And I love useful gifts. Love.
We have lots and lots of house guest, and people always want to bring something, although nobody needs to. When a friend brings a gift we can use, like coffee beans, nice olive oil, snacks, a book...I am more than delighted.
Our last house guest, our friend Susan, brought coffee and seasoned cashews she'd roasted, and each child got a book. Amazing.
We do not need anything decorative or really, anything we have to put anywhere. And I've become more and more concerned about landfill.
The plastic bits and bobs in birthday gift bags leave me gnashing my teeth.
So, some of these might seem weird, but I'd be happy to get any or all of them. I have a number of these items and love them, which is why I've got them on here.
Some of them are quiet small, and may be more stocking stuffer-y. Surprise! Santa likes sustainability this year!
And I've linked mostly to places where I got them, and much of the time it's Amazon, but I don't get any kickback and would always encourage you to google, and to use Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons and such. And thrift store and garage sale finds bring me great joy.
Now I'm in danger of being one of those annoying people who are like, here's my soup recipe but before that I'm going to tell you all about my holiday in Venice and how my husband enjoys sleeping with his socks on.
So here you go, in no particular order.
These mugs are an utter delight. I had a set of four, which is how they sell them. And to my chagrin I dropped one. Now I have three.
But you know how sometimes you get yourself something you really want but feel a bit frivolous about, because maybe you have a cupboard crammed with mugs already? And then this particular item makes you so happy every day? That's how these mugs are for me.
They're a lovely size and shape, and they're made of porcelain in Poland. What I like best is that at a glance, it could be a traditional china pattern, and then you look closely to realize there's all kinds of bizarre, whimsical stuff going on.
They also have plates and bowls and if I didn't already have a full set of my grandma's dishes, I'd be asking for them.
I'd just made muffins the last time my friend Alexa was visiting. The following week, she sent me a set of these, and they've improved my life.
I like to make Superhero muffins, which are pretty wet because they have grated carrot and zucchini. They seem to turn out better in silicone than in paper.
I just ordered more from Amazon, and a set of 24 is, inexplicably, cheaper than a set of 12. Apparently you can also use these as storage in lunchboxes. I'm going to try.
The reusability and rainbowness of them just make me happy. I don't care if neither of those are words.
3. Composting Service such as Veterans Compost in the DC area
I realize this may sound kind of like when Joey suggested to Chanler that he give his cheating girlfriend a barium enema as a gift, but honestly, our service is $29/month, and I would be super excited if someone gifted this to me.
I know services vary, and my friend Kathy has an amazing one in Boston that takes everything and only costs $99/year. I could not find something comparable in DC, and it was important to me that they take meat.
With Veterans Compost you can compost meat, fats, dairy, paper towels and napkins...It's great. They pick up and deliver a new bin weekly. And they make it a priority to hire veterans.
S'well bottles are kind of spendy, and for me it's nice to get a gift of something you'd use every day but that costs more than you might spend for yourself.
I use the 12" for coffee, which it keeps piping hot without ever spilling in my bag. We have a 16" one for water. The thing I like about the bottles with this kind of lid is that you can chuck them in your bag and never worry about spilling or condensation.
I love the wide mouth, which I find easier to fill and to drink from, and S'well keeps cold cold and hot hot.
I was feeling like such a jerk with the single-use plastic sandwich bags, and then a friend turned me on to Stasher bags.
These are sturdy and stay sealed and even protect sandwiches from the insane jostling they seem to get in my son's backpack.
The sandwich size, which is the only one I've tried so far, is great for one sandwich, or a cut up apple (with lemon squeezed on it because otherwise it gets brown and weird and how could I even expect anyone to eat it?!). They are also thick enough that you can put foods like grapes in and they don't get smooshed.
They have a starter kit, which is what I've linked to above, which gives you a lot of different sizes, including two sandwich bags. But there are lots of options for different price ranges.
I must admit that my kitchen never looks like the photo, and neither do my lunches.
If you know anyone who likes marzipan, Niederegger makes the best.
It's expensive, because it's made of really high quality almonds and chocolate. But oh my gosh, it's like magic.
There are a lot of ways to buy it--above I linked to a four-loaf version. I like the large loaf kind better than the small ones, because it's just so satisfying to slice it and I feel like it's moister and more delicious than the small wrapped candies. Plus there is just...more.
