holiday gift ideas

Over the past few years (and even more so over the past few weeks), I've been having conversations with friends about how December has become a month of gift buying; and with many people I know focused on minimizing unnecessary possessions, the thought of buying so many gifts feels especially ironic and burdensome.  But even so, I truly enjoy figuring out perfect (if simple) gifts for friends & family.

Handmade gifts are wonderful, but not always right for every recipient, and realistically, I'd need to start working on gifts in January in order to finish making presents for everyone on time (and maybe not even then...)  So, I make a few gifts every year (usually for my children's teachers), but my go-to gift for nearly everyone else is a book -- even used books are fair game, because it's not about how fancy the book is, but what's inside.  And it's gratifying to get a call or email from someone saying, "I just finished reading that book you gave me & it was wonderful."

So, here goes... my list of holiday gift ideas.  However, please note: if you suspect you might be receiving a gift from me, go away. Scram. Now.

1) Donations to Non-Profits :: When my husband asked what I wanted this year as a holiday gift, I told him to please make donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Violence Policy Center. It's not that I'm feeling like a martyr or don't like gifts, but there's nothing I personally want or need for myself right now and these foundations are doing important work.  This is not to say that donations to non-profits are good gifts for everyone, but it might be something to discuss with your children -- and make a group decision regarding which non-profit (or non-profits) you would want to support as a family with a donation this year.

Not all non-profits are what they seem, so it's a good idea to do a little bit of research into what each organization really supports and what percentage of donations actually go toward doing the work they say they're doing (as opposed to spending your donations on telemarketers, sending endless junk-mail and lining the pockets of their CEO's & CFO's). I checked in with Mother Jones and also appreciated the information in THIS article.

2) Tickets to a Performance or Membership to a Museum ::
Okay... so maybe there IS something I want for myself: tickets to Cirque du Soleil (and because tickets for Cirque du Soleil are crazy-expensive, I think this will count double as my birthday present).  Cirque du Soleil might not be setting up their tent in your town any time soon, but maybe there's a concert, play or ballet performance you've been wanting to see?  A museum you've been wanting to visit? An ice-skating or hiking adventure? You get the idea...


3) Gift Ideas for Teachers ::
Last year I made these for my sons' teachers, and this year I potted grape hyacinth bulbs together with tête–à–tête jonquil bulbs (see photo above).  My other favorite plants to pot and give as gifts are cyclamen or amaryllis bulbs.

4) Books for Teens & Grown-Ups::
These books were my favorites this year (though not all were published this year) and they have made my list of "go-to gifts."  Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, The Muse by Jessie Burton, The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and also A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy by Sarah Lazarovic. (This last suggestion is sort of an ironic gift, but really, the author's premise is brilliant -- instead of buying things she wanted, the author painted pictures of them and chronicled her impulses to spend & acquire.  It's thoughtful, inspiring, not at all preach-y, and very funny.)

And for my fav Harry Potter fans, young and older, there is THIS and THIS.

5) Books for Younger Kids ::  
Home by Carson Ellis (because it's gorgeous), Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi (because there's an impromptu parade through the snow... and cake), The Complete Polly and the Wolf by Catherine Storr (because we could all use a good laugh, and this book is hilarious), and finally The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy (because this delicious version is by Elisa Kleven... and hint-hint... there will be a give-away for a copy here next week).

6) Craft Books for Kids (and for the adults who hang out with them) ::
Paper Suncatchers by Christine Gross-Loh -- This little book is sold as a boxed kit with some translucent paper to get you started, but you will quickly need more paper (which you can find HERE).  We are obsessed with making window stars right now so this book lives on the kitchen table; we also love Window Stars by Thomas Berger which is sadly out of print, but if you can find a used copy for a good price, grab it!!

My younger son really enjoys activity books published by Usborne -- especially the Book of Things to Find and Color and I am fascinated by this optical illusion book... 

Make Faces by Tupera Tupera -- My mom gave a copy of this book to my son a few months ago, and trust me -- it's super fun (in fact, I'm surprised Amazon hasn't sold out because I've personally bought so many copies as gifts).

