It’s that time of year again – my not-really-annual Holiday Gift Guide. Every year I plan on writing one, every year I collect ideas for it, and every year… I either get too busy with the actual holidays, or I publish it a few days before Christmas when it’s all but useless. Well, except for true procrastinators… because everyone knows that the best sales on Christmas stuff start December 26.
This year, I’m super excited because not only am I writing this really early (it’s early November right now), but I’ve gotten a ton of great suggestions from friends about what they’d like to show up at their doors. So many ideas! For everyone who might ever have thought “What’s Yvo about this year? What’s she shopping for and what’s she wishing for?” — so that means a lot of stuff for kids under the age of 5, a lot of stuff for someone who’s food-obsessed, a lot of stuff for someone who’s drink-obsessed, a lot of stuff for someone who loves people that fall into those categories. Brace yourselves! I’m going to try to organize this.
I loved the stocking tradition in my family growing up and brought it over to my own family. We each have monogrammed stockings with our first initial on them; if you re-arrange them, it spells “AYCE” (ie, All You Can Eat). Oops. Since having kids, I’ve struggled every year — I find myself buying WAY TOO MUCH stuff for the stockings, so it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t have a theme, there’s no rhyme or reason to it and I was going bonkers. Last year, I created a streamlined version of what to put in each stocking, and then spun that off into something called “Santa Sacks” that I gave to our extended family members with a few personalized items in each. These work for every family member, regardless of age! though some you may need to tailor more specifically.
For our immediate family stockings: flashlights (batteries included); lip balm – this year we’re doing Eco Lips, in fun ‘flavors’ like Candy Cane and Gingerbread!); travel lotion (I actually gave away Bliss Spa hand lotions last year, but those just came up in a search and they’re so pretty! and $1 each!); pens/markers; socks; mini notebooks (note: I am obsessed with notebooks with a strong preference for Moleskine/that style, but for the kids I give out those blank notebooks for drawing and doodling); snack treats (tailor this to your recipient!).
Santa Sacks for extended family: on top of some of the items just mentioned face masks; lip balm; travel lotion; pens; socks; mini notebooks; snacks; scratch off lotto ticket; gift card (we did $5 Starbucks cards last year); mini Bailey’s/Jameson/nips of whatever we know someone would like.
Other options (depending how much you want to spend – though everything is “small”, the cost can add up quickly!): scented candles; bath bombs or shower steamers (for that friend in your life who doesn’t like baths but still likes to relax — I’ve tried these and enjoy them immensely!); puzzles; stickers (especially for kids); a tea or coffee sampler, or even hot chocolate sticks; portable USB drive (back when we actually needed to leave the house and maybe bring files with us); car emergency kit; travel mug (we own this in several colors and sizes); Powerbank; snow scraper (I actually gave these out last year, but then it didn’t really snow…); multi tools; mini Lego set.
It’s a pretty customizable idea, though if you’re like me and want to buy in bulk and just give everything away, it’s also very easy to create a template to follow. I definitely bulk-ordered the notebooks, lip balm, pens, and I’m sure you could order other items in bulk as well!
One last note: my 3 year old is currently obsessed with a few small items that I’ve already picked up and will include in her stocking. Specifically, clip on earrings and nail polish – plus a few Scenties, or scented hair ties that will help keep her long hair in check. I know she will be excited to see those in there as well! I might also include a few Hot Wheels / Matchbox cars for my 1 year old because that’s a current favorite over here as well.
BUT WAIT, YVO!! I ONLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT GIFTS YOU’RE RECOMMENDING THIS YEAR
I got you, fam.
We’re all staying in a lot lately — by choice or not, it seems that more time is being spent at home. Naturally this means home entertainment, so obvious choices for gifts include gift certificates for your favorite streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Google Play Movies — the list goes on) — but if you want to be a little ‘extra’ with a gift like that, why not create a little gift basket of snacks to go with it? Choose their favorites, but don’t forget MY FAVORITE: popcorn. At the risk of sounding completely insane, I recently popped popcorn on the stove (in my new favorite pan — but more on that later!) for the first time in my life and was amazed at how easy it was. And kind of fun. And kind of scary… But what made it truly transcendent was popping it in Maple Leaf Farms duck fat. Try it. You won’t regret it.
Of course, I am also aware of how lazy I am and probably other people are too, so… what about a microwave popcorn popper (collapsible to save space!) with gourmet popcorn kernels and popcorn seasonings for all those movie nights in? You can tuck some movie theater box candy in with it, so it looks super cute and very themed. I would love a gift like this. (Despite the fact that I linked the movie theater box candy, I always see those boxes at CVS or Duane Reade on sale for 3/$5 or something like that, so you may be better off looking for those in person.)
