How to Shop for Kids with Insufferable Hippie Parents

If you have hippie-ish parents in your life, and you’re panicking about how to shop for their kids, you aren’t alone.

I’ll admit it, I’m that mom. The one who wrote a cheerful “No gifts, please!” on my child’s birthday party invitations, and the one who snuck all the plastic battery-operated toys out of the house in the dead of night in January. I know it’s frustrating for people who just want to get my kid something nice. Every time people think they have my confusing standards figured out (except my sister, good job sis, you get it!), I throw in a curve ball.

“Oh yeah, we’re not really doing character-themed toys.”

I’m not the only one. Most of us know a hippie or three, and while hippie moms (also known as crunchy moms) can vary in specifics and intensity, there are some general themes. Frankly, there are some items most of us would rather our little ones not get their hands on. And with the magic of holidays coming up, it can be stressful for everyone. Us hippie moms are anxious that our homes are about to be filled with screeching Elmos and blinking lights. Grandparents, friends, and other gift-givers are usually trying to be respectful, but they also want to do something special and fun.

If you have hippie-ish parents in your life, and you’re panicking about how to shop for their kids, you aren’t alone. You can do this! We’re not monsters, I swear. We’re just a little bit weird. And I’m here to guide you through your shopping experience so that the hippie parents in your life don’t give you that deer-in-the-headlights look.

These tips work for all your gift-giving holidays that might come up. Happy Shopping!

1 | Ask about boundaries, and then respect them

If you’re biting your nails, unsure what’s okay and what isn’t, the best policy is just to ask. Different parents will have different guidelines. I have a friend who asks her parents to get only one gift for each of her kids. In our family, we generally ask that gift-givers keep it to one toy, but we don’t limit books and other gifts. Some parents might be really strict about not wanting unnatural materials (especially for babies and toddlers). The point is, a simple “Hey, we were going to do some shopping this weekend, and are wondering if there’s anything we should steer clear of” goes a very long way.

Of course, the trick is, once you ask, you do need to respect their wishes.

2 | Wooden toys are generally permissible

Crunchy parents just love things made out of wood. It’s like they remind us of forests or something.

All joking aside, most kid’s toys these days are made of plastic. Your hippie friends are probably trying to limit the amount of plastic in their homes, and that can be hard when the kids get plastic-everything from friends and family.

If you feel desperate to get the kiddo a toy (and you have the go-ahead), stick with toys made of wood to keep everyone happy. Not sure where you to find wooden toys? Ikea actually has some cool toys, many of them wooden, and I’m also a fan of Plan Toys. There are also some great options on Etsy, and almost every big box store has a few Melissa & Doug offerings.

3 | Steer clear of aggressive branding and gendering

It’s probably not a good idea to go for the latest Disney Princess-everything or anything else that’s covered in brand names and aggressive gendering and marketing. It’s not that gender is inherently bad (it isn’t! Gender is great!), it’s just that more socially conscious parents are trying to give their kids a more balanced play experience. We’re up against a lot since there’s a heck of a lot of marketing targeted at kids (and parents) to steer us into branded- and gendered-everything.

You can help by sticking to the classics when possible. A teddy bear might be more welcome than a stuffed Pooh from the Disney store, and a classic train set might be a better idea than the Thomas and Friends one. Remember that not every toy car has to be from the movie “Cars.”

4 | Books, science kits, and art supplies might be more welcome than toys

Some parents, especially those with multiple children, are positively drowning under the weight of all those toys. Toys seem to multiply in our homes, and the frustrating thing is that our kids don’t seem any happier with 500 toys than they are with 10.

In my experience, most gift-givers shopping for a child really want to see the kid’s face light up at the sight of a brand new toy. There are other options. Books, science kits, and art supplies are all gifts that give kids something special to unwrap, but don’t add to the toy mountain. Plus, they’re fun and educational!

5 | Consider giving an experience

Of course, if you really want to be a hero to exhausted parents who are sick of toys, you can always give an experience. Tickets or a membership to a local children’s museum (or a kid-friendly museum) is an incredible gift. If you’re local, you could also arrange to take the child out for a fun day! Plays and sporting events are other great options.

Movie tickets are popular as well, but if your goal is to be respectful, you’ll want to double-check with the parents first.

6 | Go ahead and get them the one thing their parents never will

I’m going to get in trouble for this one, but I’m going to say it anyway. If the parents aren’t giving you some direction, and none of the above tips are doing it for you – go ahead and get the one thing you know the kid wants and the parents aren’t going to get.

This works best for kids old enough to have specific wishes, obviously. Let’s say your niece really wants a specific Barbie Doll, for instance, but you know your hippie sister is never going to buy anything made by Mattel. Well then, you have a decision to make. You could be a hero to the mom, or you could be a hero to the kid.

Choose wisely.

The Radical Act of Paring Down Holiday Consumption

Research suggests that financial stress is one of the worst carryovers into the new year, largely because financial stress is one that snowballs.