But whatever you choose, I don't think you can go wrong with this brand.
If you need books for a young reader, like a reader who is starting out with chapter books, these are both utterly delightful and easy books. India started reading them on her own in first grade, but initially we were reading them together.
Dory is hilarious, and imaginative and ridiculous. Honestly, I enjoy these books as much as India does. We have read them multiple times and both laugh out loud.
I was new to cast iron a couple years ago, and Nick's frying pan is huge and so heavy, and also, he is very particular about it. I was always afraid I'd do something wrong. So I never used it.
And then his sister sent me a small cast iron pan like the one above. I use it all the time for omelettes, frying eggs, or making grilled cheese.
Cast iron heats and cooks so nicely and evenly, and you can stick it in a shockingly hot oven. It has no chemicals like Teflon pans. And it puts a little iron into your food! You have to use a lot of fat, which in my 20s would've been unthinkable, but now is a delicious joy.
My understanding is that if you come across an old one, like at a garage sale, they're ideal because they've been smoothed with years of use. I am keeping my eyes open.
Now I have the confidence to use Nick's huge pan for pan-roasting a chicken or for making Dutch baby in the oven. I have not as yet managed to make scrambled eggs without them sticking, however.
In any case, I love my little pan. And if you get one, wherever you get it from, make sure to get a silicone handle for protection, because those handles get HOT!
I'll be honest: I'm not actually a straw person.
I mean, when I was a kid, I loved bendy straws. I would bend them back and forth and back and forth. But for a while it seemed like you couldn't get a drink without a straw. (And so much ice! What's with all the ice everywhere?)
But you may need a straw, and I personally dislike the metal ones.
Anyway, what it comes down to is we have some straw enthusiasts in our house, and I thought these would make a good gift.
OK, this is sort of not exactly practical, unless you think of joy as practical, which I do.
My friend Pam makes charming jewelry with humor and whimsy. She lives in Maine, but I know her because she used to be Maude's housemate when we all lived in Friendship Heights. I spent a great deal of time at their house. Pam was always soldering something cool.
I have a number of pieces of bespoke Pam jewelry, and I've given items as gifts. As a person, she is really cool and funny and kind, and she takes custom orders as well.
(Pam doesn't know I'm writing about her, but I'm so happy to, and you are welcome to mention me if you get in touch.)
Technivorm Moccamaster coffee maker
This is far and away the most expensive item on here. It never occurred to me to spend so much on a coffee maker.
We had this really terrible little coffee maker that made weak, tepid coffee. It was so bad it was insulting. So I asked for suggestions on Facebook, which is my favorite place to ask, because I always get the best answers.
As a result, we got a coffee maker worth more than my car. (True fact: we looked in the Blue Book.)
This one goes to 11.
Here is why I include it on my practical list: the coffee is amazing. If you get this machine, I predict you will only want to have coffee from home from that point on. You will invite friends over for coffee rather than meeting at Starbucks.
The machine is really fast and the coffee is perfectly hot and delicious.
The one I linked to has auto-shut-off if you take the pot away. There's a slightly cheaper model that doesn't have the auto feature, but I felt like it was worth it to avert coffee disasters.
Another reason I include it here is because making great coffee at home has meant way fewer stops in coffee shops. I make coffee, pour it into my S'well coffee bottle, throw it in a bag, and go.
I really wanted a red, purple, or orange one, but we got the sedate silver one pictured because marital compromise.
OK, so we got recommendations for the above amazing coffee maker. And then our friends said, if you are going to get a great coffee maker, you need to get a burr grinder, because they grind evenly and don't heat up the beans.
And then they said, if you're going to get a burr grinder, you really should get a scale to weigh your coffee.
Yes, it was very much like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
So we did all those things, and the fact is that we use less coffee now because we are precise about it. You know that I am a more is better kind of person, and weak coffee makes me mad. But good quality coffee is expensive, and for me it's nice (and delicious) to use the exact amount.
I was at first resistant because who needs more gadgets AND more tasks? But now I like it. It's part of the ritual, and as it turns out, I like rituals.
And along the same lines...
12. Kitchen scale
As I am not a person who researches gadgets thoroughly, I bought both the grinder and the scale that were recommended to me, and I am very happy with both.
