What to buy our husbands

Confession: After I wrote about kids’ gifts, Claudia commented “Now what to buy our husbands…..?”

Truly.

So I made a flowchart to tackle that conundrum. Sorry I’m not more help. Click to view full size.

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To all of you, a merry Christmas Adam, which is what Kelly calls the day before Christmas Eve…

And a Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.

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Love,
Shari

Call back later

Confession: When my phone rang at 5:44 Monday morning, I thought it was the alarm, and groggily I punched around on its face a few times until it finally stopped.

That is how I sent a text template to Faith Builders Christian School (calling to inform parents of a two-hour delay), saying Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

After I stopped blushing, I wished I could’ve used that response on several more of the unexpected events December brought me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the third person in my immediate family to face the c-word, not to mention my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my late grandma. Sorry cancer, we’re busy. Call back later. Mom is brave and calm, trusting Jesus to take care of her through chemo, hair loss, and a lumpectomy. But oh, we dread to walk this path again.

My baby got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and spent a miserable week with it. We missed a Christmas party or two. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

And then (all three of these events occurred in the same week), my six-year-old daughter developed acute stomach pain at school one lunchtime, moving from a pained face to tears to sobbing to screaming in less than an hour.* We thought appendicitis, but when they did the CT scan in the emergency room, they said “If it is her appendix, it’s already ruptured. There’s a mass in there. We can’t tell for sure.” And they transferred us to Children’s Hospital. Sorry, my daughter is busy. Pain, pain, go away. Please, please.

*(This is how my friend Anna described it, and she was there.)

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Hours crawled past us.

“There’s a mass of tissue, not fluid. Probably an ovarian cyst,” the surgeons told us after the senior radiologist’s report. “We don’t know what to expect until we remove it. They’re usually benign, but we may need to take her ovary as well. Please sign here.”

I will sign if you will help my daughter. Please, please.

In surgery, the doctors found and corrected an ovarian torsion, the “mass” nothing but her own body tissue, swollen but healthy. Nothing to remove? Really? Oh Jesus, really? And because it was all laparoscopic, she had very little recovery time, no stitches, no scars. The path felt interminable as we walked, but in retrospect I could measure it—from the onset of the pain to the first apple juice post-surgery was exactly 24 hours. Two days after her operation, she returned to school for the dress rehearsal of her Christmas program. On the third day she was her own sassy self, having to be reminded not to run.

Our resurrection story, just in time for Christmas. Thank you, thank you Jesus! We felt his miraculous healing in the skill of the surgeons, the kindness of the staff, the gift of living in 2016.

I spoke with another woman I love. She was cutting vegetables at my sink. She said, “I know it’s supposed to be such a season of joy, but it’s hard. It’s always been a little hard for me.” I know, I know. There are so many things we cannot say.

Sometimes I think that if we really knew what was involved, we’d say no to everything. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later. Picnics and marriage and doorways and friendship and babies—and it hurts worst when everyone around seems so happy.

(Didn’t you know they each carry their own sorrows?)

But if we said no, we would never have the answers, the miracles, the resurrection stories, love. Sometimes I think if we really knew the joy on the far side, we’d say yes, yes, yes! Pain is the unexpected ring of the telephone, the bad news. Jesus is the one who shows up at the door at the same moment, with a loaf of warm bread and a stiff drink. His body and blood. God with us.

He is not afraid of sorrow, a man intimately acquainted with grief. We don’t have to make ourselves rollicking and carefree to celebrate Christmas properly. We just have to watch for him, answer when he calls, pick up the pain and say hello.

He said it will be all right.

Kids gifts under $15

Okay, I’m glad you weren’t holding your breath waiting for this post, because first I got sick (that is, I fell unexpectedly into a vat of back pain) and second, my suggestions involve pretty basic stuff… the kind of classic, useful, and slightly educational gifts I love for my children to receive.

If you like to buy big gifts, use these as gift toppers or add-ons.