As many of us take full advantage of holiday shopping deals and steals, we may be wise to listen to our January selves.
January Self deals with the inevitable excess leftover from the holiday season. January Self is the one who joins the gym after all the holiday cookie consumption and the one who exterminates all the tinsel and pine needles from the carpet. Of particular importance are the credit card bill(s) that January Self may have the pleasure of opening after a holiday spending spree.
“What harm can a little holiday generosity cause?” our December selves may say.
The research suggests that financial stress is one of the worst carryovers into the new year. This is largely because financial stress is usually a snowballing stress. Unlike extra pounds and a messy house that may ebb and flow, credit card debt tends to multiply on a monthly basis if not paid off in its entirety. What’s more, the financial stress we parents carry can directly affect our children in both the short-term and for a lifetime.

Stressed mom, scared kid?

In a recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics, a 22-year-long study of families showed “unsecured debt,” namely, credit card debt, “is negatively associated with socio-emotional development” of children. According to the study, children whose parents had unsecured debt exhibit, on average, more behavior problems than those whose parents do not have unsecured debt.
Anxiety over debt may play out in a way that is especially shaming for our January Self. In spite of all our New Year’s Resolutions to be better parents, anxiety over credit card debt can inspire anger at all the necessary expenses (e.g., veterinary bill, kids’ braces) over which our family members have no control.

The invisible piggy bank

The conclusion that chronically stressed parents can create a stressful environment at the home isn’t earth-shattering. What may be surprising, though, is how many parents in the U.S. contend with financial stress of their own making.
In a 2015 study conducted by the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), nearly half of respondents who lived with children in their home said they would borrow or sell something to cover a $400 emergency expense. Yet, among this same population, nearly a quarter planned to borrow to finance holiday spending. For some American parents, a lack of savings for emergencies does not eclipse a willingness to overspend for the holidays.
The SHED study also found that of the respondents who planned to use credit cards or put their gifts on the Kmart layaway, half indicated that they expected to pay off that debt within three months. A significant minority, 13 percent, expected to be carrying the debt for a year or longer.
Like debt repayment, our best laid plans as parents often get derailed. We strive for practicality with a sprinkle of spontaneity. Sometimes the rush of holiday excitement takes over, however, and we don’t always make our best decisions. We know that behavior we model can be our children’s best or worst textbooks.
This is where many of us as parents live in the tension of our desire to provide stability and security to our children while not becoming a total (as Buddy the Elf might call us) “Cotton-headed Ninny-muggins.” Once again, January Self can help us to mediate this tension. When all the glitter of the holidays has turned to winter blahs, January Self reminds us that oftentimes the best overspending we can do is with our time.

Why the Grandparents Can Exercise Their Spoiling-Rights This Christmas

Grandparents love to spoil. It is as part of the job description – especially around the holidays.

Red and green wrapping paper covers family rooms of spoiled children on Christmas Eve and morning. The parents get out the screwdrivers to open the backs of new toys and insert the over-priced batteries. Toy bins overflow with My Little Ponies and closet doors can no longer shut. After the holidays, toys are the new bosses of the home. The parents are left with overindulged children who have too many toys to play with. It’s overwhelming for their little minds and they often act out as a result.
But grandparents love to spoil. It is as part of the job description – especially around the holidays. It reads: GRANDPARENT QUALIFICATIONS: Must possess the ability to provide sugar to his or her grandchild. Upon special occasions, or no occasion at all, the grandparent must give an obscene amount of gifts to the grandchildren in efforts to drive his or her own child into an insane asylum.
It gets out of control. And fast.
I get all of the posts that encourage giving the gift of experiences, only three gifts, or other ideas to prevent the spoiling of kids. But yet, I let my parents and in-laws give my kids as many presents as they damn well please. No, I don’t let them give any lavish items to prevent entitlement. However, they give them more presents than I know what to do with. And I’ll admit, it does get on my nerves.
But my parents are alive. My mom, or Yia-Yia as the kids call her, survived advanced cancer. My dad, or Papou, is 82. He didn’t hold his first grandchild until the wise age of 77. If my mom wants to buy my son seven Star Wars figurines and my daughter all of the mermaid dolls she can find, I let her. A couple Christmases ago, I didn’t know if my mom would feel the joy of another holiday. And as for my dad, I never know if this will be his last Christmas. Although the quantity of gifts is aggravating, I don’t stop them.
It’s true, giving experiences is definitely more practical, but it’s just not the same as watching a child tear through that snowman wrapping paper to discover what loud Minion is underneath. When my kids receive a gift from their grandparent, it’s the grandparents I watch – not my kids. When the presents produce squeals from the kids’ mouths, I can’t escape the glint in my parents’ eyes. Who am I to stop that?
I just won’t.
Instead of complaining about it, I rotate toys, take them to a consignment shop, or donate them. I have my kids pick out toys they don’t play with anymore or have outgrown and we give them away. They can start learning a little humility and charity while they’re young. When I start grumbling about the over excess of toys, I try to think less about the toys and more about the joy that it brings the grandparents. To them, gift giving at Christmas doesn’t mean batteries and wrapping paper serving as the new carpet. It means watching the magic of Christmas unfold and sharing that with their grandchild. And I just won’t stop that.

