Does your true love knit? How about a few skeins of luxuriously soft, ethically sourced yarns, some hand-spun (“on a spinning wheel like a legit pilgrim”), all hand dyed with safe, edible dyes? Em Ro and her family (including kids ages five and two, who help choose color pairings) have deliberately priced their goods much lower than similar yard of this quality. Here are a few that caught my eye:
Molded full grain leather three finger cigar case, 3.75″ X 7.5.” Made of premium full grained vegetable tanned leather and stitched with bonded nylon thread.
Handmade in Arkansas by Tanya and Gerrod Desselle of Lavish Expressions. Order soon; they take a few weeks to make. Also many other sumptuous leather handmade goods, including iPad covers, messenger bags, journal cases, and more.
Hand-hammered tin, hand painted in Mexico. I bought one of these with my birthday money last year, and it’s now in my kitchen. It makes me think of that line from Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation:” Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
We have ten kids, ages eighteen to almost two. We buy . . . . a lot . . . .of gifts. Here’s a list of fifty that our kids tried and liked this past year. They’re mostly under $50, and are in order from cheapest to most expensive, so it’s a little book-heavy in the beginning.
I’d also like to apologize for the graphic.
Most of these items are from Amazon. I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and all of the Amazon links in this post have my code embedded, so I earn a small percentage of the sale price, which is how we buy more presents for ten kids next year, and on and on it goes.
“I’m meeting you halfway, you stupid hippies!” Possibly specific to the needs of my family. For the right person, it could be the best $4 you ever spent. When people ask how my kids deal with being one of the few Catholics in a giant public school, this sums it up pretty well.
This book came highly recommended by trusted friends for kids grade four and up, and it lived up to the hype. Original, exciting, and the author actually wrote it with care and wit, rather than just assembling a plot with the right keywords. Kids and I both enjoyed it. It’s part one of a series of four.
Another book my friends have been lauding forever. My first-grader just adores this series, which has ten books total. I admit I haven’t read it yet, but my daughter doesn’t put up with a lot of nonsense, so I respect her opinion.
This is the one of two items on this list that I haven’t actually bought yet, but it’s on my list — in this case, on my wish list. If someone gets it for me, I plan to grow ivy in it. Ivy will grow easily in water. I need green in the house to tide me over until spring!
This was a gift for the six-year-old, but everyone loves it, from the baby on up. Those orderly little drops, marching up and down the steps, hurrying or strolling, as you choose. Endlessly fascinating, miraculously never mixing. (There are any number of liquid motion toys to choose from. Great for babies, older kids who need calming down, or adults who need calming down. I once spotted a few of these toys in the waiting room at the washing machine repair shop, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t mind waiting.)
Matthew Alderman’s new offerings this year. Alderman’s style is so fresh and inviting, reminiscent of Trina Schart Hyman, who drew heavily on heraldry and illuminated manuscripts, nodded at the pre-raphaelites, and then opened the window to let some air in. Great stuff. Kids (and others) soak in knowledge as they color.
Corrie got this last Christmas, when she was teething hard, so it became known as the Corrie-o. The little ridges are perfect for sore gums. It’s bigger than a real Oreo, so not a choking hazard. Super cute, still a favorite after a year of gnawing.
How I adore this movie. It shows, without comment, everyday scenes from the lives of four babies, from just before they’re born until they’re learning how to stand. The families live in San Francisco, Tokyo, the Mongolian steppe, and Namibia, and their lives vary widely, but some things are always the same. Sweetness and a little melancholy, but mostly sweetness. I always feel restored after watching this short, gentle, agenda-free movie, and the kids love it.
Ben Hatke’s first installment in a new graphic novel series. It’s a reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk, and it’s wonderful. You care about the main character right away; Hatke is generous with understated details that tell you what you need to know about the world they live in; and I have no idea what is going to happen next. Some serious themes — serious money troubles, danger, a younger sister who is autistic, and a difficult friendship — but suitable for kids age 7 and up, if they’re not highly sensitive.
We loved The Pirates! Band of Misfits movie so much (made by the same folks who make the excellent Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep), and recently discovered that it was based on a series of books that are even odder and nuttier than the movie. These books do include some bawdy jokes and some violent details, but I feel that the most inapwo-pwo stuff goes over the little kids’ heads, and it’s just edgy enough to give the older kids a little thrill, without crossing any lines.
My fashion-minded ten-year old would wear this every day if we let her (which we do). Pair it with the TARDIS hat (which she does) and and maybe the TARDIS dress, and you have a themed ensemble. The scarf is a stretchy rayon, machine washable.
