HOLIDAY Gifts for Kids & Grown Ups 2017

For anyone still buying gifts, I thought I might mention some toys and things that have been popular at our house. Nobody's paying me for this, by the way. 

1. Fractiles http://www.fractiles.com/

 Our kids put together some unexpectedly cool designs with these flat magnets. I've occasionally been surprised at just how long they'll work on their own. (Picture taken from the Fractiles site.)

Our kids put together some unexpectedly cool designs with these flat magnets. I've occasionally been surprised at just how long they'll work on their own. (Picture taken from the Fractiles site.)

2. Invisible Writer Pens There are lots of different kinds of these, and they're available all over the place. Here's the kind our kids have, and one place to buy them:

 http://www.creativekidstuff.com/store/ck/search/invisible%20writer%20pens

 (Photo taken from the Creative Kid Stuff site.) There are secret messages all over our house, unless there are crumpled blank notes with names on them, strewn about. Always possible.

(Photo taken from the Creative Kid Stuff site.) There are secret messages all over our house, unless there are crumpled blank notes with names on them, strewn about. Always possible.

3. Walkie Talkies and the Jack Stalwart series by Elizabeth Singer Hunt http://www.elizabethsingerhunt.com/jack-stalwart.html

 My daughter was a fan of Jack Stalwart first, and now her brother is tearing through them. He likes a page at the beginning of every book that tells about the spy tech Jack will use in the upcoming story. The Lego walkie talkie pictured above, which the kids have been using, doesn't seem to be available any more. I think a walkie talkie set and the first Jack Stalwart book would make a pretty great gift.

My daughter was a fan of Jack Stalwart first, and now her brother is tearing through them. He likes a page at the beginning of every book that tells about the spy tech Jack will use in the upcoming story. The Lego walkie talkie pictured above, which the kids have been using, doesn't seem to be available any more. I think a walkie talkie set and the first Jack Stalwart book would make a pretty great gift.

4. Adjustable Height Standing Wooden Easel

I'm having a difficult time figuring out exactly which easel we have. I've linked one that's similar, anyway, though pricey.

https://www.utrechtart.com/Utrecht-A-Frame-Studio-Easel-MP-50397-001-i1014065.utrecht?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cse&utm_term=50397-1001&country=US&currency=USD&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIlK3WnIXp1wIV0rrACh2AyQwvEAQYASABEgL82_D_BwE

 My daughter and I painted this picture together in her room, and it is one of the most fun projects I've ever done with her. If you want to bond with your 8-year-old, I recommend it! 

My daughter and I painted this picture together in her room, and it is one of the most fun projects I've ever done with her. If you want to bond with your 8-year-old, I recommend it! 

 

5. The Books of Bayern series by Shannon Hale
https://www.goodreads.com/series/41718-the-books-of-bayern

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 There are a variety of covers for this series; I've collected my favorites here. I really like Shannon Hale's stories, and I'm just WAITING to introduce my daughter to them. A couple sites recommend them for grades 6-9 or ages 12+. 

There are a variety of covers for this series; I've collected my favorites here. I really like Shannon Hale's stories, and I'm just WAITING to introduce my daughter to them. A couple sites recommend them for grades 6-9 or ages 12+. 

 The last fort our kids built also involved a second wing, with a blanket draped over the dresser and clothes-pinned to the bed. I wish I'd taken a picture.

The last fort our kids built also involved a second wing, with a blanket draped over the dresser and clothes-pinned to the bed. I wish I'd taken a picture.

 (Photo from iTunes site.) This has been the screen-time game of choice for a while around here. 

(Photo from iTunes site.) This has been the screen-time game of choice for a while around here. 

And now I'll list a whole bunch of my favorite things, in case you need a gift for a grown-up.

1. The best running socks in the whole world. 
https://www.zappos.com/p/drymax-sport-hyper-thin-running-mini-crew-3-pack-big-sky-blue/product/8684509/color/132180

2. Ellen Barrett workout videos. 
https://www.amazon.com/Crunch-Burning-Pilates-Ellen-Barrett/dp/B00009V7QF

http://ellenbarrett.com/shop/dvds

3. This wine. 

4. I know this is a tough sell. I understand it is meant for 5th graders, but THIS COLLECTION OF MONOLOGUES IS GREAT.
I'm just going to keep talking it up until I die.

5. The board game Codenames. 

6. I keep a list of books I've read every year, so I'll just cut and paste some I enjoyed in 2017, though they may have been published in other years:

MR. SPLITFOOT by Samantha Hunt *****

This novel is difficult to put down. The plotline switches between the childhood of Ruth and Nat, two foster children who meet in a less-than-ideal group home, and a later era, when Ruth is on a strange journey with her niece, Cora.  I found the story thrilling, creepy, and unpredictable. Two thumbs up.

THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang ****½

I thought I’d read a couple pages of this one night, and stayed up too late reading as long as I was able. This book follows a woman named Yeong-Hye who has a violent dream and consequently becomes a vegetarian. How the fallout from this affects her family, and Yeong-Hye’s deteriorating mental state, make for a dark, interesting, comfortless but excellent story.

BROTHER OF THE MORE FAMOUS JACK by Barbara Trapido****

This story follows a beautiful young British girl named Katherine, who attends a dinner with an older man only to discover it is at the house of her Professor, Jacob Goldman. This is the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the Goldman family. Katherine becomes friends with Jane Goldman, who is married to Jacob, and falls in love with two of the Goldmans’ sons, first Roger and finally Jonathan. In between those love affairs, she suffers a devastating loss. The author treats sex breezily, as do all of the characters in the book, and all the characters insult each other nastily yet humorously. I’d be uncomfortable among these folks, I think, and yet I enjoyed reading about all of them.

THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE by Katherine Arden**** 

This is a fairy tale-esque novel set in Russia. The story follows a young girl named Vasya, who has inherited her “witch” mother’s powers and ability to see spirits. An evil spirit--The Bear-- feeds on fear, and seeks to take over Vasya’s town. The winter demon, or Death, is on Vasya’s side, and together they take on The Bear. I really enjoyed this story, although the ending felt a little too neat.

THE NIX by Nathan Hill ****½

This novel follows Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a troubled English professor, and his mother, Faye, who abandoned him as a child. The timeline switches between 2011, Samuel’s childhood, and the 1960s. The plot is intricate, and I won’t be able to do justice to it with my description; suffice it to say, the writing here is excellent. This is the kind of book where you want to read lines aloud to other people. Hill calls out life truths with insight and humor. One of the best books I’ve read this year.