Magical Miniature Gardens & Homes by Donni Webber (there's a give-away for a copy of the book HERE)

7) Other Cool Stuff ::
My teenage son eats so much ice cream that our scoop is perpetually sitting in the sink in a puddle-y mess so I decided he should have his own special ice cream scoop.  This one seems really great so I got one for him.

I bought a box of rocks for my younger son; not regular rocks -- geodes.  He's going to love smashing them open with a hammer.

My parents bought this scooter for my younger son as a splurge-y holiday gift and gave it to him early so we could all enjoy it together over Thanksgiving.  I'm not sure who likes riding it more, me or my 6 year old.

And finally, when another family member asked what to buy as gifts for my kids, I suggested subscriptions to Kiwi Crate.

8) Stuff that Smells Good ::
My newest obsession is the Grapefruit Cardamom Skin Balm by Etta + Billie. It. Smells. So. Good.

9) What Would Dumbledore Want?  
These Socks.

For more ideas, Rachel's list of 101 Toy-Free Gift Ideas on her blog Clean is worth checking. Plus Catherine Newman's list HERE.


magical miniature gardens & homes :: book review and giveaway

FTC Compliant Disclosure:  I was sent a copy of this book by Page Street Publishing Co. to facilitate this review., however, all opinions expressed below are entirely my own.

Dear lovely readers -- I have been in on a secret for a few months and am excited to share some ever-so-lovely fairy sized news with you today. Donni Webber of the blog The Magic Onions has written a book:  Magical Miniature Gardens & Homes.

If you are a reader of The Magic Onions, then you're already aware that, since 2010, Donni has been our ambassadress to the magical realm of fairy gardens. You can click HERE to see the enchantments which Donni has wrought & inspired. Who then would be better qualified to write a book on the topic of tiny, magical gardens?


What I love best about this book, and what I feel makes it unique, is that Donni explains how to make everything instead of relying on purchasing pre-fabricated items.  The book contains instructions for making everything from bedsteads to benches, toadstools to wishing trees; and while these gardens might look intricate, each item, for the most part, can be constructed from objects and craft supplies you might already have lying around the house.  Moreover, Donni's instructions are so very clear and uncomplicated for making each tiny item, that crafting is fun as opposed to intimidating.

Bravo to Donni and the editing team at Page Street Publishing Co. for putting together a book in which the crafts are accessible to children and which sparks their endless capacity for creativity (the book is wonderful for adults who love delving into imagination, too!!).


Now for the give-away.  Please leave a comment below for an opportunity to win a copy of Magical Miniature Gardens & Homes (and just for fun, if you wish, you might, in your comment say what your name would be if you were a fairy).  I will choose a winner via random number generator on Monday, December 5th.  Note: unfortunately, due to the high cost of international postage, this giveaway is only open to residents of the US and Canada.

Thank you to Donni for creating such a wonderful book and opening the fairy realms to all.  Thank you also to Page Street Publishing for spreading fairy magic and for kindly offering a copy of this gorgeous book to my readers.


seeking light

When the sun rose bright Wednesday morning, it felt incongruous after the results of Tuesday night. I got up to prepare breakfasts and pack lunches for my children with the birds and squirrels, trees and sun sparkling outside the window. There was the usual coffee & toast accompanied by rambunctious chaos in my kitchen, and the world beyond this tiny microcosm seemed dark and scary.

Does it sound naive to say that when in despair, it's time to look towards the light?  And to look in our hearts because there is light there, too?  And do something beautiful with our hands, because it can be healing for ourselves and for the world?  And then start again, raising our voices to stand up for what we know is right?

Here are a few places I've found words which feel helpful and true; and these are not just words of comfort, but words which call us to action, because now, as much as ever, action is needed: Clean, ben and birdy, Tara Lazar, plus this and this at Huffington Post.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: 
only love can do that.  
Martin Luther King Jr.


tutorial :: watercolor leaf garland

A re-post of another favorite autumn craft...

Last week I looked over at my mantelpiece and decided it was in need of a festive autumnal garland.  This thought sent me rummaging through my craft supply cupboard where I found some paper which we had painted with watercolors about a year ago.

