Posts Tagged 'gifts'

Knitting: Teenie preemie baby beanie

tpbbUsing the last of the Flusi das Socken Monster yarn, I created a little baby beanie. Rav Link here. This was a satisfying and short project, with yarn-overs to give a lacy pattern. The picture closest to color is here, but I think I’ll have to wait until a sunny day and a better camera to take this picture with the help of Mrs. Bannister.

The pattern is out of my own imagination, with the yarn-overs chosen in clusters of 3 (one yarn over on a row being joined by 2 yarn overs above it, to make a sort of trefoil).

Shopping small on Saturday

I know that an American credit card company started Small Business Saturday® for the day after Black Friday, to give small businesses a chance in the USA’s big box store consumer culture. But it’s something shoppers can embrace while using cash at their favorite small stores (if they don’t want to use credit). It also encourages all of us to visit new small stores we’ve never been in before.

One store near me, Lovely Yarns, has a collection of local yarn to buy. It’s an easy sell to someone who knits, even better for someone who shops for those who knit. For the SBS, they had cupcakes out. Other small yarn shops that I would shop at if I had a time travel machine:

This is a small sampling of places I either used to shop at, or have visited while on vacation. All of these (except the departed Tangled Yarns) are pretty good locations to do to find gift cards for knitters, or yarn and needle selections for knitters.

More ideas later on gifts that don’t require a trip to a big box store. I’m hoping this is the year I get to “shop small” or craft the rest.


What 5 dollars can do

If you had $5 to give to someone anonymously, would you do it, and why?

Ted Gup’s book, A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness — and a Trove of Letters — Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression talks about the discovery of an old family suitcase. It held a newspaper advertisement from a B. Virdot offering to provide financial aid to 50 to 75 families in Canton, Ohio (during the Depression). Inside the case were also letters of petition, thank you letters, and canceled checks.  Upon discovering that his grandfather, Sam, was the mysterious donor, the author goes on to research what led him to give away money under a false name, and also why he might have chosen specific people in his hometown to help, based on their letters. Only 150 letters were kept, and that was the number of families helped.

So who would you choose to get the equivalent of $100 in today’s currency? Would it be the family who longed to give their daughter a toy? Would it be the wife who had lost her husband and was raising adopted daughters on her own? Simple pleas for a winter coat, clothing, coal for Christmas, money to pay the doctor. The author says

I would withdraw the B. Virdot letters by the handful and lose myself in their words. These were the voices of my hometown speaking from the depths of the Great Depression. All but one were handwritten…

Most satisfying of all, the book doesn’t leave you with the Great Depression, but draws the reader into the lives of both the giver (and his possible motives) as well as the lives of the letter writers or their descendants. It’s interesting to see how what we would think of as a “small” gift in today’s terms could raise people’s hopes, help them get on their feet, or make a difference years later. Overall, it left me wondering how today’s anonymous gifts (through foundations, through $10 given to a food kitchen) affect the spirit of people today, even if benevolent gifts can’t solve all the problems, either for the giver or the receiver.

Marzipan as Still Life

Still life in miniature

Photographed by the Gardener before they’re gone — the marzipan fruit candies of Sprungli are small, artistic, and very, very tasty. They made a wonderful gift to bring home — much nicer than airport flowers (and easier to carry on the plane). Here is a lemon, orange, a few pears, and apples. Each is small enough to fit comfortably on a nickel. I can’t imagine how time-consuming it must be to make these little pieces of art.

My marzipan never looks this delicate and beautiful. I am thinking of making simnel cake again this year for Easter anyway, since it still tastes wonderful, no matter how amateur my cooking skills are.

Shopping for Cooks

… or people who love to bake. No, I’m not saying go out and buy yourself a chef, attractive though that may sound. But if you know someone whose hobby* is baking bread, icing cakes, or making blue ribbon chili, you might be able to find something they want and need on this list:

  • Measuring cups, cookie cutters, and a cookbook for children might be a hit with the ‘tween or teen set. (The ‘tween book is a link to an article about Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls, a cookbook I had as a kid.)
  • If you’re on a budget, find 12 family recipes, and copy them over for a younger member of the family, or perhaps for your new son or daughter-in-law. Include nonperishable ingredients for one of the recipes. (I once received a ham strata recipe, with one of the ingredients, a canned ham, packed in a casserole dish. It was perfect on New Year’s morning.)
  • Think grilling. In southern areas of the U.S. and in other areas of the world, December is the perfect time to stick things on the coals. Tools–like a new meat thermometer, specialty racks for grilling fish, new tongs and cleaning brush–might be appreciated, even if it’s months before grilling season.
  • Check out other cultures for cookbooks. There are beautiful cookbooks out there for Thai, Japanese, Indian, Southwest Native American, Italian, vegetarian, and many other types of cuisines. If there’s a gap on a cookbook shelf, it might be time to spice the library up with new cultures and recipes.
  • Funny (and useful) presents include measuring cups in fun colors, fanciful oven gloves, exotic tiles for hot plates, and aprons that express someone’s individuality.
  • If they’re taking lessons in cake decorating, find a fancy cake pedestal and server for them to use. If they’re on a bread baking kick, specialty pans for baguettes or corn muffins might be a hit.
  • If you know someone collects something like carnival glass or Royal Doulton teacups, hit the thrift stores to see if you can’t make a find.

