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Holiday Gift Guide

pomegranate-chili-tequilaBooks make great Christmas presents, sure, but a little chili-infused alcohol never hurt anyone either. I’ve mentioned before that I’m all about hand-made gifts this year. That said, not everyone on my Christmas list takes baths or lives in a place where a hand knit beanie is a weather appropriate accessory. Enter chili and pomegranate infused tequila. Spicy with just that subtle taste of sweetness, this concoction would be a delicious twist on the classic Bloody Mary. I think I know a few people who would love to find a bottle of this under their Christmas tree.

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I am an embarrassment to the blogging community — just look at my chipped nail polish!

pomegranatechili tequilainfusedtequilaIMG_1271It’s fairly straight forward, really. For one 750ml bottle of tequila blanco, I used 5 (or so) tried red chilis. First, I cut them lengthwise and removed the seeds, and then I added them along with the fruit pearls from half a pomegranate to a large jar. Do you know the awesome chefy method for removing pomegranate seeds? I just learned it after watching an old Jamie Oliver episode. Hold half of the pomegranate over a bowl with the cut side facing your palm. Whack the outer skin with a spoon. All the seeds fall right into your hand and the bowl. Brilliant, right?

Bung everything together in an air-tight jar and leave to infuse for 3-5 days.

I’m kind of impressed with myself. Not going to lie. What other alcohol infusions have you tried? Mint gin? Sloe brandy? I’d love to hear.

 

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For my fellow last minute shoppers, here are a few ideas for that kindhearted, outdoorsy, day-dreaming, ever-so-charmingly geeky man in your life.

1. A few good books: One that he’s had his eye on, and one that he’s been suggesting for months for your next ‘couples read.’

2. A weekend get-away in the Smoky Mountains, because it’s been over a year since y’all went hiking or camping and you could both use some fresh mountain air. Stay in a yurt just for fun.

3. Make him a bottle of tequila hot sauce for sprinkling over fish tacos and collard greens.

4. A flannel bath robe to keep him warm and cozy when he’s working from home and because they’re just so British.

5. A radio controlled glider that he can fly when you go up to the mountains.

6. A steampunk toggle switch plate so he can feel like he’s going into his secret inventor’s lab every time he switches the light on in his office.

7. A stunning wood laptop stand made from sustainable Finish pine. To make his days spent working on the computer a little more comfortable and beautiful.

8. A dvd copy of This American Life’s highly entertaining live radio showbecause it’s one of your favorite things that you do together.

I hope you all have the happiest of holidays this year. Are you planning on giving books as gifts? If so, remember to shop local at your independent bookstores.

diyshowersoothersI’m making a lot of gifts by hand this year. It’s an aspiration I have every year, but it doesn’t always materialize into actual giveable gifts. Christmas in England was great as the weather was conducive to knitting all year long, and the many bus and train rides afforded hours or knitting time. That was the Christmas of scarves, mittens and hats. But Atlanta has been less inspiring, for the needle arts, at least.

essentialoilslavendershowersoothersA thought crossed my mind last night as I was compacting baking soda into cupcake molds: “Am I doing this for my intended gift recipients or for myself?” I wonder not so much because I’m unsure that my family and friends will enjoy my handmade offerings. It doesn’t come from a particularly guilde conscience (even though I make big batches of each item so I can keep one or two for myself). It’s not even because I’m making many of my favorite things, and with gift giving you always have to reflect “would she enjoy this or would I?” No. I only pose the question because I’ve been having so much fun.

Surely, gift giving shouldn’t be fun. It should be a hassle, a headache, a burden on our bank accounts. Isn’t that what our culture tells us?

trays of showersoothersBut I actually enjoy it. Not the malls so much or swiping my credit card, but the thinking it all through, the putting it all together and, most especially, the creating.

A memory: Many years ago, my dad had been trying to give Luke’s dad a gift of some sort, but my father-in-law was politely refusing. My dad said, “Can you not graciously accept what has graciously been given?”

showersoothersjarI recall that memory as I think about finding joy in gift giving (or not). Surely, where there is lack of joy, there’s a lack of grace and if there’s one thing we all need during the holidays (and always!) it’s grace.

Do share: How is your holiday season going? Do you enjoy finding/making/buying gifts for your loved ones? Does your family have a special way of showing love without spending money? I’d love to hear!

PS: I made my shower soothers using this tutorial.

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…who lights up whenever you ask her what she’s been reading lately, who is the gamest and most creative travel planner you know, and who has given you a special Christmas ornament every year on the first day of Advent since you were born.

1) A few books by authors your both enjoy, so you can talk about them later: Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Vreeland.

2) A save-the-date for a weekend in Nashville where you can visit Parnassus Books together, where the owner just so happens to be one of her favorite authors.

3) A ‘not frumpy’ polka dot silk sleep shirt, since she used to buy you PJs every Christmas Eve.

4) A cookie baking class to take together, where you’ll learn 4 different irresistible cookie recipes.

5) An all-natural Rose-Vanilla tinted lip salve, to keep her moisturized and looking frost-blushed all winter long.

6) A sachet of mulling spices for making mulled wine together on Christmas and New Years.

7) A gift box of artisan pestos from that Italian bakery you enjoyed so much on her last visit.

8) A minimalist set of botanical print bookmarks. So lovely.

