Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #33: Gift Guide Edition, Part I

Hi all,

I promised that I would avoid politics in the Digest, so while I know that topic is on everyone's minds right now, I am not going to discuss my feelings about the election, but I would be remiss not to say a few words of gratitude: Thank you so much to everyone who voted in this election this year, whomever you voted for.  And an extra special thank you to Carol, Jenny, and everyone else who took the time, the energy, and the risk to be a poll worker this year - you inspire me, and I am grateful for your hard work.  This year, more than ever, you made a tremendous difference - thank you for making voting possible in a year in which this fundamental right was, logistically if nothing else, more difficult to exercise than ever before.

And now to turn to one of my absolute favorite topics: gift-giving!  For as long as I can remember, one of the greatest feelings in the world, for me, has been finding the perfect gift for someone - the one that recalls a favorite memory of our friendship or that perfectly fits their needs.  So imagine my joy when I experienced my very first Christmas, at the age of 22, when I accompanied my husband to his hometown of Haines, Alaska, to visit my (then-future) in-laws.  I had no idea what Christmas was actually like, but I imagined it would be a lot like Hanukkah - which in my family generally meant one gift per night for each family member.  So I loaded up my suitcase with three gifts (one for Luke and one for each of his parents), plus a bonus gift of an ornament from NYC (if I remember correctly, it was a yellow taxi with the year - 2008 - emblazoned on it, from the Macy's in Herald Square).  To my great surprise, Christmas in Alaska was a far more involved event than I had imagined!  There was a big pile of presents, and we took turns opening them up one by one, with Luke carefully distributing them to their intended recipients.  And after all that, I was handed a stocking bursting with chocolates and toys and hand warmers, and local artisan treasures like soaps and jewelry.  I was overwhelmed, and embarrassed that I had brought only one gift, but I felt so welcomed and loved.  And when I realized that I would be allowed to indulge my gift-giving dreams for future holidays, I was overcome with joy.

The next year, I approached the holidays with my usual gusto, searching high and low in stores of all specialties and sizes and scouring the internet for the perfect fit for each person.  By September, I had blown through my gift budget, and that was before the stores had even begun trying to convince me of the millions of stocking stuffers that I "must have" or showering me with endless emails suggesting what I should get for each person in my life.  I researched how to tie the perfect bow and I bought the most gorgeous wrapping paper I could find at The Container Store's Gift Wrap Wonderland (before realizing just how difficult it is to ship an oddly-shaped thing like wrapping paper to Alaska).

But here's the thing: That feeling I mentioned?  It's not just about the gifts.  It's about getting to know the recipients.  Throughout that year, I hung on every word my in-laws said on every phone call we had with them; I probed Luke's stories about them to get every detail I could about their likes and dislikes and personalities; I paid attention when we visited them that summer to those comments we all make in passing of "Oh, I should really get one of those [blanks]." or "You know, I've never seen one of those [blanks], but they sound pretty cool." or even just those things that frustrated them in the course of daily activities for which there might be a gadget.  I got to know them on a much deeper level than I might have otherwise.  And that winter, I showed up prepared!  (Maybe too prepared - I've since worked on finding a good balance. lol).

My point is that it's not about the gift itself - what it is, or how much it cost, or which brand's label is stuck on it.  It's about what that gift says about its recipient, about its giver, and about the relationship between the two.  For example, one of the best gifts I've ever given and received (long story) was a stuffed Spongebob Squarepants.  The joy I get from it (still!) is palpable - it instantly reminds me of Petra, to this day one of the best friends I've ever had (I love you, Petra!).  The best gifts are those that make the recipient smile - not because it's fancy, but because they either genuinely love the thing and are amazed at how thoughtful you were to have picked it out for them, or simply because it reminds them of you, and that's a fun and exciting memory all by itself.  And for me at least, I care so much more about the person giving me a gift than what the gift itself might be - just knowing that they thought about me and cared enough to send me something says it all.

This year, I finally get to share my love of gift-giving with all of you.  I'm going to be releasing a gift guide in tranches, or chapters, extending across the next few weeks.  I will also create a Google Doc that I will share next week that contains the full running list, so that you can find all of my suggestions in one place whenever you're ready to actually complete your shopping.  Remember to leave some extra time this year for mail/shipping snafus, and if you need specific gift-giving advice for someone in your life, just let me know - always happy to send some suggestions!

Sorry all - this was a long one, but it's a topic I'm passionate about!  As always, previous digests can be found on my blog at thatsthewaythecookiecrumbles.com.  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know. 

All the best,

For New Pet Owners

  • Pet Bowls with a Timer: For forgetful pet parents (or for when they need to start commuting again).

  • Bed Stairs: To save their adorable hips from the strain of jumping on the bed every night.

  • A Barkbox Subscription: These boxes arrive monthly filled with a variety of toys and treats for your favorite four-legged friend. Considering that Luke and I have never yet owned a dog of our own, it's quite shocking how many Barkboxes we've purchased over the years. Looking for a one-off item instead? Check out their BarkShop!