As it turns out, kitchen scales are very useful.
Apparently it's also easy to use too much flour if you are scooping by the cup rather than weighing it. And then you can end up with flabby baked goods or something.
I have to admit that laziness has kept me from weighing my baking ingredients. But I do wind up weighing random pieces of food like chicken breast and such.
I just have plain white ones, sadly. I mean, they do a great job. But. These penguins are so cute and I feel like they'd make an adorable, practical gift.
I love wool dryer balls. Dryer balls cut your drying time, ostensibly by 20-40%, and I think this is accurate. They keep clothes separated. Clothes are still static-y in the winter, but I do think they reduce static.
Some years ago I learned that dyer sheets coat your clothing, which is how they get rid of static. But have you ever used a towel and it feels kind of slippery and doesn't dry you? That's the dryer sheet coating.
So I ditched dryer sheets and got plastic dryer balls, which are loud. They CLUNK around your dryer. The wool ones make no noise.
These particular ones are soft, organic wool, but there are lots of kinds. You can even make your own if you have wool roving and like to felt balls. (Heh.)
Peanuts flannel blanket
My mom got each of my kids one of these blankets last year. They love them. They're a good, heavy weight, very warm and cozy, and they wash nicely.
Sometimes my kids drag them around the house and cuddle under them when they're watching TV. These are a totally practical present that my children appreciate on a regular basis. I know their blankets just make them happy.
My mom also got each kid a bath towel. My kids were tremendously excited about both gifts.
We got the dancing Snoopy and Woodstock design (same for both, so no fights), but there are other cute designs too. The towels are thick cotton, soft, and a nice, big size.
It is true that we now have a lot of Peanuts going on here. When I was a kid, I had these blue Snoopy and Woodstock sheets that I just loved.
I don't know what happened to them after we left Bangladesh. But I do have vivid memories of them.
(Incidentally, I link to the Vermont Country Store for these items, and they have a lot of Peanuts items. There are great PJs for kids and adults. We haven't yet tried the adult ones, although I do knod of want some. The kid ones are really warm.)
A house guest sent these to us earlier this year, and we use them every day.
These particular napkins don't wrinkle, and my kids each have a preferred design.
I don't know why it didn't occur to me years ago to start using cloth napkins. We do laundry with alarming frequency, and so it's not like we're using more water on napkins. And it feels good that we're not discarding paper napkins after one ues.
17. Reusable mesh produce bags
I try to leave my produce loose, but it's not always possible. And then I feel guilty about the plastic bag.
A friend just suggested these, and they sound like a great idea. I myself have not tried them, but it seems like it'd be so easy to keep a few of in your shopping bag.
This particular set has nine reusable mesh bags that way less than 1/3 of an ounce.
The World Wildlife Fund has a wide array of adorable plush stuffed animals, and for $55 you can symbolically adopt one of them, and get the stuffed animal version.
I chose the bison because of my Midwestern roots, but there are so many cute ones. So it's a low-guilt way to add to someone's stuffy collection. (Or is it spelled stuffie? We didn't call them this when I was growing up.)
|Photo: SmithjackJapan on etsy|
One of the things about me that has annoyed numerous people over the years is how slowly and deliberately I unwrap gifts. I carefully open the tape and try to avoid damaging the paper at all.
I think it comes from growing up in countries where wrapping paper was not readily available, and we reused it. It's such an old, ingrained habit that I still do it, and I do reuse paper when possible.
But every Christmas we put a tremendous amount of glossy paper into landfill. No longer.
My friend Eileen just told me that she's using Furoshiki for wrapping gifts now, and they look beautiful. It's a lovely idea, because it's a gift and then also wrapped in a reusable gift of beautiful cloth.
So this is a suggestion for wrapping rather than a gift to give, although I suppose you could do both.
We decided last Christmas that we're going to potato print newspaper this year. We are absolutely not buying any gift paper.
We have not yet gotten to the printing, but my mom has already wrapped a few books in newsprint, and they look really cool. I think with red or green ribbon, they'll look festive. And newsprint is easy to fold.
Set of Injinji toe socks
OK, these are not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but I love getting socks for Christmas. And I almost exclusively wear Injinji toe socks now, and I personally would like this set of four.