Also on the home entertainment front, BOARD GAMES! Have I ever mentioned to you that my husband and I actually had children so we’d have someone to play board games with us? A lot of the games we like are 3+ players and alas, we are but 2 people… with the means to create more, so we did! Unfortunately, our children are still quite young and therefore can’t play Codenames or King of New York with us yet, so the following is more in line with the types of games we play for now.
Fish Club — I’ve been playing this one a lot with my 3 year old. It’s a riff on Connect 4, and encourages color recognition as she separates out her team color, practices her counting when she’s trying to see if she’s won yet, and of course those ever important fine motor skills are exercised as she slots in the small pieces. She loves it (and has consistently beat me many times, as I overthink strategy). The 1 year old has watched with interest, played with the pieces but as soon as one made its way into his mouth, I had to remove him from the area. It’s a very quick game though, which helps with short attention spans.
Hasty Baker — I love the idea of this game — collect “ingredients” to complete recipe cards and earn points — but sadly, I opened it and the gameplay is a little too advanced for my toddler to play right now. It’s very familiar gameplay for card game collection games, so fellow board game geeks will pick it up easily, but it’s definitely for a slightly older child – the box says 7 and up, but I might go as low as 5. You know your child and your child’s skill/patience level best!
Snail’s Pace Race — this was actually the first board game I bought with my daughter in mind, around 15 months old. It was her introduction to the concept of sitting still for a board game, rolling dice, and encourages color recognition. There is no competition to this game and quite frankly, for an adult, it is painfully boring. But for a toddler, I guess rolling dice is the interesting part. It started her on the journey to turn-taking, recognizing colors, understanding the concept of a race and when it ends (when all the snails make it to the finish line, apparently). Oh, and before you think my 15 month old was a poster child of patience, she was not. It took a lot of repetition before she understood small parts of the concept, and a lot of patience on our part to reinforce positively the concepts we were trying to instill. It was NOT easy, but I think it’s paying off…
Zingo — we actually received this as a gift from someone who’d recently gotten it as a gift. Based on Bingo, the pieces are a little small (so if you have a child who really likes putting things in his/her mouth, it may not work for you) but they are hard plastic so they can’t be bent/easily broken. This helped with picture matching, some sight words, and started the concept of being faster than someone else. There’s some gross motor skills involved in working the card dispenser as well. Our toddler was obsessed with it for a while and would bring us the box and ask to play.
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel — I haven’t played this though I picked it up on sale a while back (and should probably open it). While looking it up just now, I discovered there are 2 versions — one with little pieces (choking hazards!) and one that’s apparently a card game (the one I actually purchased) and only has cards, so no small pieces. Both look pretty good, I know a lot of people and websites recommend them for young board game play!
If you (or your gift recipients) aren’t super into board games, a few other gift ideas:
Magformers or Magna Tiles (magnetic building blocks that help encourage creativity and imagination). We’re a huge Lego Duplo family here (which is also a great gift idea, particularly for the younger toddlers), but magnets are of great interest to the 3 year old and why not? They’re super cool and seemingly magical!
PBJ Toys are squishy creatures or plush ball jellies for you to squeeze and squash. I imagine very popular with the toddler set…
And finally, the Micro Mini Deluxe — our 3 year old is finally starting to really get into scooting (as in, getting on the board and pushing herself around really fast) but has had a scooter since her 2nd birthday. Well, her younger brother is really into anything she’s doing, so he’s been following her around and watching her scoot – which increases her interest. I’ve noticed this being the case for several of our friends (who have 3 year olds and 1 year olds as well) — so there are a lot of Micro Mini Deluxes being purchased for the 1 year olds around here (including for ours!). Their warehouse sale just ended but you may be able to find them at a Black Friday price! (Don’t forget a helmet. Our #1 rule for scooters: always wear a helmet.)
Now — GIFTS FOR THE ADULTS IN YOUR LIFE, and given my target demographic — probably people who like food or like eating, or who have kids and are constantly cooking all the dang time.
Coffee, tea, honey from 2 Queens in Narrowsburg, NY. I was there in October and I loooved the gentleman who helped me, and the coffee was excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed our coffee and I would love to have more from there!
For the food lovers, basically anything from GoldBelly.com or Mouth.com — tons of wonderful local options available NOT locally on each, so spread the love and joy of your own city to a friend far away. I’ve been the happy recipient of gifts from both of these sites from friends who know me very well, and they did not disappoint. GoldBelly also offers a few cooking classes live on Zoom with celebrity chefs, and provides the ingredients for the recipes you’ll cook.
