaning. It’s a lightweight nylon, so not thick or warm, but look at that fricken lion!

Body board

A good board for the price. Lots more patterns available.

Galaxy skater dress

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.

Totoro crossbody coin/phone  purse

Just plain cute, and pretty sturdy. My kid uses it as a change purse. It has a good long strap.

Turntable with software for recording, editing and converting your vinyl Audio in MP3 format

Decent turntable for the price. Doesn’t need constant rekajiggering like some.

Flower headbands

More of a party favor than a present, but if you have a lot of daughters, won’t you please buy a set of these headbands and have them wear them to Christmas Mass? Do it for the little old ladies.

Spinner ring

An excellent ring for a fidgeter. The gold part spins noiselessly around the silver part. Sturdy!

Thor Ragnarok standup

Look, I dunno. Sometimes we just buy what’s on the wish list. It is life-sized, hooray!

Bricky blocks hat

I think this was on previous lists. We’ve bought more than one. Take your Legos with you!

cardboard screws for building

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.

Sandart moving picture

Note “Wonderful Homelife” book in the background, so you know it’s good! Just a pretty thing to play with. Tilt the frame to change the landscape. It’s soothing and pleasant. Choice of several colors.

Hellboy

I guess we’re going to just keep buying these on request.  The art is fab and the story is good and weird. Hellboy seems to be Catholic, by the way.

King of Tokyo board game

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!

Archangel metal keepsake box

Good and heavy. This makes a nice First Communion present, too.

Animal Crossing

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.

The Art of Spirited Away

Purty!

Lightning earrings

As advertised! Girls just wanna have pink lightening earrings.

Walkie talkies

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.

Mini arcade machine

*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.

Godzilla t-shirt

SKREEEONK!

The Art of Over the Garden Wall

I feel REALLY OKAY about my kids being into Over the Garden Wall. One of the better additions to our family culture. And it is the prettiest damn thing I have ever seen on a TV screen.

Doodling tablet

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.

Stuffed anteater

One of our kids got in an anteater groove, or whatever you’d call it, for a while. So we know our plush anteaters. This one is a fine specimen. Very plushy and huggable.

Crocheted mermaid tail blanket

Cozy and super soft. Comes in several colors, and it has a little mermaid charm on a chain as a bonus gift. For that one kid, it’s perfect.

Sacred Heart painted tin wall ornament

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.”

Chronograph watch

A solid and handsome watch. Lights up.

Tea set in a basket

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!

Moon shoes

YAAAASSSSS! YES YES YES! These are just as awesome as I remember from my childhood. Little trampolines for your feet.

Lace-up ballet shoes

Silky and pretty. They have little leather pads on the sole, and you can wind the ribbons around your ankles and tie bows, just like a real ballerina.

Stranger Things Eleven plushie

Wish list is wish list.

Butterfly flower tea set

So, this one is an actual full-sized tea set. It’s plastic, but not flimsy. Melissa and Doug really hits that sweet spot of bright and appealing without shading into, you know, Lisa Frank fever dream.

Celtic knot earrings

Just an attractive pair of earrings. This is from one of Amazon’s handmade shops, which I don’t fully understand, but there it is.

Koala and baby

Take if from parents who looked at an awful lot of plush koalas: this is a nice one. It’s not huge, but it’s soft and reasonably hefty.

Sculpey

Always a favorite. Every so often, all through the year, I find another little batch of tiny little octopuses, lollipops, and bowls of miniscule fruit and whatnot baking in the oven.

Pair it with:

sculpting tools

To make all kinds of details and textures in your clay. Real tools, not toys.

Bath fountain rocket

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.

Oversized tiger plush

The time was finally right. The time for that kid to get a giant tiger to lounge on.

Betrayal at House on the Hill game

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.

Fairytale spinner 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

LOTR Boxed set

Not illustrated or luxurious, but a great price for the set. Nothing like a boxed set.

Wedding Traditions from Around the World coloring book

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.

Hearts and Butterflies wooden beading set (two pack)

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.

