Another holiday gift guide (almost as cool as Oprah’s)

The holidays are upon us!  Which means it’s time to increase your dose of Wellbutrin!  Kidding not kidding.  Aside from taking all major psychiatric precautions to steel yourself for the all awkward office cocktail parties, family togetherness, and billions of festive activities your kids simply must attend, we need to get our shopping done.   For just as the three wise men got some amazing doorbuster deals and then went to the manger bearing lavish gifts, so must we celebrate one another by trying to surprise our loved ones with something special and unique and then giving up and just getting them a candle or a picture frame.  Yankee candles if you’re fancy.

In this spirit, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite things.  I am not giving away any free gifts, because I am not Oprah (though there is some resemblance around the eyes, don’t you think?)  My blog is not sponsored so I do not get any kind of financial kick back.  I share this with you out of pure love.  Consider it frankincense.

The Ridge wallet

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I do not take any credit for finding this sleek little wallet.  My brother in law had one, and I liked it so much I got one for my husband last year, who HATES carrying a wallet due to the bulk.  This one is definitely the most compact wallet you can get, especially considering how many cards you can get in there.  You can get ones with a money clip on one side, if you’re the kind of person that carries cash.  Priced from $72- $115, depending on style and metal.

A mug for your favorite feminist

If you have never visited Emily McDowell’s website, I highly recommend that you do!  You will find all kinds of fun, giftable items and cards.  All made with a little dash of snark.  My favorite!  Though I am generally against gifting mugs, this one is perfect for your office.  Be sure to bring to your next male dominated staff meeting and position yourself strategically.  $15.

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Wrist inspiration

I got one of these for myself last year, and I wear it almost every day.  I think it makes a thoughtful and very affordable gift.  Some of them are a little cheesy, so be mindful of your recipient’s cheese tolerance.  Mine says “warrior”, if you’re wondering.  From $25- $35, depending on which metal you choose.

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My favorite dainty necklace

Noonday Collection is a really awesome socially conscious fashion brand that partners with artisans around the world, providing dignified work and creating a marketplace for artisans to sell their goods.  They create fair-trade, living wage jobs in vulnerable communities, and the results are a beautiful collection of handmade items.  I love all of the jewelry from Noonday Collection, but this one is the piece that I wear the most.  It is light, pretty, and goes with everything.  It is made in Ethiopia from upcycled metal and artillery.  Can you believe?  They collect artillery shells from the ugliness of war and violence, and use it to make something so beautiful.  Each piece of jewelry has a story.  You can even shop by country or origin.

Socially conscious accessories

Leather and Inner tube Messenger Bag, Asphalt

These are some items from another socially conscious fashion brand, Deux Mains, located in Haiti.   These sandals (currently on sale for $31.50), are so unique, because the soles are made from upcycled tires!  I had the privilege of visiting the factory and store front when I visited Haiti, and can attest to the beauty and craftsmanship of their pieces.  The sandals are super comfortable too (I have a pair of flip flops with a gorgeous cobalt blue leather upper).  Deux mains empowers people in Haiti by creating jobs that pay a living wage, with the mission of breaking the poverty cycle.  That means every purchase promotes economic growth in addition to creating local jobs.  The use of upcycled tires in all of their shoes and many of their other pieces also means that their products are environmentally friendly.  Every item is made in Haiti, but they do have a warehouse in Miami, making shipping within the US affordable.  If you are looking to spend a little more,  this messenger bag (on sale for $122.50) made from locally sourced leather and inner tubes is a unique and useful piece for the laptop carrier in your life.

Snarky little sticky notes

These hilarious sticky notes make awesome stocking stuffers or a little something fun for your colleagues.  They are sold separately or in bundles, and many of them are available on Amazon if you want to take advantage of your Prime shipping.  There is something for everyone–from your industrious friend who makes a ton of lists, to your potty mouth family member who likes their sticky notes a little swear-y.

A Classic Clutch

Not every girl is the type to carry a clutch, but it is such a nice classic thing to have in your wardrobe for a night out.  This one is simple, inexpensive, and will go with most everything.  $39.95 with free shipping.

Marlena Faux Leather Foldover Clutch, Main, color, JET BLACK

The most comfortable pants on the continent

Perhaps you are shopping for someone who would appreciate a pair of comfy pants more than a handbag (raises hand).  I just bought these for myself and I wish I never ever ever had to take them off.  Also this site almost always has a sale, so wait for one instead of paying full price ($69.50, but there is usually some kind of sale going on where you can save 25-40%).  If you need some guidance regarding how and when to wear your comfy pants, see my previous post about this important matter.