Speaking of which — and this is definitely on my own wishlist this year — Murray’s Cheese is also offering virtual cheese classes, with all the goodies included! One of my favorite (pre-kids, pre-COVID) ways to spend a Saturday was taking cheese or wine classes, tasting my way through a region or varietal and learning the differences and the subtle notes in each. Since having kids, it’s been hard to find the time and energy to go — but now that they offer the tastings virtually, shipping the cheeses directly to your door and recording the class so you can even attend later if the scheduled live time doesn’t suit your schedule. I am absolutely asking my husband to pick one for us to do together! Murray’s also has a Cheese of the Month Club — I’m not as jazzed for that one because I know myself and I know it’ll arrive and I’ll shove it in my cheese drawer and forget about it. The classes are far more my style personally, but that may not be true for you or your loved one.
And now, for my fellow parents who are just SO EXHAUSTED OF COOKING ALL THE TIME… I keep losing (and regaining) my cooking mojo. There are lots of ways to get that mojo back – be it meal planning, meal prep, a combination of both – or straight up consumerism, the appeal of something shiny & new.
Here’s what’s gotten me through several ruts during this time.
First of all, I can’t rave enough about my new favorite pan. I actually upgraded a lot of my pieces last year – All Clad stainless frying pans, if you must know – and they are great, but for some reason my Staub All Day pan just DOES IT FOR ME. I got it in red for about $150, so just looking at it makes me happy right off the bat. I thought the clear glass lid would be weird at first, but honestly it’s been super helpful being able to see inside without always having to lift the lid. It is big enough to easily scramble 6 eggs at a clip (which is standard breakfast in our household – the kids looove scrambled eggs) and it keeps them warm (hot, really) like a BOSS since everyone takes FOREVER to wash hands and sit down for breakfast (which means I have time to finish cutting fruit, toasting bread, and all that good stuff). It’s also wide enough on the bottom to lay uncooked spaghetti, which is key for one pot pastas – recipes that involve putting all the ingredients in the pot at once before turning on the flame (and these recipes have helped rev up my cooking mojo occasionally, and are super easy – The Kitchn is a favorite resource of mine for these recipes). It’s oven safe, it’s pretty to look at, and it cleans super easily. I LOVE MY STAUB PAN. I have raved about it to multiple friends and several of them have gotten their own as well – it’s that great. Seriously.
The next two items are ones I honestly thought I’d never get. The first: a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I got a Pro Series bowl-lift 6 quart model on crazy sale from Costco.com – I believe the price was $249.99 but after taxes/etc. it came to about $266. Which is a great price… and I think it took a month to arrive? But it came, I cleared off a dedicated space on my kitchen island for it, and I used it near-daily for a month or so. Now I use it less frequently, but as someone who still refuses to call herself a baker, it was worth every penny. I never knead pizza dough (which I now make from scratch), I have made a bunch of things I never thought I’d attempt, and while I can’t say the mixer is the reason my baking has improved, it definitely gave me the confidence to try certain recipes I never would have dared to try in the past. And that’s all I needed to shake things up a bit.
I also never thought I’d get an air fryer, but here I am the proud owner of a Cuisinart Toaster Oven Air Fryer – also purchased on crazy sale from Costco for about $180 after all was said and done. I haven’t used it quite as much as I’d like, but I love how easy it makes a lot of things and I’ve been slowly learning to use it more. I have missed having a toaster oven for a very long time, but strangely I haven’t used the toaster oven function on it as much as I’d have thought I would! It also cleans up pretty easily. I’ve been using it a lot to make frozen dumplings while I’m finishing up cooking on stir fry night, they come out super crispy and delicious — and it makes me feel more like I’m offering up a complete meal with an appetizer and everything. That really helps me personally feel more accomplished when it comes to mealtime, which in turn leads to feeling less like I’m in a cooking slump.
Last but so not least — I’ve had a slow cooker for many, many years and like mine just fine (it’s an oval 6 quart unit with high/low/warm functions), though I guess I could upgrade to this sweet programmable one with a timer for reasonably inexpensive. It helps on days when I really don’t have it in me in the afternoon to start chopping stuff and making dinner, though it obviously requires advance planning. I love sitting down during naptime and knowing that I can read, watch TV, surf the internet, nap, or um, write on the blog, without any interruption or deadline when I have to get up from what I’m doing and go start dinner. It’s awesome.
Related to that — and this probably seems like an insane gift request, but bear with me — the Crock Pot tends to make huge batches. Normally I just give leftovers to my husband for lunch, who doesn’t complain about that, but I’ve realized that I can freeze some and reduce meal-fatigue for all of us — plus it means I’ve already cooked for a meal in the future. Which helps even further reduce my food-stress, bumps my cooking mojo… I’ve been looking for freezer-friendly meals, too, so if you have any, toss a recipe in the comments! I’m not used to freezing cooked food, and I definitely am not used to having frozen a meal ahead of time, so this is really changing my game. But what purchasable item could I be talking about here?! SOUPER CUBES. I have the 1 cup set, and I’m eyeballing the 2 cup set for once I have the next item… You can bake right in the cubes, but I’ve used them just to freeze leftover bricks of soups, curries, pulled pork, shredded chicken breast will be next… I am in LOVE and obsessed with them.