This toy distracts the baby from your actual smartphone for maybe ten minutes. Worth every second. I like B. Toys because they make sounds, but they are intentionally soft; and they have an off switch. This one has held up well, and doesn’t gobble batteries too badly. Also records your voice, so the older kids are always pranking each other.
The large wooden balls are linked with elastic, so you can wear it like a bracelet, or you can roll and twist them to make all kinds of lovely clusters of color. Each ball is painted a slightly different shade, it’s pleasantly heavy, and it makes a soft clacking sound. Fine, I bought it for myself, and sometimes I let the baby play with it. We’ve had good luck with this brand, Manhattan Toy.
Whenever my kids put Calico Critters on the list, I grumble and complain about how stupid and pointless and expensive they are; and then I start shopping, and then I go, “AWWWWWWW.” They really are adorable. These are very small toys, so not great for kids who lose stuff; but they are sturdy and sweet, and come in dozens of different species. We also have the pool and sandbox set.
I actually resisted buying this kit, because it seemed dumb (ALEX toys are hit or miss) but one kid desired it greatly. It turned out to be quite good. The headbands haven’t broken after a year of use, which is almost a miracle; and she had a surprising amount of fun making different combinations.
My current favorite read-aloud. This book has an unusual focus for a children’s book: a very old couple, so poor they have to share everything, including a chair, a blanket, and the one last potato in the garden — or so they think. A simple and hilarious story of unexplained magic, but so much to unpack about what you really need in life. The illustrations are understated but extraordinary.
My ten-year-old daughter worked to earn her very own ice cream and candy dress, but maybe you’d prefer beetles, constellations, or cute ghosties. More varieties, some of them truly bizarre, than you can shake a stick at. These dresses are on the short side for adults of average height, but work fine for shorter folks. They come with or without sleeves, and are made of a stretchy rayon material.
Oh, I lied, this is another thing I haven’t bought yet, but friends say it’s lovely. I’m a sucker for little worlds under a dome, and I love how this comes with a hanging hook. Friends say it’s brighter than you might expect. We recently redid the little girls’ room with two sets of bunk beds, so we may be investing in individual lighting for individual preferences.These come in three different colors, and you can get either the rabbit thing, or a plump little bird.
By far the nicest instructional ballet video I’ve ever seen. The music is pleasant, there are no bizarre mascots or intrusive animation, the teacher seems to actually like kids, and you will learn some true, basic ballet. We put a broomstick between two chair backs to make the required barre.
The premise is that, when night falls in the village, a werewolf comes out and kills someone; and everyone else has to figure out who the werewolf is and what to do about it. Everyone closes his eyes, and the leader instructs one person at a time to wake up, take a look at the card that reveals his role (werewolf, bodyguard, witch, villager, etc.), and then go back to sleep. There are several rounds of play, in which the players anonymously decide to kill, save, protect, or silence each other.
Quilling is making a comeback! A lovely, old-fashioned craft where you roll up thin strips of paper, loosely or tightly, then pinch them into various shapes. No end of possibilities here. You can make free-standing 3-D ornaments, glue the paper to eggs, make cards, or even jewelry. A very pleasant way to spend time. My nine-year-old needed a little help to get started, but she caught on fast.
With eight daughters, we’ve tried a number of jewelry boxes. A number. This one is by far the sturdiest, but it still looks delicate and dainty. The ballerina still pops up, the music still plays, the hinges still function, and the box is still a box. Pretty, silver-satin quilted design. Plays “Fur Elise.”
Probably the most-used piece of furniture in our entire house. This lived in our living room for at least five months, and saved my sanity while Miss Insano clambered up and threw herself down hundreds and hundreds of times. Folds for storage.
This is the absolute last untested item on this list! We’ve bought many items from The Little Dress-Up Shop, and have always been completely delighted, so I’m confident that this sweet, poofy ballerina skirt with rosebuds will be well-received.
42.Portable Bluetooth speaker, about $37
Exactly what we needed. It works with my kid’s phones, and lets them blast music while slaving away in the dirty dish mines or cleaning up the yard after the last raccoon garbage party. Easy to use, and a good value for the price.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one sword. This one is long, shiny and seriously heavy. Not sharp, but you definitely could kill someone if you tried. Not meant for heavy fighting, but good for stage or costumes or just swaggering around with a big-ass sword.
Greatest inspiration I’ve had all year. We now have two sets (they come rated for different weights), and they are adjustable. First kid went from zero skill to wobbling across the floor in a few minutes, and now she can jump, run backwards, spin, and do all kinds of terrifying stunts. Good exercise, good for improving balance, and great for building confidence. Excelsior!