But thoughtful gifts don’t need to be expensive. There’s an endless array of lovely gifts you can give a child for five to fifteen dollars. When my daughter turned six this summer and unwrapped beautiful presents from many friends, I started making a list. Here are ten ideas to get you started.

1. Wallet ($5-10)

What child doesn’t want a special place to keep their change? There are awfully handsome varieties for both boys and girls. My daughters have also received the cutest purses, sometimes stuffed with treasures—tissues, gum, a writing tablet and pen. Slip in a dollar bill and she’ll love you for life.

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2. Watch ($10-$15)

Instant maturity advancement guaranteed. Besides the I’m-such-a-big-kid! factor, there’s no better incentive for learning to tell time. I always bought analog when my children were preschoolers and taught them the half hours, saving digital watches for the truly big kids.

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3. Sunglasses ($3-10)

It’s the end of the season now, but here’s another favorite. Plus they’re so photogenic.

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4. Clothing ($10-$15)

A cute sweater, fuzzy socks, a flannel shirt, a great hat, even a pack of undies patterned with Lego or princesses… Something that it makes them feel proud and happy to wear.

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5. Craft ($10)

I don’t even want to start the list under this category… it goes on and on. Weaving looms, beading stations, wooden models, paint-by-number, sand art, modeling clay or playfoam, paint-your-own toys, science kits and robot creators. Anything that gives a child hours of happy and wholesome play.

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6. Umbrella ($6-10)

Again, slightly seasonal—but adorable all the same. I try not to pep talk Walmart, but they stock the sweetest mini ones in their baby section. The only caveat is that sometimes it’s hard to avoid movie characters. I don’t object to all the movies, but I do object to becoming a walking advert.

In this case, the umbrella was coming to get her. Poor baby.

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7. Set of matchbox cars ($5-10)

Not just for boys, Matchbox cars provide endless playing opportunities from emergency vehicles to hot rods to construction equipment. At Regan’s last birthday party, we used new ones for cupcake toppers and let the guests take them home.

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8. Big pack of crayons or playdough ($5)

There’s nothing like art supplies to make me want to be a kid again. I love the giant packs of Crayola crayons, every imaginable color, with a built-in sharpener—or the sets of fifty different colored pencils. Washable paints and markers are another alternative. And new Play-Doh brings out the happiest, artsy creativity in a child.

(Don’t worry too much about the mess, moms. You know you have to let Play-Doh dry before sweeping the floor, right? Okay. Then it’s easy.)

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9. Personal care accessories ($10)

For a girl, buy a pretty hair brush and hand mirror, a new comb, some fun elastics or little clips. For either boy or girl, pick out some cool kid shampoos, tub finger paint, and bubble bath. Or a vibrating toothbrush and a tube of paste.

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10. Puzzle ($10)

Floor puzzles are great fun for toddlers. For puzzles our whole family loves, we pick designs by Charles Wysocki or Anthony Kleem, with their tiny details, bright colors, and homespun peace. We started a tradition of buying a new one before every Christmas vacation. (Older children may also enjoy Wysocki’s adult coloring books!) Our favorite of favorite Christmastime puzzles is O Night Divine by Richard Jesse Watson, a gift from our friends Bob and Jeanne.

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What would you add to the list?


This post contains affiliate links, mostly so that you know what I’m talking about.

That means if you buy something linked from this page, I get rewarded by Amazon at no additional charge to you. It’s part of my unending and deeply personal search to make blogging worthwhile.

Christmas giving

“To: GOD! From: Kelly!

Dear God,

I’m exitet For you’r Birth-Day, at Chrismas!!

Love, Kelly”

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I know it’s terribly uncouth to mention the word “Christmas” too early, but I waited as long as I could. Could we just call it “The busy season of merriment and festivities that fast approacheth” for short?

It’s coming.

It’s been years since I’ve looked forward to it with such joy.

For one thing, Kelly has been longing for it since August, when we heard a chorus program that shook her world. They’re releasing their CD in December.

