43 days til christmas

Holiday gift guide 2015

18 November 2015

Supersoft beanies and disco lights, teepees, the world’s best almonds, jewelry and my usual assortment of silly stocking stuffers, this year’s collection is more eclectic than in the past, as the kids in the extended family are growing up.

In five years, this is the earliest I’ve ever gotten out a holiday gift guide. Woohoo! Hope this helps you get a jumpstart too.

Disco light

disco light

This nifty little plug-in is a party on the go. Get a group of kids, a dark room, loud music, and this spinning, rainbow disco light ($9) will keep them going forever. It’s kind of amazing how such a tiny piece of equipment (5×3-inches) can throw off so much fun. I love giving this to my daughter’s friends, who all seem to have karaoke in their future.

The perfect beanie

neff beanie grey slouch

I gave this supersoft beanie to everyone last Christmas, and both adults and kids instantly fell in love with its fun, casual slouch. Lightweight and stretchy, the Neff daily beanie ($11-14) comes in a million great colors (including heathered and striped) and has just the right amount of skater cool.

World’s best almonds

rodin almonds

Rodin Farms sells its insanely amazing almonds at farmers markets all around the San Francisco bay area, market goers crowding the booth to sample savory flavors such as hickory smoked, chile con limon and jalapeno cheese, as well as sweet bestsellers like orange honey, butter toffee and sesame glazed.

I can make a decent version of their perfect honey roasted almonds, but I am hopelessly hooked on the hickory smoked and chile con limon. They sell a delicious honey-roasted almond butter too. Almond lovers everywhere can order from their website. Shipping charges are not cheap, but these are seriously the best almonds you will find anywhere.

Quadcopter (drone)

syma x11

As I’d expected, the drone I got for my older son last Christmas lasted no more than 10 minutes before he and his crowd of cousins crashed it – which I can only hope was an excellent lesson in the importance of reading directions. Fortunately I had taken advantage of Amazon’s $5 insurance plan, so I returned it with no fuss.

This year I’m trying again. Reviewers say this little red Syma X11 ($22) is relatively durable and easy to control, and the fact that it’s small (6×6-inch) and suitable for flying indoors is great for Christmas in Ohio. The remote is similar to an Xbox 360 controller, so this model is geared toward the video game crowd more than the RC fanatics.

As with all small drones, battery life is short (5 minutes), but you can buy spare batteries and battery charger. I will also warn the kids to let the motor rest 10-15 minutes between flights to prevent the motor from burning out. If you buy this for Christmas, remember also to get 4 AA batteries for the remote.

syma x11c

Cameras on drones are super creepy and, in my mind, just another thing to break. But if you want one, the camera-equipped version is the Syma X-11C, $38. Keep in mind the quality won’t be great, especially indoors. You’ll spend almost double vs the non-camera version, but the good news is that Amazon offers camera insurance for it (“2-year drops and spills” – a no-brainer for an airborne camera). At $5, insurance is definitely worth it for a toy whose days (and maybe hours) are almost certainly numbered.

Pin art frame

pin art frame

Somehow this classic pin art frame, million metal pins that make an impression when you push your hand or face into it, has captured the imagination of my third grade son and his friends at school. This is one toy you’ll want to check when it arrives – from the reviews, it sounds like there are a lot of lemons out there that are DOA, but if you get a good one, it should last.

Lanyard cord

lanyard cord

Does anyone remember weaving lanyards from colorful cord in the ’80s?


My Rainbow Loom-fixated first grader just learned about lanyards at a friend’s house and has added lanyard weaving to her expanding repertoire of handicrafts. Give that girl a pile of lanyard string and YouTube, and she’ll be a master in no time.

Sewing book

sewing school book

My 7-year-old is obsessed with sewing, a skill she picked up from my mom this year. Crafts now are more often – and often more easily – learned by kids on YouTube, but for sewing I thought this book might be good for covering the basics. A beginner sewing kit rounds out the theme.

Canvas teepee

landofnod floral teepee

landofnod stripe teepee

Made for little kids but big enough for larger ones too, this ridiculously charming teepee from Land of Nod ($199 with floor cushion; $159 without) is hard to resist. Lightweight and easy to move, the teepee also collapses down easily for storage. But it’s so cute I actually wouldn’t mind having it up all the time.


toshiba chromebook

After a couple years of the kids always needing to borrow our laptops after school, we finally got smart last Christmas and got two Chromebooks for the four to share. They’re internet machines, without the hard drive of laptops, and the kids use them in the classroom too for everything from Google Docs to Khan Academy.

Less versatile than a real computer – and, much to my sons’ dismay, no good for gaming without a hard drive – Chromebooks are basic but sufficient for kids doing schoolwork online. And at a lower price point, I feel less anxious about the inevitable accident befalling it.

Chromebooks sell in the $160-300 range, depending on processor speed and screen size/quality. Ours is the Toshiba chromebook ($270) pictured above.