We're Santa-Agnostic, But the Season Still Has Plenty of Magic

There can only be so many years of innocent acceptance before your children have some tricky questions about the big man in red.

I always knew they would ask eventually. There can only be so many years of innocent acceptance before your children have some tricky questions about the big man in red. And now my daughter cornered me with it: “Mummy, why do people try to make their children believe in Santa?”
I couldn’t answer her, because I honestly don’t know.
In the house I grew up in, we talked about Father Christmas, of course, in just the same way that we talked about dragons and fairies and monsters and magic. Nobody ever tried to pretend that any of it was real or that adults believed in it, but nobody ever told me outright “you know, this is just made up.” It just all belonged to the realm of stories and make-believe, outside of everyday concerns like True or Not True.
As a child, I went to bed on Christmas Eve with an empty stocking at the end of my bed, and I woke up on Christmas morning to find it full of lovely things. I knew my Mum had put them there and eventually I realized that with only me and her living in the house she wouldn’t have a stocking of her own until I offered to fill it in return. Knowing who bought the presents and sneaked in while I was asleep didn’t take anything away from the excitement, that wonderful combination of predictability and surprise.
So I took the same tack with my own children. I’m not sure how I could have done otherwise, in practice. If I see potential stocking fillers while I’m out with them, as much as I try to be discreet, either I run the risk of being spotted or I have to say outright “please look the other way while I buy something secret.”
Listening to other parents, I have been shocked by the lengths to which people will go to convince their children of something that they know to be false. I have met a mum who takes the labels off every single present her child receives and tells her all of them are from Santa, meaning that the child can never feel gratitude to the grandparents or friends who gave gifts. Another mum told me her daughter was getting a doll from Santa, and the girl’s grandmother had offered to buy some accessories for the doll. The mum told her that was out of the question, stating “how would you know what Santa was getting her?”
I have heard people say that belief in Santa gives children an innocent sense of magic. I want that for my children, too, but I don’t want it to come to a crashing end when they eventually, inevitably, find out that I have been going out of my way to mislead them. Christmas is magical for us because of the rituals that we have around this time of year: the decorations that go up, the Christmas books that only come out in December, the songs we sing, the Church services, the trip to see the lights on local houses, the excitement of planning gifts for other people.
I understand the fun of talking about imaginary and magical things with children. When my children built houses out of stones for the fairies in our garden, I sneaked out after they were in bed and made a tiny washing line with miniature clothes pegs on it. They were enchanted, and they still talk about it now, though they realized many years ago that it was me.
I mention this because I want to be clear: I’m not reading Nietzsche to my children and making them watch documentaries about sweatshops so they know exactly where their presents came from. We have the same fun as everyone else reading Christmas stories, writing letters to Santa, and all the rest. None of that is incompatible with our Santa-agnostic position – these are just fun things that we do, with no attempts to convince the children that they signify the existence of a magical man.
I’m just troubled by the idea of working so hard to instill a belief that they will eventually discover was a prolonged and systematic deception by the adults they trusted. A friend of mine has brought her children up to believe in Santa, but when her son started asking questions, she answered questions honestly and asked him to keep the truth secret from his siblings and friends. Hearing about this, another mum told my friend that her son would no longer be welcomed for play dates in case he revealed the truth to the woman’s own children. When my friend suggested that the children might at some point work it out for themselves, the other mum insisted that they would continue to believe, saying “in my house, if you’re not a believer, you’re not a receiver.” In other words, if her children expressed skepticism about Santa, they would get no Christmas presents.
I suspect that those children will keep any doubts well hidden from their parents and will rely on their friends for accurate answers to their questions. I hope they don’t transfer those lessons over into other, more important areas of their lives. I just don’t want to lie to my children, and I don’t want them to feel they can’t be honest with me.
Some people’s rigid insistence on faith in Santa makes me wonder whether, in a world with less interest in religious belief, we are trying to recreate all the aspects of it that we miss: there is a man at the top of the world who knows you and loves you and will give you wonderful things if you ask for them. Careful, though, he’s keeping an eye on you to make sure you’re good …
That seems to be the other purpose of the Santa story: You can wield Santa’s visit over your children to make them behave better. I’ve got a broader problem with that. I don’t want to say “don’t hit your brother or you won’t get any presents.” I’d rather say “don’t hit your brother because it will hurt him,” but sticking with the purely practical, if you’re only behaving nicely to earn your Christmas presents, do you have a licence to do what you want as soon as soon as you’ve got hold of the goods? Surely parents can’t start evoking next year’s gifts until November, at the earliest, in which case how do you discipline children for the rest of the year?
Don’t even get me started on Elf On The Shelf. Not only does it sound like a whole lot of extra work for parents to do when their children are asleep – when surely there are a thousand other things most of us would rather be doing – but the children I know with Elves on Shelves are unanimous in their verdict that they are “scary” and “a bit freaky.” And talking of scary and freaky, how do children feel about an old man watching them from a distance all year, then sneaking into their houses and rummaging around in their bedrooms while they sleep?
I’m absolutely not saying we should ditch Father Christmas. I love to tell my children Christmas stories of all kinds, including a sanitized version of the St Nicholas story that has evolved into our modern Santa Claus myth (there’s a bit too much cannibalism and prostitution in the original). It’s a good starting point for conversations about thoughtfulness, generosity, gratitude, and sharing what we have with others. We have all that, and Christmas magic, and good behavior (mostly) – so what do we need Santa for?