Avatar: The Last Airbender DVD set

My cabbages!!!

Sequin backpack

Most popular backpack in the whole school.

Hats By Charlotte

We actually have the Samus one. These are soft and strong and comfortable, and I enjoyed communicating with the knitter.

Be Not Afraid temporary tattoo in JPII’s handwriting

In JP II’s own handwriting. So much better than “mung bean” or whatever it is you planned to tattoo on your unsuspecting dermis, isn’t it?

Wall-mounted speed bag set

Pretty good. I don’t know how this would stand up to someone serious about boxing, but for a kid who just needs to hit stuff from time to time, it’s been doing the job.

 

And that’s it for this year! Hope you find something good.

Hospitality and Resurrection: Full Hands Boxes and more from Bethany Farm Knits

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.

What do you do with all your spare time?

If you’re Cindy Cheshire, you open an Etsy store, of course.

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Affiliate disclosure: This interview contains affiliate links, which earn me a commission through sales.
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“I don’t do many things in a casual sort of way,” Cheshire said, stooping down to feed her little flock, “Because I don’t have the time.”

Something to keep your hands full while your heart is healing

Cheshire’s shop, Bethany Farm Knits, offers an assortment of delicate, hand-knit blankets

funky cold weather accessories,

and sweet baby gifts, and also something unusual: Full Hands Boxes.

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

Bethany Farm Knit’s line of Full Hands Boxes are for people surviving deployment, a NICU stay, cancer treatment, an empty nest, and even a bad break-up. There’s also one for simply learning how to knit. Each box includes knitting needles, yarn, instructions, a pattern, notions, and an appropriate “empathy card” that helps the giver express “words you can’t figure out on your own.”

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.”

Cheshire heads out to the barn
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.

One of Cindy’s cats also enjoys solitude – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire

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.

Cheshire’s daughter, wanting to join in the interview, writes up a marketing blurb for her mom’s shop

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.
Some of the fruits of Bethany Farm – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire
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.”

Eggs from Bethany Farm chickens – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire
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.”

One of the Cheshire flock – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire

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.”

Hospitality and resurrection

Cheshire deliberately keeps the price of her goods as low as possible. She recalls wishing she could live Catholic social teaching by supporting small businesses, but she just couldn’t afford it. “If it’s a gift, it has to be affordable,” she said.

chalkboard wall in the Cheshire kitchen – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire

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.”

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Follow Bethany Farm Knits
on Facebook facebook.com/bfarmknits/
on Instagram instagram.com/bfarmknits/
on Etsy

 

 

 

 

 

Handmade Gift Guide for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day! Work it out, people! And really, you need to get it done by the 13th, not the 14th, because ashes and chocolates just don’t mix.

If you’re in the market for a gift for the one you love (or the friend you like), here are some lovely choices — all handmade.

Affiliate disclosure: Most of the links below are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission of sales made through these links. 

And now for the gifts!

Handcrafted luxury yarn from Threads and Tales

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:

100% Merino wool in “Little Red Riding Hood:”

Deep scarlet reds with cayenne pepper and paprika with very slight tones throughout, offering the beauty of tonal without a rainbow of colors.

Here’s a hand-spun and hand dyed selection in subtle, evocative tones, called “Moby Dick:”

Gorgeous. Threads and Tales also offers sturdy little handmade stitch markers in cute designs, including the Wonder Woman logo.

Door Number 9 puts the Saint back in St. Valentine’s Day

My love for Elisa Low’s work is legendary, and she’s always coming up with something new and quirky. This year, she has a valentine for everyone, with these moving and heartfelt Song of Solomon Valentines:

How can you possibly go wrong expressing your love with direct quotations from the Bible? How??

Set of eight valentines (with envelopes) with quotes from the Song of Songs.

More of Elisa’s antic humor: This St. Valentine Icon Magnet helps us remember the real reason for the season: Gory martyrdom.

Wie romantisch!

