Let the Madness Begin

Kyce from Old Recipe for a New World (she doesn’t write often, but always wonderful) wrote a great post a few weeks back called Letting Go: The Christmas Edition. Oh honey, don’t I know it!

I (love)(hate) Christmas. I really do. I’ve written about it every year since I began blogging [here, here and here], and lord knows I don’t want to repeat myself. Suffice it to say, I seem to be finally catching on that this infernal holiday of compromised values begins in November. It’s taken me a full 34 years to get my head around that. I am determined to be prepared this year, thinking ahead for quality gifts in order to avoid getting caught by the last minute Icky Gifting.

I want to share my few ideas, and get your ideas. If we pool mental resources here, maybe we can pull this off without too much heartbreak. Well, it gives us something to hope for. I’m putting it on my list anyway,

Dear Santa,

This Christmas, please just let me relax and enjoy the generosity of loved ones without too much ethical compromise, personal angst, or familial alienation.

Yours,

CJ

We are spending our Christmas at home this year, with my mom coming. That will help right off the bat. My in-laws, godbless’em, have too much money to restrain at the holidays. My mom would probably go as crazy as them if old-hippie poverty didn’t keep her in check.

For whatever reason, Christmases with my mom are always much smaller than with the in-laws. In fact, it’s one of the best times of year for our otherwise very strained relationship, at least we can bond about Christmas and how it ought to be.

Which is sparkly lights, the smell of evergreen and cinnamon, whispered secrets and The Animals’ Merry Christmas.

My list of secrets so far looks like this:

For the 4yo– a dollhouse. She wrote her first ever letter to Santa asking for one. I am making it myself of course, more on this soon as I realize how in over my head I am.

For the 2yo– a train table. He already has a nice wooden train set, just needs a table and a way to semi-permanently attach the track to it.

For My Man– Oops, tut-tut, he might be reading….

For my mom, sister, MIL and sister-in-law– freshly ground and personally mixed organic spice set. I’m pretty excited about this idea. If you’ve never smelled or used freshly ground spices, it’s an epiphanal moment. It makes you want to sweep your arm through your (inevitably stale) spice cabinet, straight into the trash. All these ladies like to cook, but don’t get to do that much complicated cooking, and I think will appreciate really kick-ass, unique spice blends. I’m going to do a Mexican mole, Moroccan ras al hanout (unbelievable! the smell makes me swoon!) and a not-your-average-Italian blend with juniper berries and fennel. All these are fantastic with meat, but can also rock a pot of beans. I even ordered a pound of fancy Hawaiian finishing salt. Part of reason I’m excited about this idea is because I’ll get a share too! I never order fresh spices for myself because replacing a whole collection is expensive, and I don’t use that much over the course of the year. Fresh spices make much more sense for a group of people than for just me in my lonesome kitchen. I spent almost $80 on organic, fair trade spices, which sounds like a lot (feels like a lot!!!) but then I have four of my important gifts covered, plus plenty leftover for my own pantry.**

The father and brother-in-law I think My Man will cover. Hopefully at the local artisan market, lots of awesome stuff there.

Grandparents get the standard (they love it) calendar of cute kid photos.

I made a batch of homemade soap (it’s gotta cure for 3 weeks, so do it now!) and some lip balm for those last minute little gift moments. It’s good to have tricks up your sleeve. The lip balm takes all of 3 minutes once you secure the beeswax.

That leaves a 4yo cousin and a 12yo half-sister. Any ideas?

I will be filling you in more about all the above gifts over the course of the month. I have lots of Riot-y ‘stuff’ subjects to cover, as well as lots of good Christmas ideas, like the adorable songbird tree ornaments me and the kids made this morning out of tag-board and poster paint! In fact I’ve been feeling inspired to do a series, “Christmas– It Doesn’t Have to Suck Ass.”

Please leave your favorite homemade gift ideas in the comments, especially for children. If you have posted anything on your own blog, leave a link. We can all use some extra inspiration this time of year!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  –

**If anyone else thinks this spice mix idea is brilliant and wants to tag along, I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs. you would think organic spice would be more expensive, but the Mountain Rose prices averaged around $3.50/4oz, which is quite good. I ordered the spices whole in 4oz bags (the smallest size available), I’ll grind them in our coffee grinder and package them in 1/2 cup (the really tiny size) canning jars. This wouldn’t be worth it for less than 4 or 5 gift recipients, and I think could cover more like 6 or 7. I will give y’all the recipes when I get to that point, but if you want to follow along, here’s what you’ll need to order:

  • allspice berries 4oz
  • black peppercorns 8oz
  • whole chile peppers, or red pepper flakes 4oz
  • cinnamon sticks 8oz
  • whole cloves 4oz
  • cumin seed 8oz
  • ginger, ground 4oz
  • juniper berries 4oz
  • whole nutmeg 4oz
  • fennel seed 4oz
  • thyme 4oz
  • rosemary 4oz
  • sage 4oz

Merry, Merry Dingleberry

Come November, when the grocery store started in heavy on the towers of cheap Christmas stuff, a rock of dread grew in my stomach. I asked My Man, in half seriousness, if we could just skip the presents this year. He gave me a Look. I told him frankly that I’m worried about my long term ability to keep the bah-humbug at bay.

