The Seventh Annual Mindless Diversions Unsolicited Shopping Guide
When you’re a kid, the best part of Christmas is opening presents. When you’re an adult, the best part of Christmas is watching the kids open presents. Part of the issue is that kids still want stuff. I mean, when you’re a grown-up in a life partnership where you have more or less the same finances, what is there to say about getting presents for each other? The small things are probably already gotten and the big things haven’t been gotten for a reason already so you’re stuck with telling the other person “hey, for Christmas, you got me this thing. It happened to have been on sale.”
That said, sometimes, you can find out about gifts that the other person would enjoy but don’t already know about and this guide is an attempt to help you find that something that you didn’t even know would make an awesome gift. And, failing that, there are some links to stuff that the kids might like.
First off: there is a very important gift that your significant other *WILL* appreciate and they don’t even know that they always wanted it. It’s this showerhead right here. Seriously. (You might also want this sealant tape.) This showerhead has a handful of different settings from “relaxing gentle rainfall” to “FIREHOSE” (with a handful of different ones in between) and you will forever again be saying “I can’t wait to get home and use my own dang shower” whenever you go anywhere overnight. I can appreciate that you might look at the price and say “$100 for a showerhead?” but after you take that first shower you will find yourself saying “Oh… that was a bargain.” Then you will look forward to your second shower.
Maribou says she’s mostly been reading picture books this year. In order from youngest kids to oldest:
Superworm! is by the same team that did the child-beloved stories The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. (If your kid hasn’t read these, go find them! Also my very most favorite of their works, The Snail and the Whale.) A wonderful gift for 3 to 6 year olds everywhere, because it is exciting, ridiculous, full of bugs, and compellingly chant-out-loud-able.
Miss Jaster’s Garden, by N. M. Bodecker, is a classic from the 70s, now back in print. Besides being an utterly charming story about human-animal friendship, it’s also got some of those mythic undertones going on, hearkening forward to springtime and new growth. I think this makes it an especially great wintertime read.
Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer, by Diane Stanley (illustrated by Jessie Hartland), is probably my favorite of the 100+ picture book biographies I read this year. It’s a good story, a good summation of Lovelace’s life, and an excellent, kid-friendly explanation of the ideas of both Lovelace and Babbage. It’s also funny AND visually appealing. What more could I ask for?
The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine is based on some extensive notes by Mark Twain, which have been turned into a metafictional story by Philip Stead, and illustrated by Erin Stead (the Steads are married). I knew this was one of those books that would either delight me, or end up leaving me frustrated and annoyed by the apparently undeserved hype. Given that it’s in my recommendations, it’s probably obvious that I was delighted. The story is very Mark Twain-y. (I make this judgment assuredly: Jaybird and I have not one, but TWO copies of the Collected Stories of Mark Twain in our house, because neither of us would give up our own much-beloved, much-reread copy.) The metafictional parts work perfectly and serve to make the story more plausible, not less. And the illustrations are utterly fabulous, start to finish, across several different aesthetics. It was everything I didn’t dare hope it could be.
I asked Vikram for suggestions and he made a number of good ones.
Here’s one of the best recommendations for a children’s book I’ve ever seen:
The Serpent Slayer: and Other Stories of Strong Women
Out of print, but I got this for the kid and after I read several stories and wanted to take a break she got mad at me and wouldn’t let me get up.
If you’ve got little ones who need baths occasionally, these bath toy pipes not only are enjoyed by his 1 year-old and 5 year-old, but they’re *WASHABLE*, (unlike those little squirty toys that are good for one use before they start growing things).
To round out our visit to the bathroom, he asks us “If you need to clean your dishes, do you just give it a few scrapes with a couple scraps of dry paper? Or do you run water to actually get everything off?” As think about our answer, he suggests this bidet. (I looked for “temperature control” on the page. It has it.)
Kazzy points out that your kid on the go might need some leggings:
Is your kid uber athletic? Sports obsessed? Hyper practical? Unencumbered by traditional gender norms? Does he refuse to wear regular pants because “they don’t go fast’? Does he want “pants that don’t stick out” like his female classmates wear? Does he have a dad who regularly wears compression pants under his running shorts? Then Target’s Cat & Jack leggings collection offers a wide range of styles at super affordable prices. With these, he can continue to wear the shorts that allow him the freedom of movement to parkour his way through PreK without freezing his skinny little legs off in the winter cold.