For someone you won’t offend by pointing out their seasonal affective mood changes

Winter is long here in the northeast.  Some of us work long days under fluorescent lights with no windows, which doesn’t help.  This little light looks like a tablet and is supposed to help ward off the winter blues.  The “personal light therapy” claims to help regulate mood and sleep patterns, and improve energy and focus.  I bought one two weeks ago and have been using it at my desk for 15-20 minutes after I arrive at work.  It creates quite a spectacle for people passing by my office.  So, look out world!  I’m going to be sooooo perky this winter, you won’t even recognize me!  I figure if it doesn’t work, I’m only out $44.95.

Verilux HappyLight Lucent 10,000 Lux LED Bright White Light Therapy Lamp

For people who like to stay organized

Oh man, could I every use one of these!  Every time we go on a trip as a family, everyone has charging cords EVERYWHERE.    Brilliant.  And very affordable at $20.Travel Cord Roll

In addition to holiday consumerism, you may wish to give to some charitable causes.  There are so many out there.  But here are a few that I love:

Heartline Ministries Haiti – A fantastic organization in Haiti committed to supporting Haitian families.  They have a birth center in Port-au-Prince where women can enter their maternity program, which gives them prenatal care, a safe place to give birth, and parenting support to help prevent economic orphans and decrease maternal-infant mortality.  They also have some wonderful educational programs that empower women, teaching them English and valuable job skills so that they can help support their families.

International Child Care Ministries  – You can sponsor a child for as little as $30 per month, which helps support that child’s education, among other things.  We have one child in India and one in Rwanda, and oh, how I love to watch them grow.

Together Rising – This is a wonderful organization that sponsors various causes as a community– each person giving a small gift to make big beautiful things happen.  The general rule is that people give no more than $25 toward a cause,  “small things with great love”.  This ensures that everyone feels included, and that everyone can know that they can make a huge difference, even if they can only give a little.  The love flash mobs are the BEST.  The call for help toward a cause will come, and the “flash mob” tries to raise as much as they can in a 24 hour period, with the $25 rule.   Watching millions of dollars come in from Love Warriors around the world in that short time is totally awesome and restores your faith in humanity.

The Ugandan Water Project – This is an organization based close to where I live.  I actually went to college with one of the guys who founded it, so that’s pretty cool.  The UWP works in partnership with different communities in Uganda to help provide safe water, hygiene, and sanitation solutions.  They do excellent work.

If you have a charitable cause that you love, tell me about it!

What NOT to buy for the holidays

Well friends, here in the USA, it is almost Thanksgiving, and the holiday shopping rush will soon be upon us.  I would like to take a little time to discuss with you, my kind readers, a few tips for  your holiday shopping lists.  I know most of the articles you are accustomed to reading around this time of year talk about the “best gifts to give” or the “hottest toys of the year”, but I think that sometimes knowing what not to buy can be just as informative, if not more informative, than a list of most-wanted items.  With this in mind,  I am going to take you through some of the worst things to ever take up space on our family’s personal toy shelves. Because I love all of you, I have compiled a list of the most annoying, most obnoxious, most unworthy toys that you should definitely NOT  put on your Christmas lists.  Grandparents–listen up!  This goes for you too!  So without further ado, here are the most annoying toys we have ever owned:

Tickle me Elmo TMX edition:  My son received this on his second birthday, and it scared the crap out of him the first dozen times we used it.  Pressing Elmo’s belly or foot induces a fit of muppet laughter which sometimes includes hysterics such as rolling over, kicking his legs, and pounding his paws on the floor.  Once Nate got over his crippling fear, it was kind of funny, for a little while.  But after your toddler compulsively pushes Elmo’s tummy  80 times in a row before breakfast, it is NOT  FUNNY ANYMORE.  Also, we nearly went broke trying to keep batteries in this thing.  It took 6 AA batteries, and Elmo ate those things like he was at some kind of all-you-can-eat battery buffet.  When the batteries would start to fizzle out, we would sometimes hear Elmo give a random, unprompted giggle from the bottom of the toy box while we were trying to unwind after the kids were in bed.  Creepy.  A special thank you to my in-laws for bringing this red fuzzy ball of laughter into our lives.  Pretty sure they don’t sell this one anymore, but there are lots of other talking/giggling variations on this theme that would be worthwhile staying away from.

Despicable Me Fart Blaster:  Again, this one came to us as a gift from my in-laws.  I love you guys.  Also, are you mad at me?  Did I do something wrong?  I really try to be a good daughter-in-law, so it is hard for me to understand your insatiable need to torture me with battery-operated toys.  In my in-laws defense, my sweet, delicate daughter did ask for this toy by name a few years ago.  This toy is a hit with pretty much every kid who has ever stepped foot into our house, for obvious reasons.  Compared with all of our other toys, it also spends an inordinate amount of time out of reach in our uppermost cabinet in “time out”.  It basically looks like an air horn, with a variety of fart sounds for your enjoyment.  Really great for those of you trying to discourage the constant potty humor with your school-age children.  There is a  similar item on the market which looks equally annoying, called the Tech Gear Multi-Voice Changer.  I suggest steering clear for the sake of your sanity.

