Christmas 2020 was only the second time we missed holiday season in Ohio in 27 years of marriage – the only other time was when I was super pregnant 18 years ago. But life teaches us to embrace change or be steamrolled by it, and after Christmas the six of us took what turned out to be one of the best hikes in our lives in the stunning Marin headlands, ending in this stunning #nofilter Golden Gate Bridge sunset. It took away some of the sting from missing a white Christmas with our Ohio family.
With all the dire reports of supply chain issues this year, I’ve been on the Christmas lookout since October. Fortunately my kids are older now (aged 13-20), and I’m blessedly relieved of the weight of the Santa hat. But I still love a great gift – useful, whimsical and hopefully filling a need the recipient didn’t even know they had.
I’m late getting this post out, but as usual my choices are practical items you won’t find on any lists of hot gift ideas. Only the last one is an Etsy store in Paris that won’t deliver in time for Christmas. But it’s now two years that I missed telling you early enough, so I’m just putting it here to avoid disappointing myself again next year. It’ll be your secret source for birthday/graduation/etc gifts in 2022.
So here are my gift ideas for 2021. I hope they bring a smile to you and the loved ones on your list.
I’m a little obsessed with the practicality, versatility and beachy stripes of these colorful Turkish towels. Unlike heavy terry cloth towels, the flat weave fabric dries quickly and doesn’t hold sand, and you can wrap the soft cotton fabric around you as a cover-up or sarong. The towels are fantastic for travel, doubling as a shawl or lap blanket on the plane and as a quick-dry towel on the beach. On Amazon you can find an organic cotton hammam towel for $17 or a set of 6 hammam towels for $47.
Even when there are school projects due, tests to study for or laundry to put away, my girls seem to find time to do their nails. I’ve come to view it as a form of self-therapy, and they’re remarkably fantastic at it. The most I can do is a sloppy job on my toes, which no one will ever see at a close distance. No doubt my girls will take their skills to a new level with these nail art tools. It’s art therapy for the bargain price of $6.50 on Amazon.
Is it weird to admit how much utility and horrified amusement this lighted ear cleaning tool has provided for our family this past year? Apparently constant wearing of earbuds seems to exacerbate wax buildup, or at least makes it more noticeable to my peeps. My 13-year-old does the rounds with these tools like an old country doctor making house calls, and she reports to everyone the status of everyone else’s ears (no HIPAA privacy laws in effect here). The pink-cased set is $14 on Amazon, and the penlight feature is a game changer.
One of my favorite tools in the kitchen, partly because it’s adorable and partly because it’s so useful. It’s the perfect little cutting and serving tool for anything in a baking dish – brownies, lasagna, scalloped potatoes, etc – making it easy to slice out a serving size. This year I got smart and bought myself a second one, so at brunch I can have one for coffee cake and one for egg strata. Oxo mini turner, $9 on Amazon.
Every parent needs this battery tester in the house during those light-flashing, sound-effect-blaring years of battery-operated toys. My kids are older now, so mostly I use the tool to find out whether stray batteries on countertops are on their way out of or into game controllers. This $6 battery tester easily pays for itself in rescued batteries, and it works for all sizes of batteries in the house, including button types.
We bought a weighted hula hoop last Christmas as part of our effort to keep everyone active and entertained indoors. Everyone took a turn, and by the end we were all crying laughing. I can’t say if the heavier hoop is actually better for building core strength, but I can say it is hilariously entertaining to watch people try to remember how to hula hoop. We have the 3-lb Sports Hoop ($46) but this 2-lb weighted hoop ($24) is probably a better weight and diameter for indoors.
Despite my aversion to fitness equipment, I’ve developed a genuine fondness for our mini trampoline/rebounder – another pandemic purchase, to make up for the loss of gyms, sports and dance studios. It’s quick and efficient exercise, and we’ll get a few minutes in as we watch TV, listen to music, or just carry on a conversation with someone sitting on the couch. The bouncing movement is particularly great for bone health and lymphatic circulation, and it’s fun and gloriously free of electronics. The one we have is the JumpSport 350 trampoline, $299 at Amazon, which is cleverly constructed with bungees instead of squeaky springs. For my mom, I’m recommending the version with a handlebar, which Costco sells for $349.
The Airex Coronella exercise mat is the answer to why anyone would spend $85-100 on a yoga mat when you can get a cheapie for $15-20: it is that much better. Comfortably thick, supportive and resilient, this is a mat with longevity and endurance. Our friend Thom uses them at his gym, and Thom knows all.
Part stuffed animal, part pillow, Squishmallows have become a popular toy in recent years. This seriously large Hello Kitty Squishmallow at Costco ($28) is a granddaddy (grandkitty?) of its kind. It’s listed as 20″ tall but seems maybe even taller. But it would make a cheerful, giant bed pillow for your favorite Sanrio fan.
Not just for vloggers, the ring light has become a household staple. If you’re still holding out, this Christmas may be time to get a ring light for someone in your house so you can borrow it as needed without feeling like you caved to personal vanity. 12″ ring light at Amazon, $37.
For those of us who wrestle with what we think could happen, should happen or simply want to happen, Zen Shorts gently reminds us that the meaning of events in our life is beyond our control. My kids loved the simple stories and charming watercolors, but the lessons in it were most definitely for me: that good luck may in time turn out to be bad luck and vice versa, and it’s foolishly short-sighted to judge the events of our daily lives. A missed turn could avoid an accident, or a lucky break could turn out disastrous. Only time will tell. An especially great book to give after the turmoil of recent years.
I’m sorry to say you will not receive this gorgeous, delicate jewelry by Christmas, as it comes from lovely jeweler Sarah in Paris. But you can order before she closes up for the holidays, which she does on both her website and Etsy shop, and print a photo of your treasures to wrap under the tree. I promise the wait is worth it, and the quality of Sarah’s items are outstanding for the price. The necklaces above, plated in 18K gold, are around $25-28 (prices on Etsy are slightly higher than on the Kurafuchi website).
As always, you can find more in the gift ideas archives. Wishing you elves healthy and happy holidays!