10 Ways to Seamlessly Blend Hanukkah with Christmas for Your Interfaith Kids

If you’ve got a menorah a Christmas tree jockeying for prime placement in the window, this little listicle is for you.

1 | When your kids complain that all their friends celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah is barely considered a holiday, regale them with the story of the brave Maccabees, some Greek war, and the miracle with the oil, which you looked up on Wikipedia that morning.

2 | When the greeter at the mall wishes your family a “Merry Christmas,” correct her loudly and say, “Actually, we prefer ‘Happy Holidays’ since we are an interfaith family that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah.” Then sneak out the side entrance of the mall and re-enter to see if the greeter has learned from her mistakes.

3 | Make Christmas last for eight days. When your in-laws complain about having to buy eight times as many presents and host eight separate dinners, remind them about the time commitment the Maccabees made to fight in a war or something.

4 | After Midnight Mass, go to Sunrise Synagogue. When the building caretaker explains that there’s no such thing because Hanukkah isn’t all that religious and most Jews are home resting up to go to the movies later, storm off in a righteous huff.

5 | Fill the Christmas stockings with chocolate gelt. When your son reminds you that the stockings were hung over the fireplace and all the chocolate has melted into a mound of gilded goop, sit him down and talk about the Maccabees some more.

6 | Go to IHOP and order latkes. When they tell you they don’t have any, go home and whip up a batch. Stir the batter with a candy cane. Cut them into shapes using a gingerbread cookie cutter, only instead of frosting, use sautéed onions to decorate.

7 | Decorate the Christmas tree with Jewish things, like a Star of David made from popsicle sticks, and an ornament of that one Jewish character from South Park.

8 | Replace all the Hanukkah candles in the menorah with Yankee candles scented like gingerbread and pine needles.

9 | Have your kids put all their Christmas gifts in a pile in the living room. Make them take turns spinning the dreidel to determine how many presents they get. Continue playing until one of your children has won all the presents.

10 | Whenever you see the phrase “Keep Christ in Christmas,” remind people that Jesus was Jewish, and that phrase really means “Oh Come, All Ye Interfaithful.”

6 Christmas Traditions That Put Others First

One way to add a layer of richness to the Christmas season is implementing a tradition that focuses on making a difference in the life of someone in need.

In a season saturated with commercialism and consumerism, it’s easy to lose the meaning of Christmas. Children make never-ending lists of toy requests, and parents are swamped with seasonal obligations, activities, party preparations, gift-buying, and more. We incorporate traditions like trips to tree farms, cookie baking, and evening drives to gaze at dazzling arrays of lights strung across awnings.
One way to add a layer of richness to the Christmas season is implementing a tradition that focuses on making a difference in the life of someone who is in need. This list of ideas offers practical ways to involve everyone in the family in making someone else’s holiday brighter, because, after all, isn’t this really what Christmas is about?

Color a smile for a soldier

Holiday seasons tend to be bleak for those who are away from loved ones. Show a member of our military just how grateful you are by downloading a coloring sheet from Colorasmile.org. It’s as simple as this: Pick a coloring sheet, print it on your home printer, color it, and mail it to the attached address. The colorings are collected and sent to troops around the world. This is a simple way to involve young children in extending kindness, and you don’t even have to leave home!

Fill a box for Operation Christmas Child

Many children across the globe don’t receive a single gift for Christmas. This is difficult to imagine in a culture of abundance. Operation Christmas Child is a hands-on opportunity to select gifts for a child, pack the gifts in a box, and send the box to a child whose life will be touched by your kindness. It’s surprisingly fun to fill a shoebox for a child in need, and it’s a great way to help our children shift their focus off of themselves and onto those who have far less.

Be an angel by donating to the Angel Tree

The Salvation Army runs a program called Angel Tree. Through this program, specific families enroll for donations of new clothing. Those who wish to contribute sign up by selecting a child by gender and clothing size, and they provide new clothing for the child in need. This is a wonderful hands-on way to extend kindness in the Christmas season.

Participate in a coat or clothing drive

Many communities organize winter coat drives throughout November and December. Simply save gently used coats, and when the coat drive begins, donate your used coat. Many children enter the winter season without a warm coat that fits. This is a powerful way to impact the life of a family. For more information on locating a coat drive near you or starting your own coat drive, visit One Warm Coat.