  • Dental Chew Toy: This awesome gorilla-shaped chew toy does double-duty as a toothbrush (and toothpaste).

  • Pet Hair Laundry Magnet: This FurZapper pet hair magnet for the laundry will help pull some of the dog hair out of your clothes so that they look hair-free for at least five minutes after coming out of the laundry. Once you hug your dog again, all bets are off, though.

  • Pet Hair Removal Sponge: This reusable pet hair removal sponge replaces the need for a lint roller.

  • Chore-Tracking Magnet: Finding it difficult to track who fed the dog today?  This magnet will stop the bickering.

  • Aquaponic Aquarium Planter: Do you want a pet and a plant and only have space on your counter for one?  Think again!  This aquaponic aquarium planter allows your fish and your food to grow together in harmony.  This one is similar, but features a sleek black frame.

For New Homeowners

  • Welcome Mat: A fun welcome mat, like this one for dog and cat owners, or this one for ice skaters and dog lovers, puts the cherry on top every time they come home.

  • Nightstand lamp: I’ve now purchased this lamp half a dozen times for my family, and we all love it.  All you do to turn it on/off is touch any of the metal parts, and the quality of the light is beautiful and soothing.  The dimmest setting will let you find what you’re groping around for on your nightstand; the middle setting is perfect for bedtime reading; and the brightest can even replace your overhead or floor lamp in a small-to-medium-sized bedroom.

  • Christmas Tree: For those who suddenly find themselves with higher ceilings and realize that their decade-old Charlie Brown tree isn’t going to cut it, I bought this one from Michael’s last year for my top-secret surprise Christmas scheme for Luke (thank you yet again to everyone who helped make that happen!), and I couldn’t recommend this tree more highly.  It’s beautiful, sturdy, easy to store and set up (we’ve already set it up again for this year), and it has enough lights that we didn’t need to add any.  It’s tall and looks very full and realistic, but it’s also narrow enough at the bottom that it’s not ridiculous in an NYC apartment where floor space is at a premium. I would be remiss not to mention my favorite tree topper, too: a beautiful Star of David - the perfect compromise for your "Christmukkah tree."

  • Sleep Headphones: Getting used to new sounds at your new home?  These headphones are designed to be comfortable enough to wear all night, and they have a built-in sleep mask as well.

  • Cabinet Door Basket: Space savers are always helpful, no matter what size your home is.  This one is a cheap and easy way to gain storage for items like cookie sheets and cutting boards, and this one holds Ziploc bags, Reynold's Wrap, plastic wrap, etc.

  • Angry Mama: When you own your own appliances, you’re a lot more concerned about their long-term wellbeing.  Help a new homeowner out with helpful tools like the Angry Mama - just add water and vinegar and heat this up to get a helping hand in removing any built-up residue in the microwave.

For Home Chefs

  • Our Place Always Pan: This pan has been recommended by lots of celebrities (including chefs) and supposedly handles a ton of different functions to help you streamline your kitchen (even including a built-in spatula and spoon rest).  It also comes in a wide selection of great colors to match any kitchen.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m eyeing the beautiful purple shade (which, in fact, was one of our wedding colors)!

  • Hot Chocolate Bomb Molds: See here or here.  Just pour melted chocolate into the domes, swirl it around to get an even coating, cool in fridge/freezer until solid, then fill with hot chocolate powder and mini marshmallows or sprinkles, and finally seal two domes together with a little melted-chocolate “glue”.  Voila, hot chocolate bomb!

  • Mixing Bowls: These two sets are both aesthetically pleasing and very efficient, nesting together to save a ton of space in your precious kitchen drawers or cabinets.  They both have non-slip bottoms, too, which is really helpful when you have slippery hands covered in dough or oil, especially on sleek granite countertops.  The Oxo set even includes colanders and lids, doing triple duty in your kitchen and obviating the need for multiple stacks of kitchen tools.

  • Cookbook of Jewish Baking: One thing my people do very well in the kitchen is bread, and this one has dozens of fun takes on traditional recipes, from challah to bagels to babka, and so much more.  Whether your giftee is a seasoned pro or a brand new quarantine chef, they’ll find something fun and new in this collection.

  • Silicone Trivets: You can never have too many, and these are a cost-effective and still attractive way to start the collection.

For Video Gamers
  • Lego Nintendo (NES) and Retro TV Set: This is probably my favorite Lego set of all time. It's hyper-realistic, incredibly fun and innovative, and even features an awesome Easter egg of a classic Mario level hidden behind a panel.
  • Black Milk's Licensed Super Mario Apparel Collection: From a navy button-down blouse dotted with Super Mushrooms to a Princess Peach bomber jacket, this collection of trendy apparel featuring classic characters is pretty Super itself.
  • 8-Bit Customized Drinking Glasses: I can't decide which is more fun - receiving these glasses as a gift, or customizing them for your recipient.
  • Nintendo Switch AR cars: You can build your own Mario Kart racecourse in your home and then play the game on your mobile device as the real-life car races through your real-life course.  This is a perfect item to keep your kids (or your husband) occupied during a particularly long work Zoom.

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