Earlier this year I was diagnosed with neuromas in my feet. So the nerve leading to my second to last toe on each foot gets squozen and it bugs and now I have these princess and the pea feet and it's really annoying.
However. These socks help immensely. I loved them before I had these foot problems and I love them even more now.
Injinji makes lots of sock weights and lengths. I've come to understand that lighter is better for me. You have to account for the amount of room they take up in shoes.
They have a lot of fun designs, but seemingly only one boxed set.
They also have an upcycled cotton product line.
So that's the story on the socks.
I've started cooking beans quite often lately, and I have learned that if you buy really good beans, they're lovely on their own with just olive oil and salt. But if you had a great recipe for a dish, I think it would be delightful to give a bag or two of beans along with the recipe.
Rancho Gordo has a terrific selection of beans, and I have ordered (and eaten) the sampler I linked to above. You can order pounds of beans individually, but it seemed to me a better deal to order a sampler, plus I wanted to try a variety.
The Rancho Gordo Xoxoc Project sampler intrigues me, because the goal of this project is to help small farmers continue to grow rare indigenous beans in Mexico. There are beans I've never heard of, and I like the project goal, and 5% of the cost gets donated to No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid group that provides water and other assistance to migrants and refugees along the US border.
22. Silk dental floss in a refillable glass container
I love to floss. Sadly, I didn't as a child, and have paid the price. But for years I have been a completely anal flosser. I do know how that sounds.
With my general enthusiasm for flossing, I kept thinking about these nylon strings I was throwing away daily, and then the plastic box that I'd eventually discard and replace.
So I bought this silk floss, which they call dental lace, and it's great. I mean, I don't know that as floss it's that different in feel and performance from another floss, but the fact that it will biodegrade and that I can refill the container forever is a win for me.
As dental floss goes, it's kind of expensive, which for me puts it in the nice little sustainably-minded gift category.
Save the Children gifts
I particularly like this option, because one, you're not giving a physical that someone has to put somewhere, and instead you can be like, "I bought two goats in your name." You're giving a gift that helps humans in the world, and you're doing so in the name of a loved one.
There's a huge range of options in terms of price and items--animals, medical care, clean water, refugee services...
So, when I mentinoed this post, my friend Lauri was all, wait, you going to suggest things like bulk packages of toilet paper? Or REALLY GIANT rolls?
And I was like, no, I was thiking more like dryer balls and silicone bags.
But then it turned into a toilet paper conversation, because that just seems to be the way of the world. Which was a good thing, because my friend Karen gave me this link to Who Gives a Crap toilet paper.
No trees, profits help build toilets, supposed to be soft on your butt! How could I resist?
It is toilet paper made of bamboo. They donate 50% of profits to build toilets for people who need them.
And you can order the holiday version! So maybe you know someone who would like a festive box of 48 rolls of toilet paper?
I'd be delighted. I'm not kidding.
25. Homemade jams, pickles baked goods...
Do you make jam? Pickles? Other preserved foods? Do you bake?
When I was a kid, I always felt like my homemade gifts were inferior to store bought ones. (And you know, my dad always said "store-boughten" and I don't know if that was a Minnesota thing or particular to Duluth or just him. Hydrox cookies were his favorite store-boughten cookies. I don't think they make them anymore.)
But now that I have kids and realize what precious commodities time and effort are, I am overjoyed when I recieve something made by a friend.
My mom came home from visiting Maude in Denver with several jars of Maude's homemade jam. It was such a treasure and a delight. Every morning we talked about the fact that we were putting Maude's jam on our bread.
My friend Jess is this extraordinary baker, and we have been recipients of an extravagance of holiday delights. It's not only a delicious gift, but loving and thoughtful. We are loved and lucky.
(Incidentally, she brought these phenomanal marzipan bars to my dad's memorial service, and I basically appropriated one whole tray. I was six months pregnant and had just lost my dad, and felt entirely justified.)
26. Membership to a museum or zoo
DC has a lot of terrific, free museums, and the zoo is also free; we are spoiled in this way. But this is not the norm in most places. And here, a Smithsonian membership (linked above) gets you a magazine and discounts. Becoming a Friend of the National Zoo (linked above) gives you benefits like free parking, discounts at restaurants and stores, and free carousel and seasonal rides.