Donate to your local food bank

Many families in our communities struggle to put food on the table on a regular basis. Reach into the lives of those in need by donating to your local food bank. While it might feel like a lot of work to take your children shopping, let them select large amounts of food, and deliver it to the food bank, this hands-on lesson will make an impact in their lives and in the lives of others. For a list of food banks across the country, check out Feedingamerica.org.

Send a source of income to an impoverished family across the globe

While food baskets and clothing donations are helpful ways to reach out to those in our region of the world, one of the most powerful ways to impact the life of a family in an agricultural nation is by donating livestock. A milk cow, goat, or clutch of chickens can provide both food and sustainable income through producing milk or eggs for a family to eat and sell. Heifer International offers a wide variety of animals that can be purchased for families in need across the globe. This is also a great way to teach our children about the differences of various cultures.
To the overbooked parent at Christmastime, adding a new tradition to the list might feel like more work than bearable. Try replacing a past tradition with one of these outward-focused causes, and you might be surprised by the joy that comes when you teach your children the importance of keeping their eyes open for the needs around them. Your kindness is sure to make a lasting impact on those you serve, and you won’t soon forget it either.

This Orchestral Playlist is a Sleigh Ride Without the Whining That Everyone is Cold

These orchestral music pieces will evoke the feeling of a magical winter ride and excite your imagination of gliding on a sparkling snow-covered landscape.

Growing up in Northern Canada, I was subjected to 50 below weather, snow blizzards, and icicles as long as my arm. However, I have very fond memories of skating on backyard rinks, tobogganing, making snowmen, and sleigh rides. Our next door neighbor would hang strings of brass harness bells on his Clydesdales and take us for sleigh rides on forested trails complete with cozy buffalo blankets and mugs of hot chocolate. Taking a sleigh ride is one of the most quintessential winter activities you can do with your family and friends.
However, if a sleigh ride is not on your agenda this winter, don’t despair. There are many orchestral music pieces that will evoke the feeling of a magical winter ride and excite your imagination of gliding on a sparkling snow-covered landscape.

Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson

“Sleigh Ride” is a light orchestral piece composed by American composer Leroy Anderson in 1948. It is a musical depiction of the winter season long ago and the composition is still ranked as one of the 10 most popular pieces of Christmas music worldwide. The song is noted for the sound of the horses’ clip clopping, as well as the sound of the horsewhips as the driver spurs on the horses.
The introductory bars immediately set the tone of the winter wonderland with the jingling sleigh bells and glockenspiels. This is followed by the woodwinds and strings creating snow flurries by playing short trills on each note. The next section adds some wood blocks for the “clip clop” effect followed by more whip cracks from the percussion section. Toward the end of the piece, a trumpet makes the sound of a horse whinnying. We then hear more clip clopping and one more whip crack before the orchestra plays the final cadence. If you have bells, they are fun to ring at the jingle bell section of the piece.

Winter Night, No. 2” of “Three Tone Poems” by Frederick Delius

Romantic English composer Frederick Delius composed this small tone poem in 1899. Commonly known as “Sleigh Ride” it became one of Delius’s most popular miniature works. When you listen to this music, close your eyes and you will be transported to a snowy moonlit sleigh ride under a clear, starry night. This music is a glittering, shimmering musical piece and it reflects Delius’ love of nature. It is a gentle, lyrical work with a slow galloping rhythm complete with jingling sleigh bells. It begins with a catchy piccolo melody with accompanying sleigh bells followed by a slower section by the strings. The piccolo theme returns at the end of the piece and then the music softly fades as if the sleigh is disappearing into the snowy distance. This music is ideal to listen to while drawing and painting snow scenes.

The Skater’s Waltz Op.183” by Emile Waldteufel

Composed in 1882, this waltz evokes ice skaters and scenes of a wintry day. The music is graceful and swirling with tinkling sleigh bells in the percussion section to complete the scene of skaters circling and spinning on an outdoor rink. The piece begins slowly with a solo French horn followed by graceful strings and woodwinds that lead to the waltz theme. The glissando notes invoke scenes of swirling snowflakes and a sparkling wonderland. For further enjoyment, play the music while dancing and twirling long colorful ribbons.

Musical Sleigh Ride Divertimento in F Major” by Leopold Mozart

This fun music was written in 1755 by Wolfgang Mozart’s father, Leopold Mozart. It is a very popular classical piece for children as it contains numerous colorful effects – sleigh bells, horse whinnies, clip-clops, dogs barking, and whips. The steady playful rhythm evokes horses trotting along on a winter landscape, with blowing winter winds, and the passengers enjoying their ride in the sleigh. The percussive effects add to the festive mood and the jaunty tempo imparts an almost breathless feeling. Keep the steady “clip clop” beat by tapping small sticks or wood blocks while listening to the music.
Experiment to see which orchestral pieces your kids’ respond to the best. By exploring the world of orchestral music, your family will receive an enriching experience in the arts. As well, it is family time well spent.

The No-Stress Holiday Tradition That Saved Our Christmas

You do it for work parties all the time, so why not family? It would turn gifts into a kind of game and who doesn’t like games?