I loath the modern consumer orgy that Christmas has become, (read last year’s post on Christmas and Capitalism) what a load of twisted crap. But as December progressed, Lo and Behold, I found my bah-humbuggery disapating and my child-like love of Christmas magic returning. Phew! I guess at root I do still love this maligned holiday.

It helps to have kids. They keep the magic of it all intact, at least during the early years. Grandma asked the 3YO what she wanted from Santa, and the 3YO said (bless her small heart)–

“I don’t need anything. Santa already brought me a toolbox.”

She’s referring to last year’s gift. How rare and blessed, the spirit of enough.

Of course, grandma coached her a bit on how Santa works, year in, year out, bringing ever new stuff. And she determined that maybe she would want one of those Cooties games like grandma has.

For my part, I searched online for some kind of playhouse and ended up finding the Invent-A-Tent. I realize I’m a bit late here in Christmas recommendations, but this looks just too cool. It’s composed of poles, connectors and nylon covers which can be put together in all kinds of different ways. A fort of one’s own making! I’m pretty excited, the 3YO loves any kind of hide-out. The icing on the cake is that the Invent-A-Tent is a little family company.

Having shed my inner scrooge, I am really looking forward to watching her discover the tent on Christmas morning.

For the Babe, I hope to get out yet and find a rocking horse.

My Man gets a ticket to a football game, because even though I don’t understand the love of professional sports whatsoever, he loves ’em and I love him. What can you do?

Everyone else gets small things I either made (soap, cookies, hand-woven scarf for my sis) or found second hand. For ideas on homemade gifts, check out Revolutionizing Christmas re-posted last year from my old blog.

Of course, this all comes a bit late, since holy crap! It’s almost Christmas!

I hope you and yours manage a little magic mixed in with the humbug-ing.

Christmas and Capitalism

I’ve been a borderline Bah-Humbug for some years now. I can feel it rising in my throat from November on like a cat with a hairball.

I love everything about Christmas. Good food, sparkly lights, family around, lots of cookies. Except one thing.

AAAAaaaaaaa…CK!

*Presents*

Don’t get me wrong. I love giving a gift (even buying a gift!) for someone I love, when I know it’s something they really want and they’re going to be really excited. But how many of the presents you bought this year fit that bill? If it was up to me, we’d only spend maybe $100 for Christmas. But of course, it’s not. Hubby’s family celebrates the Capitalist season in a relatively subdued and modest manner, but not modest enough for me. His parents have really risen on the pay scale since he grew up and, though I know it makes his mom slightly embarrassed, they’re now what I consider rich (might just be upper-middle by other standards…)

And, being very generous people who adore their kids, they want to share the wealth with us. Which means loads of presents. For us, and especially for their grandkids. Who can resist the combination of kids, toys and Christmas?

I got my Toddler one thing. A tool box of her very own. (A girl’s never too young for her first set of tools) And I don’t mean a plastic toy tool kit, I mean real working tools. A crescent wrench, tape measure, blunt-ended racheting screw driver, wooden mallet and little flashlight. Plus two sizes of nuts and bolts, and a cool tool box with lots of compartments. No, I don’t expect her to start doing household repairs, but she’s always pilfering our tools, loves ’em. And really they’re great educational toys.

That was my contribution to the tree. But of course only one of about 25 presents.

But, let me tell you, my little girl stole my heart this Christmas. There will be plenty of years in our future for her to grow up into a good little capitalist present-counter, and I will love her right through it. But this year, her third Christmas in the world and really her first old enough to understand what packages meant, she was a pure and sweet embodiment of true Christmas.

She opened her first present, loved it, played with it engrossed. Someone handed her another. She reluctantly stopped playing with the first to open the next. Repeat. After the third one, she said, “No. You open it.” (She’s pretty sassy for a two year old.)

Lo and behold, she just wanted to appreciate what she already had.

Here’s hoping that you managed to do even a little of that in this beautiful, perverted season.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Revolutionizing Christmas

***This is a post I wrote last Christmas, for my old blog Subsist/Resist.

I don’t want to be a Bah-Humbug. At heart, I love Christmas. I grew up in a hippie family, where Christmas was about sparkly lights, magic, and doing special secret things for people you loved. We cut a real tree (spruce make very Charlie Brown-ish Christmas trees) and decorated it with handmade and old, cherished decorations. In our stockings we got mostly nuts and chocolate, one or two small presents, and a mandarin orange in the toe. Under the tree we had gifts, yeah, and when I was a kid- materialistic like all kids- I counted.  Mostly we got stuff from the Salvation Army, or homemade. When my parents had the money, we’d get one nice, new thing.

That’s all it took. I know my mom especially always wished she had more money to buy us more stuff, but I sure don’t remember feeling disappointed or deprived come Christmas morning. When you grow up that way, it just seems normal. I had no idea it was a ‘modest Christmas’ till much later. In fact, I never understood my dad’s Bah-Humbug-ism until I grew up and moved out, and saw how most of America celebrates Christmas. Yup, it’s enough to make ya say, “Harrumph!” and stock off to some dark closet.