Have fun in the cooking shops. And some advice, garnered after an unfruitful shopping expedition — if you’re running a fever and shopping at the same time, just go home. Standing in the music aisles listening to the clash of Metallica and “The Little Drummer Boy” while looking at CDs of opera was disorienting, to say the least.

If you have other ideas of things that might please the person who relaxes in the kitchen, comment away! I’m still staring blankly at store shelves, trying to suss out my next purchases.

*Note I’m saying hobby here. There are some people who bake all the time, are always in the kitchen scrubbing up, or who work in a kitchen. They might like something else that’s less like work, you know? If cooking is like ironing for some people, don’t give ’em a reason to scowl, and select something else. But if you shop for those who are eager to learn new cooking tricks, who seem to read cookbooks like they’re novels, who confess they’ve always wanted to know how to bake bread… get thee to a store like Fantes, where I used to daydream for hours, or your local kitchen wares shop.

Gifts for Artists and Musicians

One of the things that get cut in a bad economy are the Arts — schools cut art and music classes rather than sports. One way to counteract this economic Grinch effect is to provide kids and kids at heart with the tools they need to practice their craft of choice. Luckily, it doesn’t have to break the bank.

  • If there’s a kid in your life who loves trombone, clarinet, violin, and you know the family can’t afford lessons, see if you can get other family members to help you cover the cost — maybe split it up so each person covers one day’s lesson.
  • Match sheet music to the musical taste of budding performers — sheet music from Wicked or Pirates of the Caribbean may fill a young musician with joy.
  • Paintbrushes, sheets of disposable palette paper, and refills of paint colors that get used up quickly (for instance, titanium white) are welcome additions to any painter’s studio. Ditto for pastels, kneaded rubber erasers, and tortillions for other artists.
  • If they’re learning to draw, provide them with art pencils, colored pencils, and paper.
  • Little artists need refills of paper for painting easels, child safe paints, inexpensive brushes, glitter glue, crayons, and modeling clay.
  • Teens might enjoy a book on drawing cartoons and caricatures, along with some of the tools mentioned in the book.

And, of course, give the gift that’s free — encouragement. If your niece or nephew want to play their violin, drum, or clarinet after dinner on Christmas Day, sit and really listen. If they want to show you their latest artworks, smile and look for things you can identify and talk about (like color choice, if the art is abstract). Remember — even really great performers like Wynton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, and Marian Anderson and famous artists like Mary Cassatt probably needed encouragement when they were young.

Two More Gifts

… and I can mail out packages. 🙂

One of the great things about my friends and family is they love books. An easy trip to a bookstore with a coffee shop attached; I get to look at some of the current books and music that are out; and the wrapping is a snap.

If you’re shopping for books, here are a few ideas (depending on the personalities of recipients, of course):

  • For the kids: Bats at the Library — it’s a lovely, illustrated, imaginative book that’s a wee bit meta (see how many characters from other books you can identify in each picture). Check it out at your library, and see if it would work for a boy or girl (or grownup) you know. Another great book is Arabel’s Raven for preschoolers.
  • For the preteens: Mistress Masham’s Repose. I loved this book when I was a preteen. Another book by TH White, The Goshawk, is good too.  I remember The House With a Clock in its Walls as one of the books that gave me fits when I was 11, but might be just the cup of tea of a brave preteen boy or girl. If you want adventure with fewer sleepless nights, try Aiken’s Midnight Is a Place.
  • More for preteens: All of a Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, and The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright. The first is about an immigrant family living on the Upper East side in NYC in 1912 (please ignore the phrase “heart-warming story”… as a kid I was fascinated about the different time period). The second is about a family of kids who pool their money each week so one person can go do something they’ve always dreamed about.
  • Teens have the Twilight books, but there are also classics like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (yes, I cried while reading the last page in a library),  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (more hankies), and Gothic classics — Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, including Fall of the House of Usher, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Villette, and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (which is a spoof of the genre).
  • Adults might appreciate books filled with: Christmas carols, recipes, diy crafts (if you know a craft they enjoy), stories about nature, or vacation ideas.