Let it be noted that my love language is not gift-giving. If you are the gift-giver extraordinaire and/or like nothing more than to receive the perfect something, then this tradition might not be for you. But it saved our Christmas and our bank account and for us, it’s the gift that really keeps on giving.
For years we operated under the standard gift-giving and gift-receiving protocol. I paid much less attention to this before I was married of course, giving little to no thought on presents, because when you are young, say before 25, you are the present. Your mere presence is a treat enough, or so you think. My gifts in those years looked suspiciously like things you would buy in airport gift shops – hoodies and paperback bestsellers and fudge of every flavor.
But marriage changed the rules on holidays. Suddenly, I was one-half of a couple and had received china and a roasting pan and hand-blown glass vases for my wedding. Per decorum, I should know what good gift-giving looks like.
And of course there were two Christmases now, one with my family and one with the in-laws, and I wanted to get it right. So, over the years, I developed this debilitating pattern: In the moleskin journal I keep in my purse for grocery lists, I had a second list of the names of immediate family. This was a running list that lasted all year. If say, my mom mentioned that Pandora opened up a store in the nearest mall and then jangled her charm bracelet at me, I surreptitiously noted it in the book. If my brother’s kids switched schools, I wrote down the new colors of allegiance and kept an eye out for this color scheme in all athletic and academic apparel.
I got good at gifts, great even, over the years. But … it was killing me and breaking the bank and sucking the life out of the holidays. Come November a fog of anxiety drifted into our house and didn’t leave until New Year’s.
This is not a way to live. And I must not have been the only one sinking under the pressure, because not too long ago my sister-in-law looked at me over a bowl of pad thai during my birthday dinner in the first week of December and said, “why don’t we just do Secret Santa for the adults?” I could have kissed her.
You do it for work parties all the time, so why not family? It would turn gifts into a kind of game and who doesn’t like games? It was genius. We set the ground rules:
1 | Everyone draws a name out of a hat.
2 | If you get your spouse, you draw again.
3 | There’s a maximum spending limit so not one outdoes anyone else.
4 | No one leaks the name of who they got. (This last one never stands. I have managed to figure out every single person every single year.)
Christmas day has turned magical again. It begins with a brunch that lasts all day until someone in early evening looks at the hardening cinnamon rolls and pigs-in-a-blanket and decides we need to order pizza. And we drink mimosas and toast each other and one-by-one step forward bearing the single gift we have brought. It’s a single moment that doesn’t get swallowed in the chaos of the day.
While the kids tear through reams of paper until all the adults are yelling “slow down!” so we don’t actually lose the gifts under the debris, we have our one gift to hold on to and enjoy. It has saved our Christmas so we can pay attention to the things that matter: the crazy kids hopped up on sugar cookies and monkey bread, the family all together in one place for a day, Elvis singing his “Blue Christmas” in the background. We have ever so slowly taken back the day and focused it on the people, not the things.
If you or your family are on the fence about giving up the gift extravaganza, take in through the four psychological checkpoints (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health) and see if the Secret Santa trade-off doesn’t make you feel like a better human.

Posted on Categories _Connections, _Winter

5 Ways to Make Your Guest Bedroom Inviting This Holiday Season

Even the closest of families may not be used to bunking together, so planning ahead helps everyone.

With the holiday season in full swing, guest bedrooms across America will be filled to capacity with family, friends, and dysfunction. Oops. I meant the joy of both hosting and being a guest. A well-appointed guest bedroom, sleeping nook, or bathroom makes a guest feel welcomed and wanted, and gives the host some space – a win-win for everyone. Even the closest of families may not be used to bunking together, so planning ahead helps everyone. Because my family is scattered, we often stay in each other’s homes for the holidays. Here are five things I’ve learned from being hosted by the best of the best:

1 | Stock the designated bathroom with necessities

Extra toilet paper, towels, shampoo, conditioner, and soap are a must. But disposable razors, toothpaste, a blow dryer, hand lotion, and lip balm are those little extras that can minimize the chances of a guest knocking on your bedroom door at midnight after realizing she forgot something at home. My sister-in-law stocks a giant jar with sample sizes of various accouterments, which are fun to sample and feel luxuriously hotel-like. This past Thanksgiving I went looking for Tums at midnight, so I’m making a mental note to self for next time: Don’t overeat and bring my own supply.

2 | Comfortable mattress and bedding

All too often, the guest bedroom becomes the repository of leftover furniture, mattresses, and bedding. This makes sense as the guest quarters are rarely used, and this type of recycling is cost-effective; however, even your favorite piece of furniture has an expiration date. Old furniture can be reclaimed with a good scrubbing, some paint, and a mattress upgrade through one of the many discount vendors out there. Remember: A bad night’s sleep equals cranky guests, and aren’t the holidays stressful enough? Inexpensive cozy blankets, pillows, and bedding are easily available through the myriad home decor discount outlets that seem to be popping up everywhere. A cushy, pampered soft place to land when the family insanity erupts, need not break the bank and serves both host and guest.

