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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
“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:]