Burt had a handful of suggestions:
In the Kitchen with Burt Likko
I cook almost all of my proteins and root vegetables in a sous vide. This is a cooking technique by which food is bagged and sealed with its seasonings and then cooked at water heated to a precisely controlled temperature. The result is incredibly tender, flavorful food of similar quality as is served by two- and three-star restaurants.
To do this, you’ll need a few things. First, the device to heat the water. If you’ve already got a receptacle for the water (like a stock pot or a Dutch oven) for this purpose, you can buy an immersion circulator for a relatively affordable $84.15 if you have Amazon Prime. Or if you want something like I use, you can get a standalone countertop appliance for just over $300.00. Either of these will cook your food very well and if you’re willing to do just a bit of reading from home sous vide pioneer Douglas Baldwin, with a better-than-restaurant level of food safety. When I cook a steak with one of these things, I it comes out perfectly medium-rare all the way through, tender enough that it can be cut with a fork.
You’ll also need a bagging device. Do not use Ziploc or similar brown-bag sandwich bags. These contain phthalates and other ethyl-methyl-badstuff that will leach out into your food when heated to much more than room temperature. So you need to have food-safe plastic. Besides, you want to suck all of the air out of the bag, and for that you need a vacuum pump. Fortunately, these are also readily available and have become very affordable; a smaller version of the kind I use, which come with a starter set of food-safe bags and a roll to make your own bags can be yours, for a mere $37.50 with Amazon Prime. It’s also useful for other purposes, like preserving food that would otherwise react poorly to exposure to air. I particularly like saving things I use only occasionally, like hard cheeses and bacon, in the food saver bags to prevent oxidization and extend the amount of time they can spend in the refrigerator and still be useful.
One disadvantage is that the food doesn’t brown or char the way it would in a pan or on a grill. For that delicious and visually-appealing Maillard effect, you will need to char the outside of the protein. So your third tool should be a hand-held butane torch, like the kind one might use for a crème brulee. The most affordable one on Amazon is a mere $14.99, but I’ve had bad results with it. So I suggest spending just a few more dollars for a more reliable device like this fella, who you can get for twenty bucks. Or, if you want to get really fancy, or you wanted to get me a present, you can get the Searzall butane tank torch attachment, which gives a much bigger and more impressive flame, and finishes the searing job even faster and better and without the need of a thin coating of fat on the outside of the protein before charring.
If all that seems too fancy and weird for you, I can also tell you that the chef in your life would very much appreciate an immersion blender, like this handy-dandy number available for under thirty dollars, which is just perfect for making soups and sauces.
Aaron writes this:
The Decalogue is the best, most thoughtful, quasi-religious TV about the 10 commandments you have never seen.
For the foodies with a historical/cultural bent, Inns, Ales and Drinking Customs of Old England should be at the top of the list.
And for the hard-core computer types out there, Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction should bring the physical world back to the fore.
…And that should cover all of our readers!
I don’t know about all of our readers! Mike Dwyer makes a handful of recommendations of his own:
Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, and Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).
Speaking of red meat, he makes the following gift recommendations for the kitchen:
SanDaveVA Brand 12 2oz Squeeze LDPE Bottles (these look good for salad dressing on the run or delicate cookie icing work)
As for storing the aforementioned salads or cookies, he recommends this 3-pack of “buy it for life” heavy-duty containers or, if you’re going to be cooking for a week ahead of time, this 36-pack of containers.
He’s also got some suggestions for your spicing of the food you’d be putting in those containers. He suggests this savory umami powder but also the different kinds of “Better Than Bouillion” (Ham, Lobster, Beef, and Vegetable). (I, myself, have used Better Than Bouillion and I cannot sing its praises enough. If I’m making anything in the crock pot, I throw a couple tablespoons of this wonderful stuff in. Since I’m usually making chicken in the crock pot, I use the Chicken variant.)
When it comes to Music, I always go straight to Chris and Glyph.
P.O.S. Chill, Dummy – So good
The Weather Station The Weather Station – easily one of the best albums of the year, but “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3F3DsXLSaw” is a (redacted by Jaybird) classic. Try not to listen to that song 10 times in a row, I dare you.
Laura Marling Semper Femina – dark, brilliant
Clap! Clap! A Thousand Skies – groovy, cool (note from Jaybird: they don’t sell this one on cd! Just on vinyl or MP3.)