3 | Check showerheads and faucets for drips

In some homes, the facilities attached to guest rooms are rarely used by homeowners. As a result, we may not realize that the shower head barely puts forth enough water to wash shampoo out of a buzz cut and that the toilet runs all night. I didn’t realize that my guest bathroom shower was stuck on boiling water only until my brother visited for the weekend and emerged from the bathroom beet-red. Similarly, a whiny air duct vent can make for a miserable night, especially for a guest who doesn’t know how to begin to adjust it in the wee hours. Spending time in your own guest bedroom and using the designated bathroom, can alleviate most of these hassles pre-visit. There are some issues that will never change of course: My mother-in-law still complains that our guest bathroom has no tub. We have since relocated her to the nearest hotel.

4 | Accommodate the kids for the sake of your sanity

I find that most guests with babies, toddlers, or teenagers arrive equipped with their own bag of tricks to soothe, entertain and occupy, but for older kids, not so much. I’m not sure if I feel sorrier for the child sitting on the couch bored stiff by adult conversation, or for myself, having to curb my language every step of the way. Offering a computer or tablet with internet access, movies on demand or video games are good options, but I prefer planning ahead for projects with the kids. Drawing, baking together, creating special place settings, or doing crafts that involve older kids helping younger ones, is a wonderful way to spend time together. Keep the projects simple though: My 10-year-old niece is still talking about the time my teen daughter helped her make cake pops, which involved 1000 steps and trips in and out of my freezer and pantry. We’ve shifted towards cookie decorating since then.

5 | Above and beyond treats

My sister-in-law is the consummate southern hostess and goes above and beyond. Every. Single. Time. She places water bottles and little chocolates on the nightstands prepares a basket of books and recent magazines and has gone as far as placing a basket of our favorite snacks in the room. To take it a step further, she prepares personalized little gifts for my teens, who are continually awed by her generosity and thoughtfulness. She hangs a fluffy bathrobe in the closet, stocks my favorite coffee and provides an endless supply of bubble bath and salts. (My mother-in-law would more than approve of her.) She’s even thought of a framed sign on the nightstand displaying the home’s internet password. I regularly warn her that I may never leave, but she’s undeterred.
The holidays can be stressful for a variety of reasons, including the sleeping over part of the show. But with a little planning ahead, guests may be encouraged to linger a little while longer in their designated home away from home, emerging grateful, helpful, and pleasant in the morning. And if not? At least you tried.

Your Ultimate STEAM Stocking-Stuffer Nerd Gift Guide

We’ve identified 40+ Nerd-inspiring toys and games, all under $30!

Tired of having to brave holiday shopping crowds or scroll through miles of online retail search results? Well, take a load off, sit back, and finish up your shopping with Raising Nerd, the comprehensive online resource for parents’ looking to better understand and nurture their kids’ natural curiosity by exposing them to the full spectrum of STEAM subjects and activities.
As Raising Nerd’s head writer and resident Imperfect Dad, I want all parents to feel confident raising motivated and creative problem-solvers in an ever-changing world full of challenges. One of the best ways to get kids exploring, tinkering, designing, and building a better, healthier planet is through open-ended play.
Of course, the holiday season is the perfect opportunity to stock up on fun STEAM toys and games that will stoke their imaginations and fuel their curiosity.
To that end, Raising Nerd has compiled its 2nd annual Mega Holiday Wish List: Stocking-Stuffer Edition. In this bonus edition of our main Wish List of STEAM-related gifts, we’ve identified 40+ Nerd-inspiring toys and games, all under $30!
Happy Nerdy Holidays, everyone!

Nerd Gifts Under $10


Kanoodle – The best-selling solo puzzle challenge game.
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Stikbot, Green and Orange Stikbot Figure  These poseable mini-bot figures will stick to most flat surfaces and have gained a huge social media following by starring in creative fans’ stop-motion animations produced with the free Stickbot Studio mobile app for iOS and Android.

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Clue Master Game by ThinkFun – Another solo puzzle challenge that helps develop Nerds’ deductive reasoning skills vital for success in math and science.
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Brainwright Dog Pile: The Pup Packing Puzzle and Cat Stax: The Purrfect Puzzle – Like 3D Qwirkle, but with stackable canines and felines!
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Q-Bitz Solo – The take-along version of the popular, brain-building pattern recognition puzzle game.
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ThinkFun Math DiceMath Dice Jr. and Math Dice Chase – A mental math that’s become a staple in classrooms. Math Dice Chase kicks things into a higher gear. Great Nerd Gifts!
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Sumoku – A crossword-style number puzzle game that makes building math skills fun.
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Curious Chef Kids Oven Mitt Set – Essential tools for protecting your culinary makers’ hands in the kitchen.
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World’s Smallest Perplexus (Pocket-Sized) – The perfectly portable puzzler for fidgety hands.
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Check out the Parent Co. Picks Gift Guide (updated daily)


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Nerd Gifts $10 – $20

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Block Tape for Lego Bricks – MOOHAM self adhesive baseplate strips for kids, non-toxic, cuttable, reusable, and compatible with Major Brands Building Blocks. Four colors, 3.2 Feet of each. Bonus: safe scissors.

