Gifts for adults are tricky. By the time we’ve been around for three decades or more, there isn’t much of anything that would fit in a wrapped present that most of us actually need. As for guessing what someone would want – so often those types of gifts tend to end up forgotten in the back of a drawer.
In my relentlessly practical Chinese family, adults don’t exchange gifts at all. But in my gregarious Ohio in-law family, the idea of no gifts is unimaginably bah-humbug. So every year I give out a small useful gift that no doubt my in-laws think is hopelessly boring, and months later I’m tickled when they tell me how much they love it and use it.
This year I’m giving out Nubian Heritage soaps – silky bars of shea butter and other comfortingly recognizable ingredients. Two college grads from Liberia, Richelieu Dennis and Nyema Tubman, started the company in 1992 using family recipes for traditional shea-based African soaps. Dennis had years of experience making soaps with his grandmother (yay for grandmas!), and the two partners went from making soap in bathtubs to now selling their wondrous skin-savers at Whole Foods Market.
Before I discovered Nubian Heritage, I didn’t really understand other people’s fascination with fancy soaps – to me soap was just a tool to get clean. But now I’m a total convert. And at $3 a bar, it’s a daily pleasure I’m happy to indulge.
My household has different soap needs – I’m super dry and eczema-prone, my husband has oily skin, my kids don’t like most scents – but we all adore the Nubian Heritage soaps. After a lifetime of colorless, hypoallergenic, unscented cleansers, I am so excited to use a gorgeous, fragrant soap that doesn’t upset my skin. My husband, formerly Mr Irish Spring, loves that the soaps clean extremely well but doesn’t leave his skin feeling dry. My kids also love the soft feel and light scent.
I keep giving spare bars away to guests emerge from the bathroom raving about the soap. Sometimes it’s the smell they love – light and natural essential oils, without the heavy perfumes of regular soaps – but mostly it’s the way their skin feels after using it.
Nubian Heritage soaps come in several varieties. I’ve tried the raw shea butter soap, which with oils of frankincense and myrrh is the most fragrant of the ones I’ve tried. The mango butter soap is sweetly fruity. The African black soap is dramatically striking – made from palm ash, black soap has been used traditionally in Africa to treat a number of skin ailments. It foams up white, but Nubian Heritage’s version also has oatmeal in it, which does tend to leave a few bits in the shower. But a little extra vigilance rinsing it down is small price to pay for the skin benefits.
You can buy Nubian Heritage soaps at Whole Foods, Wegman’s, Earth Fare and Fairway. Online at VitaminShoppe. I like to order from a California company called iHerb – a bit cheaper than Vitamin Shoppe with great service and free domestic AND international shipping over $40. Use the code LIL330 to save $5 off your first order.
And now a couple of hits from past Christmases:
One year I gave out plug-in rechargeable flashlights that turn on automatically when the power goes out. My Ohio family was politely appreciative, but I knew they were thinking, “You call that a gift?” With storms in both summer and winter, the power goes out often in Ohio. Within a few months, everyone had had occasion to be thankful for the emergency flashlight shining bright when everything else went dark.
Another year I bought supercompact reusable bags that fit in a pocket or the smallest of purses. I carry a couple around at all times and almost never use disposable bags anymore. My standby are Baggu bags (pictured below), which fold up and store in a small pouch. Others, such as Flip & Tumble, roll up into a compact ball. Online store Reuseit.com has a huge selection. I find my Baggus hold at least twice the amount of a similarly-shaped plastic grocery bag (though now Baggu has more sizes – small, compact, and large – mine are compact, $9-10 each). And I just throw them into the machine whenever they need a wash.
Colorful reusable bags are also a fun way to wrap presents, and with prices as low as $5, they aren’t that much more expensive than paper gift bags.
Shouldn’t it be mid-December already? Two weeks of post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas stress already, and it’s only December 6. I’m ready to wrap up this gift madness and start making gingerbread cookies. How about you?