The Sixth Annual Mindless Diversions Unsolicited Shopping Guide
When you’re young, the best part of the Holiday Season is opening the presents. As you get older, you realize that the best part of the Holiday Season is that you have a couple of 3 day weekends in a row, and maybe some 4 day weekends if Christmas/New Years falls on a Tuesday/Thursday (Wednesday Christmases/New Yearses are the worst). Of course, as you get older yet, you realize that the best part of the Holiday Season is watching other people open their presents.
I’m sure that many of us have been doing Holiday shopping since July or so, picking up this or that little thing thinking “Hey, this would make a great present for one of the nieces/nephews” but I am doubly sure that many of us woke up this morning thinking “huh… there are people who have been shopping for seven hours by this point” and that was their first Holiday shopping thought this year since January 4th.
If you are in that latter group of people, know this: We Are Here To Help.
So we begin, as ones do, with the little ones:
Vikram pointed to the Scholastic Storybook Treasures: Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics. He said “We don’t have TV in our household, but we do have some DVDs. This set, while seemingly pricey up front is an incredible value. It features 100 books—great, fantastic children’s books—animated and scored. It features nice, slow pacing. Good voicing, adequate animation, and all the things you wouldn’t expect of a mass produced product like this. This is perfect for the family like ours that “doesn’t watch TV” but does watch TV. It’s great for at four years old, but I suspect we’ll get a good number more years use out of it.”
He also recommends The Adventures of Sophie Mouse 4 Books in 1. Stories that the little ones are willing to sit through, stories that the older ones will be pleased to read themselves.
Jonathan McLeod recommends The Nameless Treasure by Thomas Girard. “The Nameless Treasure is an enchanting tale about a villager named Yuri, who leaves the safety and comfort of the village of Ort to trek into the woods looking for a mythical treasure. With a bit of help, he’ll find adventure, but will he find the treasure?”
Saul gives us a couple of awesome classics for your kiddos. First, D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. With beautiful artwork that will stay with you for years, this only very lightly bowdlerized version will give your kids the background they need to have their jaws truly drop when they find out exactly *HOW* Cronus defeated Uranus with the sickle. He also recommends Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH which is one of those books that you find something new in every time you read it. It’s a straightforward kids’ story for the little kids, it’s a story about politics for the older ones, and a deep moral fable for the kids in high school. (You might also want to check out the movie, but it’ll scare the crap out of tweens and younger. Scared the crap out of me, anyway.)
Vikram points out that there are things for adults for kids and recommends this seat for your bike. Er, seat for your kid for your bike. If you need a version of the seat that connects to your bike’s seat post, you’ll want this one instead.
He also points out: “I didn’t realize before becoming a parent how much of your life will revolve around water bottles. In my opinion, you should try to move away from bottles as soon as possible and get your kid to drink out of cups like a normal human being. Still, you will need bottles. This is nice because it is capable of being cleaned, unlike those flip-up straw things that are fun and convenient until you discover the mold growing inside.”
Now, when it comes to toys, we lean edumacational here and Vikram recommends Magnatiles (but, man, those Magnatiles people are proud of them!). He points out that they’re worth it, though. If, however, the price is a dealbreaker, he points out that he got these knockoffs for the littlest Bath.
We recently had a nephew with a birthday and we got him The Circuit Maze Board Game. Little cards that tell you how to start the board and to solve the puzzle, you have to make the LED light up. The first one is easy-peasy, but they get more complex and complicated fast and you’re eventually incorporating multiple LEDs and switches and setting it up so that two LEDs light up with this switch configuration, but only one lights up with that one… really cool. We’re also huge fans of the Perplexus maze. It’s a toy where you have to tease and wheedle a little marble through a 3d maze in a sphere. Highly addictive. Just one more try. Just one more try. Dang it! I almost got to the loop! One more try…
Anyway, there are, like, 4 different kinds of those (including a Star Wars themed one) so they can become a running theme through the years.
If you’re looking for a stuffed animal that will make the little ones say “OOOOOOH! OH FOR CUTE!”, you need to check out this Squishable Narwhal.
Now, let’s say that you have grownups in your life. “I need some decent book recommendations! And music recommendations! Maybe some foodie stuff! Or slick duds! I could always use some slick duds!”
We’ve got you covered.
Before we get to the purely entertainment stuff, though, we’ve got some “miscellaneous” that you’ll find to be perfect for the outdoorsperson in your life:
Mike Dwyer raves about the Field Notes books and gives a tip on adulting: “I carry one at all times at work. Writing things down sends a signal to people that I’m actually paying attention. It’s the little things.”
If West of the Mississippi, you may instead want a Moleskine journal to pull that off.
He’s also recommending this: “Being in rough country with no cell phone coverage and realizing you have lot your car keys/money/cell phone is no fun. This magnetic case will hold all three and has survived long road trips on the bottom of my car.”
He also says that he’s welcomed Alexa into his home and she’s becoming the favorite child. (Perhaps the only kid that you’re likely to ask “please turn that up.”)
For the Foodies in your life:
Mike Dwyer recommends this square frying pan for those of you inclined to experiment with Japanese omelets.
Aaron Warfield tells us to check out the famous Food In England, by Dorothy Hartley.
Which brings us to entertainment reading!