Yes, this is the second trampoline we’ve bought. We finally destroyed the mat of the first one, and after several unsuccesful attempts to replace it (we kept buying the wrong size, the wrong spring size, etc. etc.) we just threw in the towel and bought a new one, upgrading to fifteen feet. I know all about the horrible stories of mangled faces and splintered tibias, but we are still a trampoline family all the way.
Baby loves it. Kids love playing with the baby on it. It’s instant entertainment at birthday parties, with or without water balloons and a sprinkler or Easter dresses.
Grouchy or sullen teens discover that life is worth living after taking out their troubles on the trampoline. And it’s a perfect spot for stargazing or sunbathing or lying down while the kids run around you, blissfully under the illusion that you are playing with them.
You really need a trampoline. (And if you happen to have a spare trampoline frame, you can wrap some chicken wire around it and make a garden fence, or maybe a chicken coop.)
Okay! That’s it for this year. Happy shopping! Thanks again for using my link when you shop on Amazon.
Catholics on Etsy! Mostly! Here is a selection of handmade goods by Catholics, so we can all support each other when we shop for Advent and Christmas. Some these goods are religious, some are not. Some of the stores sell all kinds of items, and the featured one is just the tip of the iceberg. It was painful to narrow down this list to a manageable size!
Today, I’m showcasing jewelry, because I like jewelry, and art and prints, because I like art and prints. Here we go:
I think everyone knows by now how much I adore Kyra’s chain mail jewelry. It makes your neck feel strong, cool, and beautiful. Elegant and powerful designs, including earrings and chainmail rosaries, too.
This isn’t an Etsy site, but Katrina Harrington was kind enough to send me one of her “Offer It Up” mugs, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t actually work. It makes morning better when I get that reminder. It is a nice mug, too, large and sturdy.
Along with mugs, Hatch Prints also has watercolor and hand-lettered art prints and tote bags inspired by the saints.
SPECIAL OFFER FOR MY READERS: Use discount code LOSINGMYMIND15 for 15% off purchases of $20 or more.
Breathtaking. Look at her beautiful face. This is just a detail; the full work includes the entire image of Our Lady of Guadalupe supported by an angel, painted on rough wood with a laquer finish. Lots of variety in this store, including matrioshka dolls, beeswax goods, and very cozy tea cozies.
HA. This is kind of perfect. Heather says, “Because sometimes I need to just gather up my fragile little buttercup feelings and OFFER IT UP, nah mean?” For when your prayer life isn’t all thees and thous and “vouchusafe unto us” this and that. Sometimes you just need to offer it up, buttercup.
That’s all for today! Tomorrow: Rosaries and rosary accessories; knitted and crocheted and fabric items; and a bunch of wonderful goods I couldn’t categorize but couldn’t stand to leave out. See you then!
We have had subscriptions to lots of different magazines from this publisher, including Cricket, Muse, Cobblestone, and Ladybug, and we have never been disappointed. The artwork is top notch, and the content is very well pegged for the various age groups designated, without being pandering, and does a good job of making the reader feel like he’s part of a club, with lots of in-jokes and extra featrures. Good stuff, and a nice present for a kid who has enough plastic crapola. These magazines are worth saving and reading over and over.
(In the past, I tried to save money by ordering magazines from third parties, but you may want to beware! I once never got the magazine and never got my money back – just a pure scam.)
I’m not making any money off subscriptions! Just passing along something our family has enjoyed.
We sure do buy a lot of presents around here. Today seems like a good time to talk about the ones that turned out to be good purchases — the ones our kids actually played with, and that didn’t fall apart right away, and that seemed worth the price.
All the links lead to products on Amazon. I’ve mentioned many a time, I get a small percentage of each sale made using one of the Amazon links on my page. These little bits of sales really add up, and help our family out tremendously!
We get a percentage of any sale made through Amazon, as long as you got to Amazon through using one of my links. So, for instance, if I say, “Hey, this nose pencil sharpener really turned my life around!” and you click on that link, you hate the nose pencil sharpener, you keep shopping, and you eventually order a diamond nose studinstead, I will get a percentage of the sale of the diamond nose stud. I will then use my Amazon credits to buy many more nose pencil sharpeners, because duh.
Here is our list, organized according to price, from “Stocking Stuffer” to “No Complaints Out Of You; We Got You Rotten Kids a Trampoline, Didn’t We?” No remarks about our little Doctor Who problem. The pediatrician says it’s within the normal range and does not technically qualify as a disorder yet.
Note: a few of the prices may have changed in the few days it took me to put this list together! Everything is more or less the same, though.
Dover Stained Glass Coloring Books $1.39 and up.