Elisa also offers a wide array of unusual, geeky handmade goods, from medieval bestiary tea wallets, to her very popular “Heretical nonsense: For research purposes only” stamp for the reader who knows better, to the replica of the Hamiltons’ interlocking wedding ring.

 Molded leather cigar cases from Lavish Expressions

Ooh, aren’t these swanky? Almost enough to make me want to smoke a cigar.  These handmade molded cigar cases can be monogrammed for free.

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.

Dark chocolate whiskey truffles  from Sweet Addict

Well, chocolate, of course. Here are a dozen handmade truffles for a very reasonable price, guaranteed fresh upon arrival, filled with a dark chocolate ganache infused with Jameson Whiskey.

Many other truffles and fancy pants handmade treats available, including Red Velvet Truffles, S’Mores Valentine Gift Sets, and an assortment of fabulous caramel sauces.

Chain mail jewelry from Iron Lace Design

Spend $30 at IronLaceDesign and get 30% off your order!

So popular, and for good reason: feast your eyes on this opulent steel and green jasper chain mail choker.

I have a version of this magnificent necklace, and when I put it on, it makes me feel like the empress of the universe. It’s heavy, sleek, strong.

Or take a look at this sweet, bright little bracelet, silver plated chain mail with a fiery crystal nestled inside:

Many more styles at Iron Lace Designs, including heirloom-quality rosaries, plunge necklaces, pendants, earrings, and steampunk jewelry made of intricate watch findings.

Brilliant sacred art from Brightly Hude Studio

Here’s an arresting and luminous card, “Keep Us Near to Thee,” from Brightly Hude Studio by Adalee Hude: two hearts joined by the Sacred Heart:

Blank inside, and I think it’s framable.

Also check out the many other brilliant prints and original artwork, some with 23K gilding. I like this cheerful  giclée image of John Paul II.

Hammered tin Sacred Heart wall ornament from Mexico

Okay, yes, this is a Day of the Dead wall ornament. But it has a heart. The Sacred Heart. And flying skeletons! Are you going to argue with that?

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.

It was bigger than I expected, almost nineteen inches from tip to tip. I love it. Also see this unpainted tin Sacred Heart Milagro.

Bright flower jewelry in February from Smile With Flower

Ah, I love this resin jewelry made with real flowers, so your love can bring a bit of summer with her wherever she goes.

 
Many more designs, including very cute coffee bean earrings , and also bracelets, globe and terrarium pendants, stud and petal earrings, and

“You Are My Sunshine” card by Timothy Hodge

 

I admire the intensity in this solar flare card!

The message laconically notes, “You are my sunshine.”  Available through Zazzle; computer image by Timothy Hodge, Customizable size
Leather wrap beaded boho bracelets from Long Lane Jewelry

Isn’t this wrap bracelet lovely? Fresh, subtle shades of agate with silver and leather.

It’s playful but not juvenile. Frosted Agate Beads, Natural Antique Brown Genuine Leather, Handmade Sterling Silver Infinity Charm, Charm of your Choice. A heart, say!
Many more funky, fetching bracelets, many unisex, at Long Lane Jewelry.
 Stunning skyscapes by The Crain Wife Art
Anna Crain sent me images of her flower paintings as possible Valentine’s gifts. They’re beautiful, but her skyscapes knocked my socks off. Here’s “Morning By Morning:”

part of the “Faithfulness Collection.”

Here’s another splendid one: “Bright Hope.”

The Crain Wife Art is fairly new as a professional artist. One to watch!

Custom fashion portraits by Samia Lynn

Here’s a thoughtful and romantic gesture: transform your photo into a hand-drawn portrait. Here’s a sample of one fashion illustration Samantha made for a bride and groom:

 

Samantha also does portraits for graduations, engagements, family portraits, anniversaries, and more.

Morse code secret message necklaces from Apple and Azalea
I love this: spell out a word or message in Morse code, and go ahead and wear it.  Here’s an attractive, unisex “Totus Tuus” necklace:

Theresa takes custom orders, but they need to be placed by Tuesday 2/6 for delivery by Valentine’s Day. 