Station Eleven: Society collapses. Well, what else is new? Two things: Station Eleven follows various survivor efforts to retain and rebuild our culture… that which makes us human and our species worth saving; this gives it a robust yet discomforting optimism rarely seen in such apocalyptic novels.
The Girl with All the Gifts: Ah, crap… society collapsed again! Why’s that keep happening? Anyway, this time, there is a plan. One built on a classroom full of children that just don’t seem quite right. A hauntingly beautiful book that will give you chills in more ways than one.
Where Station Eleven reminds you what it means to be human, The Girl with All the Gifts asks what, if anything, sets us apart from those who are not human.
We’ve also got a couple of book recommendations that speak for themselves: Saul recommends Moonglow, the new Michael Chabon novel. Chris recommends the 2014 Nobel Prize winning Missing Person by Patrick Mondiano. Aaron specifically mentions J.G. Ballard’s War Fever and The Drowned World. For something a little more light-hearted, Talbot Mundy’s The King of the Khyber Rifles will scratch your adventuring itch. In non-fiction, Aaron tells us to pick up Howard Chapelle’s Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction , which is a great starting point for those hoping to kindle a love affair with American small boat craftsmanship. Finally, here’s one that sells itself on the title alone: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts (I mentioned that that one is non-fiction too, right?).
When it comes to music, once again, we’ve an embarrassment of riches.
Saul points out that there is a 10, count ’em, 10 disk set of David Bowie’s masterworks from the five year period of 1969-1973. Most bands don’t have a 10 disk set of masterworks from a 40 year period.
Aaron tells us to check out two all-female bands: Savages and Warpaint. The former focuses on the five piece thing, the latter is more into the post-production of the music. Both will blow you away.
Whenever one asks Chris for music recommendations, one should be prepared to get inundated. There’s all this great stuff and, holy cow, I haven’t even heard of 90% of it.
Nicholas Jaar – Sirens is ambient techno, I guess? Listening to it felt dreamy and otherworldly. The voices are distorted, like through a curtain (and I think he’s singing in Spanish?) which makes this a great album to throw on when guests come over to have in the background.
I couldn’t find Leisure’s album Leisure but I did find it on iTunes. If they remind me of anybody, they kind of remind me of a less disco-y Scissor Sisters. Which, if you don’t know me, is High Praise.
Talking to Glyph, he recommended:
Minor Victories, saying members of Slowdive, Mogwai, Twilight Sad, and Editors…and on one skippable track, Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters). A grower, far far better than any such “supergroup” record has any right to be, I love every song on here, except for the aforementioned Kozelek track. (He had me at Mogwai.)
Man! What a great bunch of recommendations! I would have just said that you all need to get another copy of Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story.
Finally, slick duds. I went to Saul for his recommendations and he pointed out these outfits (my problem with his picks is that they don’t tend to come in XXXL, but what can you do):
For shirts, a “work shirt in railroad stripe, natural blue“, this rather sexy denim work shirt, this chief petty officer shirt (look at those pockets! You can keep that moleskine notebook you got earlier in one of them), and, for when it gets chilly (or you’re working out), this crew sweatshirt.
If you need a pair of shoes, he points out these green brogues (my eye immediately went to the blue ones) and, for something a little more casual, these Golden Goose distressed Superstar sneakers. You could also get a pair of these “Paint-Splatter-Detailed Cap-Toe Balmorals” or you could just feel really, really old for a second. Anyway.
Finally, tie everything together with this Black Wool Reversible Scarf. Lookin’ good.
For Her, Saul recommends the Super Ex’s Crop Denim Shirt, the alpaca wool crewneck, and the Polka Dot Jacquard TF Jacket. For the perfect pair of shoes, check out the Women’s Navy Leather ‘Bertie’ Brogues (hey, they make a perfect set with the ones that caught my eye earlier).
Now when it comes to the best Christmas Presents of all, Video Games, this year has been a little drier than previous but there are still some serious gems out there.
Batman: Return to Arkham bundles two amazing Batman video games together (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City) and lets you play them in full HD on your new console instead of having to dig out your old one. (Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection does the same thing.) If you want to play a *NEW* game instead of a game you’ve played before, there’s Watch Dogs 2 (which is the best Assassin’s Creed game since the Ezio games came out) and probably the best new game to come out this year, if you ask me, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
If you are more into the analog game thing, the Alien-themed Legendary Encounters takes the Legendary deck-building formula and fixes it to give you a good 1-2 hour game to play with 4-5 people and Ghost Stories is probably the most fun almost-impossible-for-seasoned-players-to-win game I’ve ever played (this ain’t entry-level… this is for people who want to argue board game theory as they play).
If you’re not playing with seasoned players but new players, we talked about both Monza (competitive) and Hoot Owl Hoot (cooperative) a few weeks ago (thanks, Nevermoor!) as being great board games for the little ones who have very recently graduated from Candyland.
Whew! After all that, I’m hoping that you were able to find something for someone in your life that needed a little something and, if you didn’t, I hope that you were able to find something for yourself.
Hey, you’re worth it.
From all of us here to all of you:
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa, and a happy, happy new year. May next year be awesome for you!
(Also, if we didn’t already name the present you are hoping to get or planning to give, please put it in the comments. For all our sakes.)