Oh, so nice, and available in every imaginable theme for boys and girls. I love hanging these up in the windows, especially when it gets dark and bleak outside. Tip: color on both sides of the page, to make the colors more brilliant.
Spock Ears $3.50
These Spock Ears are Spock Ears that go on your regular ears.
Strongbad decal $3.89
You will need this for your car window or laptop or locker door if you ever break your . . . clavicus . . . majoris.
Shake ‘n’ Go Racers $12.98
These go really fast — and they are powered by shaking, not batteries. The harder you shake them, the faster they zoom away when you put them down. Ingenious, tons of fun, and very durable.
Babies are not supposed to suck on your real car keys because of the toxins or something, but car key toys are usually made out of plastic, which is no fun for babies. So these are made out of safe metal (with flat edges, so they can’t cut their gums), they are heavy and they rattle, and the keychain has different buttons that make various car noises — but it’s muffled, so not terribly intrusive. (We like a lot of the toys from the B. company. They hold up well and are designed with actual kids in mind.)
Set of 20 Multicolored Sky Lanterns
Fine, we haven’t actually used these yet. BUT I CAN’T WAIT. Maybe if you have aTangled fan in the house, this would be an exciting present.
Groovy Girls dolls $10.00-$15.00
Smaller, soft, colorful dolls with cute hair and nice little outfits (the clothes don’t come off). Neither trashy nor simpering.
Sort of like free-form Scrabble, you race to build up a group of intersecting words, and whoever uses up their tiles first wins. You can vary the rules to make it a quick or a long game, and you can easily introduce handicaps so adults can play with younger kids. I never mind playing a round or two of this game.
Zoetrope Animation Toy
For the doodler of the house. Make a simple animated picture on a strip of paper, fit it inside the wheel, peek through the slots, and watch it move. A very old toy, simple and cool.
Totoro lunch bag
For the person in your house who really, really wants a Totoro lunch bag. This one is sturdy and made of soft, water-resistant fabric.
TARDIS pendant $14.98
Surprisingly heavy little piece of jewelry. A lot of the TARDIS pendants we looked at were half-TARDISes, which are only half as big on the inside. No fun at all.
LEGO Wii games around $15.00
We have Batman, Batman 2, LOTR, Star Wars Complete Sage and Clone Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, both Harry Potters, and I forget what else. Everyone agrees that Batman 2 is the best. Tons of fun, not too too loud, and they are filled with cute little weird jokes and sight gags. They involve fighting, but the people just fall apart into Lego pieces, so no gore.
All of our girls want wings, but nothing is more tragic than when the metal bends and the wings flop. These wings don’t have frames. Instead, they have shoulder straps and finger loops, so you can flap nicely with your arms outstretched. Durable and pretty. They come in purple, pink, and orange, and are responsible for melting the hearts of many a playground mom.
Wooden Pattern Blocks
The right kid will find these endlessly fascinating. There are many versions. This Melissa and Doug set comes with a sturdy wooden box and several patterns to try to reproduce, or you can build your own designs.
This stuff is awesome. You can squeeze it and shape it, or you can let it dribble out of your hands like . . . wet sand lace foam, or something. You can buy kits with molding toys, but cups and butter knives work fine.
Wooden Family Doll Set $18.21
Oh my gosh, these dolls don’t fall apart. Their arms and legs and heads don’t fall off, their hair doesn’t fall out, their clothes don’t unravel, and they don’t have creepy faces that make you want to hurl them across the room. Great size for doll houses, and they come in a nice little wooden box. They also have African American families, royal families, etc.
Magnetic Dress-Up Dolls $18.44
Wow, more Melissa and Doug! I guess I’m a fan. We had a kid who loved the idea of paper dolls, but found the little tabs endlessly frustrating. These made a nice compromise: you can mix and match the outfits, and they just stick on with magnets.
Schaeffer Calligraphy Set
So you say you’d love to let your kids have that magical, sensual experience of writing in pen and ink, but you’re not dumb enough to turn them loose with a bottle of ink? Here is a lovely set, with 3 pens, 3 nibs, and a bunch of pre-filled ink cartridges in various colors. Also includes an introductory calligraphy booklet.
Fairy Design Kit
Years and years later, the girls still love these. We had a friend who had the Barbie version of these — you remember! You lay the paper over it and rub over it, and the faces, bodies, and clothes magically appear. Then kids can color it in, add details, etc. Pretty fairy vignettes.
LED rope lights $19.99
Makes rooms awesome the LED way. 16 feet of awesomeness that doesn’t overheat if your wiener kids leave them on all night.