 

Copper jewelry from Cherokee Copper

Simple, classic designs by a Cherokee artist (and Catholic deacon!).

Original art prints by Kabuki Girl

. . . also known as (stifles screams of pride with some difficulty) my daughter, Lena Fisher. Here are my two recent favorites:

Warrior

From her RedBubble store, you can order this image as a print, as a journal, as a phone case, and more.

and here’s Mary:

***
And there it is! Happy Valentime.

50+ gifts our ten kids loved: The 2017 list

It’s the fourth annual Fisher family Christmas gift recommendation list! These are all products our family owns and has enjoyed. You can find my 2014 list here, my 2015 list here, and my 2016 list here.

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.

And now for the presents:

1.Turn table with built in speakers

Good little machine for the price, and has held up well.

2. Acoustic Yamaha guitar with case and accessories

 

 

3. Squier by Fender “Mini” Strat Beginner Electric Guitar with Rosewood Fingerboard

Great starter electric guitar. It’s . . . so loud.

4. Distortion pedal bundle

This, my daughter notes, is the same one Curt Cobain had. Ha cha cha!

5. Machete

Good for clearing brush, gathering kindling, or just choppa-choppa-choppa. Hey, they have ten fingers, plenty to spare.

6. Prismacolor double-ended manga markers

A nice set for sketching, drawing comics, etc. Good, rich colors.

7. Light saber screwdriver set

These are on the small side, so they are not for heavy duty jobs, but they are real screw drivers, and solid.

8. Fox hat with ear flaps

As advertised. Cute! Runs a tiny bit small, so not for kids with tons of hair or giant heads.

9. OceanPetal Art Studio flower jewelry (Etsy)

So many gorgeous designs. Flora in resin, bracelets, pendants, and more. We have a lovely flat pendant with yellow flowers.

10. Otamatone

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.

11. Princess Leia Bun Hat

Warm and snug. And who might you be?

12. Hellboy Library Editions

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.

13. Jewelry and rosaries from IronLace Design

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.

14. Samsung Chromebook 3, 11.6″, 4GB RAM, 16GB eMMC

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.

15. Canvas Messenger Bag 

Amazingly sturdy at a great price. Nice and roomy and attractive, and the strap is comfortable. It’s bigger than it looks in the picture, believe it or not.

16. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

A good introduction to Terry Pratchett and Discworld. Sergeant Vimes is the best. This one has a lot of dragons in it.

17. 10 x 50 Binoculars 

Good and heavy, smooth and easy to use. Comes with decent case, strap, cloth, and lens caps. Birds! The moon! Neighbors!

18. Pandemic Board Game

Lots of strategy and cooperative play, or you all die. My teenagers play it with the younger kids (age 7 and up). Suspenseful and lots of pressure.

19. 5th Element Panther XT Inline Skates

Son skates around town after school every day. These took some breaking in, but now he loves them, and says they are comfortable and easy to maneuver.

20. Mysterium Board Game

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.)

21. Funko Pop Eleven

Aw, wookit the widdle blood coming out of her nose. I don’t really understand Funko Pops.

22. Panda surprise mug

Helloooo! (There are also cats, monkeys, ducks, Santas, etc.)

23. Cow Cow Dresses

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.

24. Die Hard: The Authorized Coloring and Activity Book

Sighhh. She loved it.

25. “Fools! I’ll destroy you all” Button

For that one kid.

***
Now we’ll move on to some gifts for kids in middle school. These are not hard and fast lines, as you will see.

26. Magic sequin pillowcase

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!

27. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

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.

28. Minecraft stop motion animation set

This is the set that got my son started on stop-motion animation. It comes with a little stage, backgrounds, many props, a little stand for your camera, and an app to animate the photos and share.

My son has branched off on his own and now uses the free version of the app called Stop Motion Studio by CATEATER, but he says this set gave him the confidence to get going.