If you have young kids, it's great to have a membership to the Building Museum (although it looks like they'll be closed December-March 2020, which is a bummer, because it's such a helpful place to go with kids in the winter.
The National Geographic Museum is not free, and has terrific exhibits. Jordan receives the kid's magazine--he got a subscription as a birthday gift--and loves it.
As for me, I'd personally love to have a membership to the Phillips Collection.
27. The gift of an outing
You can write or print out a piece of paper that offers any kind of outing you and your child (or parent, friend, or significant other) would like. An offering of time, just the two of you, doing something that brings you both joy.
An afternoon at the movies. Ice cream. A trip to an aquarium. Dinner anywhere, just the two of you.
I love this gift, becaue it's so personal, and really the message is: I love you, I want to spend time with you doing something that makes you happy, so we can enjoy it together.
Grooming products with no plastic containers
A few years ago I ditched antipersperant and switched to just deoderant. In fact, I did this for Nick and me at the same time.
I discovered two things: 1. that gross underarm buildup you see on tee shirts in the wash immediately stopped happening. And 2. it's hard to find deoderant for woman at CVS that doesn't also have anti-perspirant. First I bought men's. I found a better selection at Whole Foods.
Recently a friend started talking about using shampoo bars to get rid of plastic bottles, so I began looking for sustainable bath and body products.
I came across Silver Falls Sustainability Co., a two-person (plus one baby) company in Oregon. Packaging and shipping materials are plant based and compostable. They do no animal testing.
I ordered the kit above to split with my mom. So far I've used the deodorant, which is very effective and leaves my armpits smelling like coconut macaroons. (For me this is a bonus.) I've also been using the lip balm, which I like, and I'm picky about lip balm.
It is a little strange to use cardboard containers rather than plastic, and they only swivel up, so you can't retract them. But these seem like minor inconveniences.
29. Secura electric kettle
We have a black plastic exterior version of this kettle, and looks-wise I like this one better. But here's why I am recommending this particular brand, which took us some hunting to find.
I got all hell-bent on a kettle where the water was not boiling in plastic. The idea just freaks me out. There are lots and lots of cute plastic kettles. Or kettles that are metal, but then the water gauge up the side is make of plastic.
I use an electric kettle so many times a day. For tea in the morning, for heating water for pasta or to boil beans, or steam broccoli. It's so much faster and more efficient to do it in the kettle.
Plus I love that you can walk away and know that it will turn itself off if you see a squirrel that immedately distracts you and reminds you that you need to clean out your closet...until you come across your winter boots, which reminds you that you'd better see if your kids boots still fit...and maybe you should look at Lands End while you're...wait, what was I doing?
Electric kettle. Biols fast. No plastic. Auto shutoff.
And if you're going to treat someone to a new kettle, why not indulge in some lovely tea as well?
Golden Moon has delightful loose teas, and I linked to a gift sampler above. But if you know the kind of tea you like, buy it in bulk. Nick orders from Golden Moon regularly. They send 20% discount codes.
If loose tea is not your bag (ha!), you can never go wrong with a lovely tin of Harney and Sons. Me, being a bit more pedestrian in my taste, I do love PG Tips, but this summer a British friend told me that Yorkshire Gold is really the way to go.
Honestly, though, I've never had better tea than in India, and I mean in the cheap tea stalls or at the train station. Not at the fancy hotels. Maybe I need to start boiling my tea with powdered milk and sugar...
I've written before about my friend Alexa, and how she has helped me with her energy healing.
Alternative treatments such as these aren't covered by insurance, and as such, what a lovely, healing, calming gift for someone, particularly during the stressful holiday period.
I know this might be reminiscent of Fleabag getting the counseling voucher from her dad for her birthday...But it helped!
And finally...I felt like I had to end on a sweet note. I couldn't resist putting in old-time candy ribbons.
These are candies of my childhood. They never made it through the international pouch to Bangladesh unscathed, and my brother and I would search excitedly to find the most complete ribbon possible.
I guess they're only practical in that they're comestible, and may trigger happy memories of holidays past.
But they're beautiful and such a dollop of nostalgia.
Thanks for reading!
If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.
Big hugs and much love!