Bodywar Show Me the Body – gritty, at times brutal (From Jaybird: Another one that is only on vinyl or MP3! I must be getting old…)
Four Tet New Energy – dude is a genius
Smino blkswn – man, this is a debut album? This is fire. (From Jaybird: This one is only available on vinyl! WHAT YEAR IS IT?!?)
Also, if you want auditory nostalgia, check out Evanton’s Danza Sintetica.
Looking at my library I ripped quite a few things in, but I’ll tell you what I probably listened to the most of the new stuff: the new s/t Slowdive, which is as good as anything they’ve done, and I’d put it up against any new band. “No Longer Making Time” absolutely slays me. I saw them twice this year and cried like a big baby both times.
Fazerdaze- Morningside is pretty good; The Replacements – For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986 captures a fiery (and mostly-upright) performance with soundboard-recorded high fidelity that wasn’t believed to actually exist.
I’m enjoying Destroyer’s Ken; it’s got some cold eighties textures to it.
I never know if anybody but me likes the spartan harsh techno, but Raär – No More Love In The Warehouse is good, and I think Blanck Mass’ (he’s half of F#$% Buttons) third album, the apocalyptic World Eater, may be the best thing he’s done yet.
Can’t decide how I feel about the new LCD Soundsystem – American Dream – it’s the best-SOUNDING record he’s made, and “Call The Police” RULES, but I wish he’d paced it a little differently, or included one or two more big dumb singles.
Thanks, guys. When I find myself in the used CD store, I just do stuff like say “Oh! I didn’t know Crystal Method released albums after Vegas! Legion of Boom is pretty good! Tweekend is even better!” and then realize that those are the most recent albums I found myself listening to. Well, that and Peter Gabriel’s greatest hits.
As for the movies that came out this year, the big ones are always the superhero ones, ain’t they?
Well, we’ve had a Bumper Crop this year. Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Doctor Strange are sure to please and even if you aren’t crazy about superheroes, Logan was pretty dang good. I don’t know that it’ll appeal to anyone who hasn’t seen the original X-Men trilogy, but if you did and you thought that they were flashy but wished that they’d tackle some deeper themes? Logan will scratch your itch just right.
As for video games, I know for a fact that Horizon Zero Dawn is knock down drag-out awesome and South Park: The Fractured But Whole is laugh out loud funny and a solid RPG at the same time (but, seriously, really offensive… like “Jaybird can’t explain the jokes in polite company” offensive). If you’re looking to spend under $20, I really recommend the original Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Game of the Year edition… it comes with all of the DLC and none of the lootbox controversy troubling the fourth act of the sequel). Of course, if your gamer is a PC person who knows what s/he likes and just wants some license to play, the Steam Gift Card never goes wrong (but tell them that Jaybird says “Heat Signature” is a blast).
Saul Sends Sartorial Suggestions!
This blue shirt will have you looking good whether you’re headed out to work or headed out for a night on the town.
Tie your outfit together with these Paul Smith rainbow scarves that will provide a fine accent no matter what you’re wearing.
If you remember the movie “Sneakers”, you remember the information that Robert Redford asked of River Phoenix about the visitors in the office. He asked about *FOOTWEAR* and when he heard that the guys were wearing quality footwear, he hurried to the meeting instead of strolling to it. If you want to send that impression, you should check out either these sneakers or these sharp plain-toe bluchers.
If you’re more of a “get a denim shirt, wear it with jeans, tell people you’re wearing a Canadian Tuxedo” guy (or you’re shopping for one), I cannot recommend this one enough. I’ve got one myself and it’s comfortable while, at the same time, feels like I could call it “rugged” if I didn’t use it mostly for stuff like “going to the grocery store” or “writing essays”. If you’re more of a paisley print kinda guy, I’ve got one of these and it’s appropriate for work (maybe Fridays) and going out to dinner to one of the nice places (wear it with a bolo!).
If you’re looking to get a gift for the “I’m more of a flannel nightgown kinda chick” woman in your life, the Classic Peanuts Flannel Nightgown will scratch that itch just right. Maribou recommends this flannel lounger as one of those the items that you buy and then you buy a second one because the first one gets dirty and you still want to wear a flannel lounger. And then you get a third one because Jaybird doesn’t do laundry until Saturday.
In addition to everything above, I know that I stand by all of my recommendations from years past (check out the links to those posts at the top of the page!) and know that, at the end of the day, it’s the thought that counts and you’ll pick out the right thing. And, of course, 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 the best of this year be the worst of the next!
(As always, 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.)