29. Godzilla 7″ Vinyl Figure from Destroy All Monsters

One of the many Godzillas my son uses for his stop motion videos. Nicely detailed and sturdy.

30. “Deal With It” Glasses

It’s possible my son is the only one in the world who wants these, but he sure does like them. I can’t explain it more than that.

31. Bricky Blocks Black Snapback

Bring your Legos with you! Put your Legos on your head! What a time to be alive!

32. Air hockey table

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.

33. Pikachu hoodie

Please tell me my kids aren’t the last ones in the world who like Pokemon. Good fit. Rather charming.

34. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

Works as a standalone for kids who are not yet familiar with Squirrel Girl.

35. LCD Writing Tablet

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.

***

And gifts for younger kids and toddlers:

36. Crocodile Toddler RC Car with Music and Lights

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.

37. Mama Kangaroo and Joey Plush, 13″

Sweet and sturdy. Good for the kid who likes to make sure the baby is always where he belongs. Stands up by itself.

38. I Got This! Game

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.

39. Tempera Paints Set, 16 oz, Pack of 6 .

Great price for this much paint.

40. Rubie’s Wonder Woman Costume

Runs a little small. I like the star pants. Makes a kid feel super without sliding into “sexy tot” territory.

41. Lots of things from Door Number 9. Here’s the wonderful St. Michael prayer Pillow, featuring a prayer very obviously written by a real kid:

So much geeky fun here, some of it Catholic, much of it for adults or older kids. We have several of Elisa’s lovingly handmade products and we adore them.

42. LYRA Ferby Triangular Colored Pencils

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.

43. Fleece lined koala hat

Cute and goofy, and very warm. Holds up great. My daughter wears this nine months out of the year.

44. Boomwhackers Whack Pack

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.

45. Chicken Soup with Rice Board Book: A Book of Months

Possibly the greatest poem ever written. I’m always happy to read this one. This is a sturdy board book. Here’s to you, Mrs. Ida Perles!

46. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

A fresh and exhilarating style that incorporates the words of the text into the illustrations. Quite powerful.

47. Little Tikes Shopping Cart

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.

48. My Little Pony Monopoly Board Game

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.

49. Melissa & Doug 20 Animal Magnets in a Box

Bright and pleasant. Magnets have stayed on, animals have not peeled off, despite occasionally getting wet.

50. Dreamy Dress-Up Butterfly Wings

We keep buying these. Found some lovely bright ones this time. The material is strong, but thin enough that you don’t have to take it off to strap your little butterfly into its car seat.

51. Color Paddles, Set of 18

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.

51. Tinkerbell’s Learn Ballet Step by Step DVD

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.

52. Kitty Cat Riding A Unicorn T-Shirt

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.

Chainmail, goth, and rosaries: An interview with Kyra Matsui of Iron Lace Design

“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.”

Kyra, 39, lives in Toronto and turns out a dazzling array of intricate, sturdy jewelry and rosaries, at once heavy and delicate, many incorporating Japanese-style chainmail and vintage watch movements.

Her drive to create started early, she says:

“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.

Lapis lazuli and stainless steel choker

You also have some jewelry made of watch parts on your page. Tell me how you got your hands on that.

Two brass watch movement pendants

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!

Chainmail and vintage gear charm necklace

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:]

Kyra also makes single-decade pocket rosaries like this one in jade:

Stainless steel and jade one-decade rosary
Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting a giveaway for a single decade rosary handmade by Kyra. Entry will be free. Stay tuned!

Wow! So talent! Much teenage daughter!

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:

Wandering Swordsman:

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Song of the Sheikah:

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The Enforcer:

 

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An image from the side altar at church:

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And this obliging Wolverine with Baby Jubilee:

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Do stop by her Redbubble store! You can buy these images printed on T-shirts, stickers, and mugs.

or you can check out much more of the artwork she’s posted online on Tumblr, The Otaku, and Paigeeworld.

Guys. IT IS FUN HAVING TEENAGERS. They are always surprising you!