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Ultimate Crayon Collection – Open a box of crayons and their world lights up. Their imagination ignites. And, sometimes, even a box of 64 won’t do to express the ideas they’ve been waiting to unleash. These are the ultimate toy for open-ended play.
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Color Cube Sudoku and Lunar Landing by ThinkFun – Two classic logic puzzles with a twist: Sudoku but with colors instead of numbers and a Rush Hour update where Nerds are challenged to return to the mother ship or get stranded in outer space.
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Kanoodle Jr. – Spatial reasoning for little Nerds.
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Möbi: The Numerical Tile Game in a Whale – Get your Nerds playing with numbers by building equations in crossword style.
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Tangram Puzzle Magnetic Travel Set – Nerds recreate puzzle challenge shapes or can come up with their own using magnetic blocks.
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LUPO: The Space Adventure – A creative storytelling game where players embark on a sci-fi adventure in which they attempt to save humanity by finding a new home beyond the stars.
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Dragonwood Dice Game – Use math to stomp, scream, and strike interesting creatures and dragons.
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Merge Cube – Hold holograms in your hand with this accessory for your virtual reality (VR) goggles.
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Travel Qwirkle – The classic shapes and colors matching and pattern game.
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Star Wars Miracle Melting Stormtrooper – Before there was a slime craze, there was the Miracle Melting Snowman. One of the latest additions to the Melting family, this kit lets your kids build/rebuild and watch an Evil Empire minion slowly dissolve – no blasters necessary!
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Qurious SPACE: 4 STEM Space Card Games – Four card games in one encourage Nerds to explore facts about the solar system and beyond.
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PlayTape Black Road for Cars and Train Sets – This essential item in the budding civil engineer or city planner’s toolkit helps make travel safe and smooth for Hot Wheels or any other kind of pretend-play vehicle.
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Playskool Heroes Transformers Rescue Bots – Energize Heatwave the Fire-Bot and Medix the Doc-Bot – Never too early to introduce little Nerds to a 2-in-1 robot!
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Crazy Scientist Lab: Young Detectives Kit – This detective kit will help hone your CSI Nerd’s attention to detail, pattern recognition, and careful evidence collection skills.
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MathStar, and Chemistry Fluxx Card Game – The only constant is change with these games that will challenge your Nerds to reach their math goals, explore the vastness of space, and learn how basic elements combine and interact.
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Chibi Lights LED Circuit Stickers Intro Kit – Great introductory set that lets kids create a light-up star card.
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Makedo Cardboard Construction Toolkit – An essential set of tools for every creative Nerd’s makerspace.
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Boon Marco Light-Up Bath Toy – Your little Nerd-to-be will love taking this guy on deep-sea diving missions!
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Plui Rain Cloud Tub Toy – A cool bath toy that will give even the tiniest of Nerds a lesson in physics and cause-and-effect. Let them fill it up, let it rain, then stop the flow by placing their finger over the air hole.
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STEMulators: Energy Generator Car – Young engineering prospects can build and power this car with a hand crank generator.
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Violet’s Learning Lights Remote and Scout’s Remote – Busy little fingers can discover and activate music, lights, shapes, and a variety of counting and word games.
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UNLOCK! The Formula and Squeek & Sausage Card Game – Escape room puzzle solving adventures at home! Great Nerd Gifts.
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LEGO Classic Quad Pack (66554) Building Pack – Let creativity take over the holidays with this four-pack of classic LEGO bricks and special elements. Great starter sets for budding LEGO builders.

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Lunar Saloon Stardeck Sci-Fi Playing Cards and Astro Alphabet Flashcards (coming soon) – Beautifully designed, sci-fi themed playing cards and a still-in-production set of alphabet flashcards from a Minneapolis-based creative studio.
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SmartGames Jump In – Jumping rabbits and sliding foxes make for 60 adorably mind-bending challenges to help Nerds build logic, planning, and problem-solving skills.
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Nerd Gifts $20 to $30

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Smithsonian Molecube – A fresh take on Rubik’s original hand-held puzzle!
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Science Ninjas : Valence Card Game – Advanced Chemistry + Simple Rules + Ninjas! – This card game was created by a rocket scientist, an alternative energy expert, a New York Times bestselling cartoonist, and other scientific advisors. The object is for players to build new molecules out of elements to earn points to win the game while opponents try to break down Bases with Acid assaults!
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Killer Snails Assassins of the Sea Card Game – Developed by scientists, educators, and game designers with the American Museum of Natural History, this strategy card game centered around the real-life behavior of predatory marine cone snails. How could a marine biologist Nerd go wrong?
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Need more gift ideas?

Parent Co. has a guide for play, arts, reading, tech, home, wear, little kids, and big kids.

parent co pick gift guide for kids