Note: when I was a student, I was able to find lots of out of print books that I knew people would like at a second-hand store. Sometimes an older book is better because it’s a collector’s item or has illustrations the recipient would remember.

Hoping your season is jolly, and you manage to survive with your spirits intact.

Holiday Cookies

Cookies are a great hostess gift to bring along to parties. There are some great recipes out there:

  • Drop butter cookies from the Joy of Cooking — decorate them with a sprinkle of colored sugar; these spread pretty fast, so use small drops of batter per cookie.
  • Refrigerator pinwheel cookies from Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer — food coloring or alternating vanilla and chocolate in the pinwheel make this festive; make the dough ahead of time, roll into a log, ready to slice, and store in the freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake.
  • Nut tassies are a great treat; think little tiny nut tarts.
  • Sugar cookies in my house mean opening up the Fannie Farmer cookbook and choosing the page marked with spots. (I learned to use an electric mixer one Christmas while standing on a chair to reach the counter.)
  • I’m thinking about maybe making frosted molasses cookies. Or not. I’m not a big fan of making lots of cookies that only I want to to eat.
  • Bar cookies, like mincemeat bars and butterscotch brownies, offer minimum fuss but great results (although some people hate butterscotch and others don’t like mincemeat — know your audience).
  • Check out your local newspaper (helping the struggling media economy at the same time) for local favorite recipes. The Baltimore Sun, for instance, has an exotic twist on the Mexican Wedding Cake/snowball recipe — coconut orange snowballs. The Morning Call has a recipe for Stained Glass Gingerbread cookies (I wish they’d included a picture so I could see what they looked like). In Walnut Creek, Calif’s paper, there’s a recipe for pistachio shortbread (ok, they say it’s for St. Patrick’s Day, but it sounds like a recipe that could travel well if shipped cross-country).
  • Check out the recipe books made up by parishes and local nonprofits to raise money. Even if you don’t have time to make the cookies, they might make a good gift for someone new to the area.

So, do you have any favorite recipes out there? Old standbys that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without? Feel free to leave a comment.

Still Knitting On

blueswatchThe dream swatch continues to grow, as does the beautiful rose-colored silk thing. The swatch is at 5-1/2″ and needs to be 48″. The other one has reached 12″. BBC7 needs to pick up the slack and provide more mysteries for me to listen to. It’s their fault and not mine.

This weekend I also worked on some socks while watching House. (The socks are a fairly ill-kept secret project, sitting out on the coffee table all the time, right under the nose of the recipient). I think the surprise will be if I manage to actually finish them before the end of the year.

On my list are some other little crafty projects that may or may not get punted in the interests of sanity. And, of course, I’m hoping to get over my cold so the holiday baking can commence. I’ll be talking about cookies on Tuesday, I think. If anyone knows a really good chocolate fudge cake recipe, do tell. I have to make one for a potluck.

Gift Ideas For Gardeners

Specimen of a jade plant on the rocks

Specimen of a jade plant on the rocks

I’ve been shopping for the Gardener, and there are some gifts that are garden-themed (and not that expensive). Here are some ideas [NOTE: all links are shown as examples of the item, not a sample of the end-all and be-all of garden tools, plants, etc, so let the browser be aware]:

  • Dirt (well, actually potting soil) may be welcomed, if accompanied by fancy pots and seeds for a window ledge herb garden
  • Tools* — check your local hardware store or garden center for trowels; small hand pruners; whimsical, practical, or inexpensive gardening gloves; garden kneelers to protect the knees, and plant identification stakes (for an example of what these look like, check here — you can make them from wood, with hand printed labels in indelible ink)
  • Books — search used bookstores for out-of-print gems [I once found a huge tome on plants from the 1930s], or pick up something new on the plant your gardener is mad about (there are books that focus on grasses, salvia, bulbs, cacti, rhododendrons… you name it)
  • Pick up a green houseplant, like a jade plant or Christmas cactus
  • Consider geography — for instance, if the ground is frozen, the gardener won’t be able to plant roses** right away, but you can catalog order plants and bulbs for delivery at the right time and give a card (or just give a gift certificate)
  • Try this cute idea — get a flower pot mug, and place a chamomile seed packet or a small plastic liner with dirt and a mint plant inside (or fancy tea or coffee)

*Many companies make kid-sized garden equipment and gloves, too

**Apparently, January is considered a good time to plant roses in Tucson, AZ. Who knew you could grow roses in the desert? Not me. Guess that’s why I’m not The Gardener.