It’s easier the years we stay in Cordova. There’s a Christmas hubbub here, but it’s really not so bad. There’s only about two stores where you can even go ‘shopping.’ But when we spend it down south with G’s parents, I feel my shoulders hunch, and my eyes narrow. We go real shopping there. And of course, so does everyone else and their whole fam damily. It’s a madhouse. Of people trying to spend their money on a bunch of crap that some poor kids in Bangladesh worked 13 hours a day in unsafe conditions to make. Nobody even wants most of the gifts they get! It doesn’t make any sense! And that’s how we celebrate?!

Okay, rant over. I’d like to get to my point.

Don’t buy in.

I mean, I’m no purist. I understand family and social pressures, and I’m not promoting a Buy Nothing Christmas (though I kind of wish I were). What I mean is, don’t buy into the whole production of it, pare down. In this world, most people don’t need more stuff. Apart from the upkeep of some sort of social expectation, most people just want to make some connection with you, and spending money is how they do it. But you can re-write the rules. Save your money for a few quality gifts. Make things for whoever you think would appreciate it.

Which brings me to my real point. Here are some ideas for nice homemade gifts that people might actually want, and use:

Food. Everybody wants to eat. Homemade food is usually greatly appreciated. But I don’t mean the same cookies and cakes everybody already has stacks of from Aunt Minnie. I mean some good wholesome, quick food for the busy holidays. Home canned soup is a great gift for someone who won’t be too scared to eat it (be careful who you give home canned food to, I’ve found untouched years old gift jars of salmon and jam in relatives cupboards that made me want to cry, or take it back), every DIYer loves an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal that someone else made. Home canned salmon, jam, pickles, or anything else are also great gifts.

Homemade bread is another nice food gift. Not sweet bread, just bread bread. Most people love homemade bread, and almost never eat it. It’s a good ‘bang fer the buck’ way to score points. I’m thinking this year of sending bread “kits” to people I think would actually use them. So they can eat their bread hot from the oven. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Of course, if you have chickens, homegrown eggs are like gold to anyone who knows. And if you’re doing your own milking, how about a soft, herbed cheese to spread on that bread?

Rooting cuttings of good indoor herbs in September or October would give you some nice little potted herb gifts in December. Now’s not too late to do it, they’ll just be very little still. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, any woody, shrubby plant will work. You could also start from seed if you live somewhere with more winter light, where a plant might actually consider growing in December. Or give a pot filled with potting soil, a packet or two of seeds (quick growing salad greens are best, maybe a mesclun mix), and instructions for a beginning gardener to try their hand with come April, though this does threaten to be one of those gifts that sits in a corner of the garage never used.

Then there’s crafts. Knitting hats, etc is great if you know of a real need. I find buying yarn kind of expensive when you can get a fine hat at the Sally for 50 cents. Scrap, patchwork pillows can be quite nice if you sew. I also made something for my sister once, to hang in her bathroom window that was a patchwork of glowy kind of scraps (all Sally finds), like a fabric “stained glass window.” Really cool curtain alternative.

If you’re looking for a baby/mama gift, check out the Punk Baby Sweaters article from my old zine. Show me a place that’s chilly in winter and I’ll show you some hippie mamas with a yearning for baby woolies. You can hardly buy wool baby clothes if you want to. If you sew, this is a great gift.

Unfortunately, all these things are great gifts for Lovers of DIY, but they’re the easiest folks on your list. What about the squares? What do you give Aunt Minnie to say thanks for the stack of stale cookies?

Well, for one thing, let me say that far more people appreciate the homesteady type of lifestyle than you’d think. Start flaunting it and you will find the most unlikely folks crawling out of the woodwork/closet. These types may not eat your jar of salmon (though they may truly intend to, and just never get around to it), but will still enjoy living a little vicariously through you. I’ve found that one thing almost everybody appreciates is pictures. A peek into your life. (When your life is interesting, that is) I often make photo books at Christmas. Not, ‘click your photos and click Order Book,’ but actual handmade photo books. Show an intimate portrait of your “quaint” homesteady life. The city mice can put it on their coffee table and flaunt you to dinner guests. This is going to work better and better now that the whole Local Food fad is up and running. Hell, maybe you’ll spark some kind of tweak in somebody, somewhere. Maybe it will be just the nudge they needed, and they’ll start canning tomatoes from the farmer’s market.

Then there’s the real stalwarts. The people that just need a purchased gift. The people that have no interest whatsoever in homemade, that just need to know money was spent on them. Unless you’re prepared to make Christmas your political battleground, go ahead and buy them something. I’m not much of a hardcore. I want to be a part of my people, even if we are a fucked up bunch. I don’t want to give up everything I believe in to do it, but I am willing to compromise.

So now, you, gentle reader, what sort of loverly homemade gifts have you given, or received, over the years? Let’s get our juices flowing folks! The best way to keep at something is to have backup!