Curious George Tin Tea Set
$19.99 TIN TEA SETS. Why did we not think of this several daughters ago? You do need to dry them off so they don’t rust, but it’s so much better than endlessly gluing broken shards together.
14″ Bride, Ballerina, and Princess Dolls
Pleasant faces on these dolls, who are proportioned like little girls, and not like, you know, strippers. We got three of these last Christmas, and no limbs have fallen off, and the dresses have held up for a solid year without ripping, unravelling, or even going limp.
Pet Vet Center
Strikes the right balance between adorable and interesting, for kids who really want to play vet, not just play puppy. The stuffed puppy has articulated joints and is posable and durable. Lots of nice details, like the X-rays and the velcro bandage, and the storage case works well.
Jedi Fleece Bathrobe
If you saw my ten-year-old son in this, you would die. You would just die.
Gromit Microwaveable Plush
I KNOW, this is a really expensive stuffed animal! But Wallace and Gromit toys are hard to find. This one, you can put in the microwave and it heats up and smells like lavender or something, I dunno. She likes it.
Dragon Sword $32.95
Only to be purchased by people who want to be the best parents ever. It’s not terribly sharp, but it’s not a toy, either — more of a stage or cosplay prop. Reasonably heavy and sturdy, satisfyingly long and bright, with nice details on the dragon. The chain broke pretty quickly, but we just bought some jewelry fasteners and put it back together.
Doctor Who 11-piece Micro Action Figure Set $33.00
As advertised. The first eleven Doctors in the palm of your sweaty little hand. A handy gift for people whose birthday is coming up right after Christmas, so you can set them up to expect one more Doctor . . .
You use the brush to paint elegant shapes with water, and it slowly evaporates. Soothing and pleasant, comes with a little easel and water pot. This also comes in a mini version for cheaper.
Make Clay Charms Book and Kit
Such a hit! You can follow the directions (which were clearly tested by actual people, whew) to make the various charms pictured, or you can make up your own stuff. My daughter loves making and baking little figurines, earrings, and pendants for herself and for gifts.
Doctor Who David Tenant Dress
This really barely qualifies as a dress and not a costume, and doesn’t have much structure; but on the other hand, SHE LOVES IT. And it looks great on her.
I shuddered at the price, but when you have four little girls sleeping in one room, and some of them can’t sleep with the light on and some of them can’t sleep with the light off, this is a godsend. It projects your choice of three colors of stars onto the ceiling, and it turns off automatically after the kid has a chance to fall asleep. Much beloved. This also calmed the whole family down during a recent power outage.
Rody Inflatable Ride-On Horse
Pricey but very, very durable, and cute as heck. Easier to get on and off of than hopper balls. Some of the older kids even watch TV while sitting on them, which may or may not be an endorsement. Anyway, the one we have (in lime green) has stayed inflated for years, no kidding.
Steel Toe Combat Boots
Really tough, and just as attractive as Doc Martens, in my mompinion. We looked at a lot (A LOT) of boots, even buying and returning more than one pair, before we found these, which are the best and sturdiest ones we’ve ever seen, for a really good price. My teenage daughter is really happy with hers, and they have held up well.
Tribot Remote Control Robot
Listing this here even though I would not recommend paying the list price of $285 for it! If you can find it on Ebay or somewhere, though, snap it up. Durable, funny, easy to use, surprising, and entertaining. It is quite a noisy toy, and fairly obnoxious, but somehow endearing, and it has tons and tons of features. Its eyebrows wiggle up and down.
Again, not sure if I would pay full price for this — unless maybe a grandparent gave me a gift card and said to buy a group gift for a bunch of little kids. We got ours super cheap when a store was going out of business, and we’ve been using it steadily for something like ten years. It has survived many winters of being forgotten in the yard under several feet of snow, and never stops being fun for little guys.
pictured: Generation 5 (discontinued, but still available)
(price varies) Our kids have refurbished iPod Nanos, which we found after some hunting (they sell used and refurbished items on Amazon, don’t forget; or you could check eBay, etc.) They can play music, they can watch videos, they cannot go online. Bingo.
with net and ladder, $279.99
IT’S SO GOOD. YOU SHOULD HAVE A TRAMPOLINE. NOTHING IS BETTER THAN A TRAMPOLINE. We actually have a slightly different brand, but this one looks similar. We (shh) don’t have a net, and we used a stepladder for a ladder, so ours was closer to $200. Wonderful, wonderful purchase. Every single last person likes being on it. It lifts your mood. It wears you out. It’s funny and makes your hair stand on end. And you can lie down on it and look at the stars without bugs getting in your hair. Get the biggest one you can afford.