Rainbow scratch art

scratch art notes

I love the simple fun of scratch art – drawing on a coated black page with a wood stylus to reveal bright colors below – and this set of scratch art notes (box of 125 4×4-inch cards for $8) will give each of the cousins a stack of little pages. I’ll also get some extra wooden stylus sticks (25 for $2.50) so everyone can have their own.



Maybe it’s the cute graphics, or the whimsical flavors – grape soda, jelly donut, sarsaparilla – but kids love these colored, scented pencils called Smencils (10 for $14). They’ll divvy up as a bright little stocking stuffers, and the kids will have fun exchanging sniffs.

Japanese animal erasers

iwako animal erasers

No one uses them to erase anything, but these Japanese animal erasers are silly, cute, and kids like taking apart their pieces and putting them back together. Trading these and Smencils will also give the kids some amusement (and negotiating practice) on Christmas.

Invisible ink pens

invisible ink pen

These little plastic pens write with invisible ink and have a built-in UV light for reading it. I think the 13 cousins will have a hilarious time with these at Christmas, but I ordered more than I needed since they are of course cheap items from China. Amazon sells a pack of 4 and by the dozen (or more) if you buy for a pack of kids like I do.

Travel charger

voltready travel charger

Ever since my clever friend Russ gave me a slim battery pack he designed with a built-in iPhone charging plug, I haven’t left home without it. Unfortunately he doesn’t manufacture it anymore, so I’ve had to find a replacement for friends who want one. This Voltready travel charger ($25), smaller than a phone and slimmer, has both a built-in lightning cable and micro USB cable. So you can charge an Apple device, an Android device, a Kindle – or two at once. Crazy convenient.

Organic coffee bean eye cream

coffee bean eye cream pure

I love this simple tube of eye cream from 100% Pure ($25 for 1 ounce). Free of parabens, pthalates and other harmful additives found in most cosmetics, this as natural as eye cream gets. Its anti-inflammatory formula comes from a combination of aloe, coffee, rosehip, green tea, rosemary and other stuff you can recognize. Plus the compact tube is perfect for travel.

Hawaiian puka shell necklace

ninakuna puka necklace

I’ve been daydreaming of Hawaii ever since I came back from visiting my inspiring friend J, who moved from California to Hawaii a year ago. J turned me on to this lovely, adorable 14-carat gold filled puka shell necklace from a Maui jeweler on Etsy. Cast from a real Hawaiian puka shell, the pendant comes in small ($24) and large ($28) on a delicate 16-, 18- or 20-inch chain.

Fingerless gloves

american apparel fingerless gloves

I didn’t get fingerless gloves in the ’80s, but in the touchscreen/texting era of 2015 they make perfect sense. I like the look of the wool ones pictured above from American Apparel ($12), and the Flashdance-like scrunchy arm-warmer look of these long ones from Nordstrom ($19).

fingerless gloves nordstrom

I’m going to try the dark teal long ones for my always-chilly daughter, to go with the dark teal down vest we are getting her from Uniqlo. It could be overkill, or it could be awesome. And speaking of Uniqlo…

Down outerwear from Uniqlo

uniqlo down vest

Sort of a Japanese version of the Gap, Uniqlo came to New York a decade ago and has expanded to other, mostly urban, locations in the US since. In recent years the brand has appeared more focused on expansion than design, but it remains a consistently great source for high-quality, affordable outerwear for men, women, boys and girls. The down coats and jackets are fantastic, and in California I live in my down vest (pictured above; $60 on sale now, normally $80).

I haven’t tried Uniqlo’s warm, light HeatTech innerwear (eczema limits me to natural fibers), but it’s soft, lightweight, warm and very popular.

Uniqlo has a number of US locations, and online orders over $50 ship free.

Hammered disk earrings

gold hammered disk earrings

I know you can find these anywhere, but I will vouch for the quality of these tiny, shiny earrings from Etsy. At $10 for sterling silver and $15 for 14-karat gold filled, they are a great value and perfect everyday earrings. Oh, and they come in rose gold too.

More holiday gift lists from the archives:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Matthews 18 November 2015 at 5:26 pm

These are fantastic! On one hand I want to tell everyone I know about this post because it is such a great resource…but on the other hand, I want to selfishly keep it under wraps so I can gift without competition! (But I’ll share – because there are enough gems here to go around!)

Thanks for your diligent research!



Ray 18 November 2015 at 5:27 pm

Check out Wizgloves (and whatever clones exist out there) for gloves that work with touchscreens.


cg 18 November 2015 at 5:40 pm

thanks ray! i have seen texting gloves with conductive fingertips, but generally people say they don’t work so well. and of course they are never great looking, which is really what counts. =P


Elizabeth 18 November 2015 at 11:28 pm

Your amazing as usual! Thanks lil!!!!


Brooke Rakow 19 November 2015 at 2:51 pm

I look forward to this post every year. Can’t wait to start online shopping. Thanks for the inspiration! Love to you and the fam this holiday season.


patti 19 November 2015 at 5:29 pm

Amazing gifts Lilian!!! Great selections!❤️


Jamie 10 December 2015 at 5:45 pm

Love your ideas, Lilian!!


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