Finally… this is probably more suited for those who have a house, but we live in an apartment and we’re making it work. My amazing husband (who has offered for years to buy me one, and I kept declining) ordered me a deep freezer. I don’t know which one and it hasn’t arrived yet, but I know that I am going to be extremely happy with it because once he told me, I haven’t stopped planning out exactly how I’m going to best use it. Bins, labels, and all of the frozen dumplings, vegetables, sausages, meats (we use Butcher Box here) and more… gah, I’m so excited. The Kitchn actually published a guide to organizing your freezer by type, and I have been poring over it and taking copious notes. Because that’s the kind of nerd I am.
*deep breath* Okay, phew. That was A LOT.
For those of you who love celebrating the holiday giving season as long as possible, here are my top picks for ADVENT CALENDARS aka just another way to spread cheer all month long!
The one I bought for my 3 year old, who is book-obsessed and loves reading, is 24 Disney books about the holiday. I paid $19.99 and it’s now showing as $23.96 — just under $1/book, so still a great price — but if you want that, I’d jump on it!
Crayola offers a crafts Advent calendar – I originally bought this one for my 3 year old, but returned it because I wanted something she could use or play with unsupervised and I’m simply not comfortable with her and crafts/glue/paint unattended. You know your child better than I do – and your own comfort zone, maybe you don’t mind sitting down with them as soon as they open their Advent calendar and doing stuff with them but that’s not my personal goal.
I love the above 2 Advent calendars because they offer items that aren’t trinket-y nonsense (plastic toys or pieces to get lost, which annoys me) and they aren’t just candy – of course there’s nothing wrong with treats, but I am less inclined to get excited about a piece of chocolate that can’t or won’t necessarily be shared than I am about books that she can read over and over again, and share with her brother.
For the adults, though! I somehow completely missed out on buying a whiskey Advent calendar like I did last year for my husband — which was wonderful as it included tastes of many whiskeys that aren’t easy to “just try” or take a flyer on to try — and instead opted for an Adagio tea Advent calendar as we’re both fairly happy tea drinkers. There are many you can get — Tea Pigs also offers one — but I chose Adagio as they have loose leaf and tea bag.
For someone like me — who loves her Christmas tree and her eclectic assortment of ornaments — I found an ornament Advent calendar too! I specifically focus on getting cute food-themed ornaments, so I opted not to request that one for myself. But it’s super cute!
For all of your friends that got super into quarantine-baking, this cookie-making Advent calendar is really fun too. I may or may not have sent it to a few friends…
And finally – in my searches across the internet, I found a shower steamer Advent calendar! So if you know someone who might really like those shower steamers I mentioned earlier, you can get an entire calendar of them. I’m so excited — this is definitely up my alley so this may show up on my doorstep at some point.
The last two are only available on Uncommon Goods, which has a wide selection of very cool and unique gifts. I especially like their city-themed gifts — for your friends who are a little too obsessed with their hometowns, ha.
FINALLY, for those of you who prefer the homemade touch or maybe you’re on a budget — my no-fail fallback gift for people when I have seriously no idea what to get them, especially if they’re “the person who has everything” — for years I’ve spent almost all of December baking cookies and making candy to give to people. I love doing it and I will absolutely do it again this year! It encourages me to try more involved baking recipes and I have people to give away to without anyone thinking I’m just being crazy. It’s great! In my old posts, I make an offhand comment about buying inexpensive cloth napkins to wrap cookies in to give away; I still think this is genius but I’m unable to go to stores in person to hunt out clearance napkins. This year I bought a set of inexpensive dishcloths that I used to wrap up loaves of no-knead bread to give away to people. So useful too! Of course, you may want to make certain the recipients know they can keep the dishtowel, as everyone I gave these to washed them and returned them to me… haha.
Of course, some years I mix it up with savory items instead. This year, I’m currently obsessed with putting homemade pickled red onions on everything — and a washed out jam jar shows off the beautiful purple color so nicely — that I may be giving jars of that away, along with Spanish olives, homemade cookies, cupcakes, mugs and homemade hot chocolate mix. We’ll see… I’m not sure yet. It’s only November after all, so I have a ton of time to decide.
No matter what you decide to buy, I’m sure your chosen gift recipients will love what you get. Remember, it’s the thought that counts! Happy holidays to those who’ve read this far. And everyone else, well, you’re not reading this, so what do you care? 😉
Please note that I received no compensation for this post. Some links are affiliate links (specifically, any Amazon links), which means I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you. Some items I received as press gifts, but was under no obligation to post about them and do so freely. All opinions are my own.