Moon Sand:  There are no words for how much I despise this stuff.  Some kid whose mother obviously hates me gave this to one of my kids at a birthday party, and the next thing I knew it was everywhere. In every nook and cranny, between every floorboard, in every tiny crevice.  And because it doesn’t absorb water and never dries out, it is completely impossible to clean up.  Ugh.  I kept waiting to get an invite back to that kid’s party so we could give him an ant farm with a hole in it.

Melissa and Doug Band in a Box:  This one was my fault.  I bought this for the kids one Christmas thinking it would be a fun way to foster a love of music in my young children.  Indeed, when the were crawlers and early walkers, it was just too precious to watch them shaking the little maracas and tapping on the tambourine in time to their favorite kiddie music.  But as they got older, it became apparent that this toy was just another way for them to make a ridiculous amount of noise.   And you know what?  They do not need any help with that.  And the cymbals, good heavens , the cymbals.  Remember that skit from SNL with Will Farrell and the cow bell?  “You know what this needs?  MORE COW BELL!  It’s just like that, except with cymbals.  Help me, Jesus.

Squawking Rubber Chicken:  I am happy to tell you that we have never owned this toy.  Whoever came up with this idea is the devil incarnate.  Seriously.  If you don’t believe me, check out this video of the chicken in action.

Trust me when I tell you this: when it comes to toys, less is more.  Toys that make less noise, toys that have less pieces to keep track of, toys that require less (or no) batteries, and toys that do not take 2 hours to assemble.  Allow these principles to be your guiding light as you shop for the children in your life.

While we are on the subject of holiday giving, let’s have a quick chat about your child’s teacher.  Most of us feel the need to get a little something for teachers at holiday time.  My husband used to teach elementary school and would himself come home with bags filled with tokens of appreciation the day before Christmas break.  And while your teachers all appreciate the thought and spirit behind the gifts, as the wife of a former teacher, I implore you:  Do not buy your child’s teacher a mug.  Please trust me on this.  Yes, even if it is filled with candy or other confections.  Every year, we would receive an average of 10-15 mugs from students per year. First year:  “Yay!  Look at all the hot chocolate we can drink!”  Second year:  ummm…I don’t have any more room in the cabinets for those mugs, honey, might have to use some to hold your pencils at school.  Third year:  “If you bring home any more mugs, I will cut you”.  So please, just don’t.  Just say “no” to mugs, kids.

I do have a few fun suggestions though, for those of you who are looking for some creative and meaningful gifts*.  These are not well suited to young kids (who rarely appreciate creative and meaningful gifts anyway!) but may find a place on your list for other special people in your life.  Here are a few things I have come across recently that I really love:

Deux Mains:  This is great little shop that I was introduced to while in Haiti earlier this year.  Deux Mains is a small footwear company in Port-au-Prince that exists to empower Haitians to be financially self-sufficient by creating jobs that pay a fair living wage.  They partner with Rebuild Globally, a non-profit organization that engages in business development, job training, and education in Haiti.  They sell some of the most beautiful (and comfortable!) sandals and flip-flops I have ever worn, and, neato-skeeto, they use recycled tires to make them!  You can order their products online, which will ship from their warehouse in Miami, but rest assured that the labor of love all takes place in Haiti.

Noonday Collection:  This is another fair-trade business that sells jewelry and accessories from artisans all over the world.  Your purchase helps to support the artisans in their respective countries and provide dignified employment.   You can shop by country or just browse the collection online.

Mantrabands:  I am really digging these.  They look so stylish and fun stacked up, and you can pick the message(s) you want as your own personal mantra.

Emily McDowell Studio:  I really love this little online shop that sells cards, journals, and gifts that are both hilarious and refreshingly honest.  Need a little something for that person you know who is going through a hard time?  You will likely find it here.

Story People:  A good friend introduced me to this sweet little shop filled with art that combines whimsical illustrations with soul-soothing poetry.  You can find cards, books, calendars, ornaments, and the like here.  If nothing else, it is so fun just to peruse all of the different “stories”.

Design-her gals:  This site is so much fun, and great for that friend on your list who likes personalized stationary.  You can create an account for free, and then design and save any number of “gals”  (or guys) to look like you, your best friend, your mom, your sister, or whoever is on your list.  Kind of like a bitmoji (though this company predates bitmojis by almost a decade).  Then you can have your personalized image printed up on whatever gift item you choose from the store’s offerings.

So, talk to me!   What are the most annoying toys to ever enter YOUR house?  What would you never buy again?  And what are your favorite gifts of the moment?

*My blog is not sponsored, so I am not trying to sell you anything!  These are just some of my personal favorites!  Kind of like “Oprah’s favorite things” but way less famous and with no giveaways!