For another, it marks my baby’s first birthday. Everyone told me how much I would hate having a Christmas baby, but I loved waiting for The Baby both literally and figuratively, and I loved having all the hustle behind me by the time Christmas came, because of my obsessive nesting and preparing. (I think I bought the last of my presents on Halloween.) It was a very gentle holiday, quiet and reflective and sweet. Now each year when we celebrate Jesus and Jenny, the house will be festive for a month, and music will be playing, and twinkle lights will be sparkling.

Buying presents always creates a mixture of happiness and angst for me. Giving gifts is one of my favorite ways to love people, but giving so many at one time, and suiting them perfectly to their recipients, calls for much thought.

Three things have simplified the season for me.

First, shopping ahead and shopping online. I don’t ever again want to spend most of my December hunting frantically through crowded stores for just the thing for Uncle Dan. I love having so many good things arriving at my door in mysterious brown boxes and getting squirreled away under my bed.

Second, having our children exchange names among themselves. Now instead of supervising the headache of three to five cheap presents per child, I can help them choose one nice one. We set a $10 guideline: each child contributes five dollars of his own saved money from allowances and odd jobs, and we parents match it. It’s amazing what you can buy with ten dollars: 3-D puzzles, science kits, board books, endless crafts, durable toys. (I’ll share more ideas next time.)

And third, finding a workable plan for extended family giving.

In my Coblentz family, we’ve designated a different couple to do the planning each Christmas, starting with Dad and Mom the first year, my oldest brother and his wife the next year, and so on down through the family. We can each plan whatever giving we’d like, within reason. It has worked like a charm. One year we pooled our money to give to a sibling who’d had huge medical stress and expense. One year we drew names and exchanged homemade gifts. One year we gave only to the children, mailing packages to those who couldn’t come home. This year we’re stuffing stockings, choosing small items for everyone. I love it—endless variety, easy planning, and very little stress.

On the Zook side, we couples give simple presents to each other, often homemade: bath scrubs, drink mixes, cheese and deer bologna, sweet treats, whatever.

It’s a season of joy, when Christmas gifts ought not to become synonymous with overspending and stress. How do you bring simplicity and joy to your giving?

Or is this too early to be discussing it?


This post contains affiliate links.

Ginger cookies filled with buttercream

She made them better than anyone else could: small and perfect rounds, soft and sugared. And then she’d make them in miniature, the size of an American quarter, just for the little people.

We called her Tiny Grandma, and her hallmark cookies? Ginger.

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I have her recipe, and when I bake her cookies I remember a lady I loved, though I can’t match her product. She was a careful baker—Cool the melted butter to room temperature; use your fingertip to scoop the last egg white out of the broken shell. Her work never varied, unless of course she forgot something. She did make pumpkin pies once without the pumpkin…

Grandma’s Ginger Cookies

¾ cup margarine
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
½ cup molasses
4 ½ cups flour
4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. salt

Melt and cool margarine. Add sugar, eggs and molasses and beat well. Add dry ingredients. Chill dough, then form into 1” balls. Roll in white sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 7-8 minutes. Do not overbake; when they crack, take them out, and let them finish baking on the cookie sheet.

Sometimes I make ginger cookies when I miss her. And this season, I copied my aunt and tried something new: filling them with lemon buttercream and sticking them together as sandwich cookies. Or with coconut cream filling. You won’t believe it—heaven!

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Buttercream Filling

10 Tbsp. butter, softened
3 ½ cups powdered sugar
Dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat ingredients well—frosting will still be crumby until liquid is added. Divide in half. To one half, add

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

and beat till fluffy. To the other, add

2-4 Tbsp. whipping cream
½ cup coconut

and beat.

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Frost the underside of one cookie and stick it to another—making some sandwiches with coconut buttercream and some with lemon. Place cookies in an airtight container and leave alone for a day to soften, so the filling does not squeeze out when you eat them… if you can wait that long [wink].

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Then… enjoy.

And that’s all the news from the Zooks for the year!

Merry Christmas, folks. See you in January!

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