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Today’s gift guide is for your artistic, jet-setting sister who drinks tea by the gallon, paints you pictures for you birthday and can quote any line from any Disney movie ever made.

1. Two good books to steal her away on long flights: Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel and My Invented Country by Isabel Allende. $15 each.

2. A Bullhorn iPad speaker so she can watch banjo tutorials, do yoga from home, or just entertain her guests. $22.

3. An Infinity Scarf in ‘Wildfire’, printed on organic cotton, to keep her warm and colorful wherever she is in the world. $70.

4. Jasmine Incense with a revolutionary spirit to perfume her house. £25.

5. A traditional Japanese green tea incense burner, so she can make her own incense out of used tea leaves.

6. A travel set of watercolor paints made from flowers, so she can paint wherever she is in the world. $38.

7. A travel tea thermos and set of tiny loose tea tins so she can brew her favorite tea on top of a mountain. $20 and $18.

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You may have picked up on the fact by now that I’m a wee bit obsessed in love with Leo Tolstoy, in particular, Anna Karenina. With no other book am I as fiercely overprotective and territorial as I am with Anna. It really gets under my skin to see Keira Knightley masquerading as one of the most complex heroines in literary history. I’ve stopped giving the book away as gifts because you can only stand having your heart broken so many times before you learn not to go down that road again: “What do you mean you didn’t finish it?” “What do you mean there wasn’t enough sex?” “How could Levin have possibly annoyed you?” “What do you mean you fell asleep during Tolstoy’s descriptions of the Russian countryside?”

I mean, this one's alright. Symbolic. Contemplative. Better an image of a train track than of a gussied up 20th century woman. But where's the subtlety?

I mean, this one’s alright. Symbolic. Contemplative. Better an image of a train track than of a gussied up 20th century woman. But where’s the subtlety?

Poor Luke. He’s heard this a lot. So you can imagine his panic when I requested one single object from him for Christmas this year: a beautiful collector’s copy of Anna Karenina for my personal library.

I don’t actually own it, you see. Nope. The copy I read belonged to the library. The reason I’ve held back buying a copy for myself is because every time I see it in a bookstore, I’m unimpressed with the book cover design. Seriously, people! The greatest book in history and we can’t come up with a single decent design for it.

You see now why Luke is panicking. What if he picks a book that I hate? (Not that he will and not that I would ever hate anything he gave me!) It’s the stress of giving books as gifts all over again.

Just for fun, we spent a goofy half hour yesterday going through all my least favorite Anna book covers and my reasons. And just for fun, I thought I’d share them with you, too.

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No. Just no. There will be no neo-classical painting of a woman reclining on my cover of Anna Karenina. No woman at all, for that matter. I don’t want my image of Anna to be influenced by some other person’s interpretation of what she looks like. 

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It looks like an Oprah’s Book Club cover and it is an Oprah’s Book Club pick. So what’s Penguin trying to say? Only middle aged women can appreciate Anna? 

Is this Anne of Green Gables or Anna Karenina? Seriously, Penguin, drop the flowers/bodice/bosom shot.

Is this Anne of Green Gables or Anna Karenina? Seriously, Penguin, drop the flowers/bodice/bosom shot.

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I want to love everything Coralie Bickford-Smith does, but her Anna cover falls flat for me. I appreciate the intersecting train routes symbolizing all the messy, conflicting choices and interwoven lives (and at least it’s a more subtle train allusion), but I’m disappointed with the quotations. If I were her editor I would have said, “get rid of ’em’.

If you think I’m crazy right now, you’re probably right. I promise not to hold it against you if you decide to stop following me today. Please, do. Stop the madness. But if, as I suspect, you’re all a bunch of nutters like me when it comes to books, then I’d love to hear what your favorite and least favorite book cover are. Did you ever love the book but hate the cover? What’s your all-time favorite book and did the cover have any roll in decision at all?

(Top photo from Better Book Titles)

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If you’ve been reading these pages for a while now, you’ll know my interests, much like the sections of an independent bookstore, cover a range of subjects. Books are certainly at the top of the list when I’m thinking of gifts for others (and myself!), but if the recipient is anything like me, she probably likes to soak in delicious smelling bath goodies, fill her belly with scrumptious baked goods, go for hikes, listen to music, and enjoy a little body and soul renewal every now and then, too. I suspect, just like the book-lovers you’ll be shopping for this season. So even if we’d like to buy our loved ones nothing but books, a good book nestled in a basket of other lovely goodies makes the gift extra special. I hope these Gift Guides get the ideas going. Enjoy!

1) A Wellness Massage — Since I can only imagine what caring for a 10 month-old does to the body. Woldn’t it be great to splurge on a 2 hour full body massage? Or a more affordable Reflexology Massage. :)

2) Operating Instructions by Ann Lamott, to add some much-needed humor as well as wisdom to her parenting reading. And, just because, a love story.

3) A gift box of fresh, handmade shower gels, scrubs and lotions because, let’s face it, she’s not going to get to soak in a bath anytime soon. Refreshing citrus (and tequila(!!) since she’s nursing and can’t drink it) is the next best thing.

4) A basket of handmade items she can use in her baking — homemade vanilla extract, boiled apple cider syrup, a handmade spice rack Or even a handmade herbal “First Aid” Kit, like this one, so she can keep herself and her family healthy all winter long

5) A magnetic photo set of her family and friends that’s also an alphabet game that she can play with her baby.

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