To create this garland, I cut an oak leaf shape from a piece of card-stock and traced outlines on the reverse-side of the water-colored paper.

 Then I cut out the leaves...

And used a 1/16 in (approx. 1 mm) hole-punch to add two holes to each leaf (a 1/8 in / 2 mm hole-punch would also work.) If you don't have a small hole punch, you could thread a needle and use it to create holes in the leaves as you string them up for your garland.


 Like so... 

And done.


tutorial :: autumn flutter-kite

This is a re-post of a favorite autumn craft from a few years ago...

These flutter-kites are easy to create, fun, and great for rainy days when everyone is feeling cooped up.  We always seem to have one or two among the book shelves for a quick run around the house when the mood inspires. Just grab the end of the string, take a dash around the sofa, and these little kites will flutter & fly satisfyingly in your wake (or you can take your kites outdoors on fine autumn mornings as we did today.)

I usually make these kites from construction paper, but today I decided to get fancy and cut up some watercolor paintings.


Besides oak leaves, some of our other favorite shapes for kites are butterflies, fish and ladybirds.

Generally, I use cellophane tape to attach short pieces of yarn (about 15 inches long) to the kites; however, for this kite (made from heavy-weight watercolor paper) I trimmed a scrap and glued it to the back of the leaf, sandwiching the yarn between the leaf and the triangular scrap (see photo above.)

The kite is ready & now it's time to fly...

(or sit on a bench and give it a hug.)



Wishing you a spooky Halloween...


jack-o-lantern window garland

I love Halloween decorations -- my favorite ones are the sweet, wonky paper cut-outs of jack-o-lanterns, bats, spiders, owls, witches & cats made by children.  When I see homemade decorations taped up in windows, I know families with young children must live in those houses.

We usually have bats in our windows, but this year I thought it would be fun to make some jack-o-lantern faces.  Originally, I'd planned to just collage some faces onto orange paper circles, but when I started thinking about the fact that these were going in the windows, I couldn't resist bringing out our stack of translucent window-star waxed paper (available for purchase here and here).  Note: if you don't have window-star paper and you're not interested in purchasing new supplies for this project, just use plain orange craft paper, and your jack-o-lantern faces will look just as sweet.

-- Orange paper
-- Black paper
-- [OPTIONAL] Orange window-star paper (you can buy it here or here)
-- Scissors, glue stick, a hole punch, string and sticky-tape

STEP 1 :: If you are using window-star paper, cut it into ovals approx. 16 cm wide by 15 cm high.

STEP 2 :: Draw and cut out craft-paper pumpkins approx. 18 cm wide, and then cut ovals in the centers of the pumpkins approx. 15 cm wide by 14 cm high. (note: if you are not using the window-star paper, don't worry about cutting out ovals in the centers of your pumpkins.)

STEP 3 :: Apply glue stick around the edges of the ovals in the pumpkin centers and secure the window-star paper in place.

STEP 4 :: Cut out small triangles, rectangles, circles and mouth shapes to suit your fancy.

STEP 5 :: Step away and cook supper while your 6 year old (or any other age child) amuses himself making jack-o-lantern faces.

STEP 7 :: Admire your child's attention to detail, especially in the application of expressive eyebrows.  (Aside: please know that my 6 year old is oblivious to the irony of his patriotic Mickey Mouse t-shirt... but thank goodness that even my little son understands it would clearly be a terrible idea to vote for a sleazy, narcissistic businessman.)

STEP 8 :: If you plan to use string to hang your jack-o-lanterns, punch 2 holes at the top of each (otherwise you can just tape them up on the window).

STEP 9 :: Stand back to admire the silly faces, knowing that everyone who passes by your house will smile when they see your decorations.

P.S.  If you're a new-ish visitor to my blog and you haven't yet seen my Halloween tutorial for peg doll bats, you can click HERE.



One night, while at university, I neatly won a game of Scrabble against my housemates by landing the word 'quince' on a triple-word-score.  When I lay the word on the board they smirked, insisting that 'quince' was not a word.  I informed them that I had not only cooked but consumed a quince earlier that day while they sat around the kitchen table eating tortilla chips; in response, they shook their fists in fury and swore eternal vengeance.

So this past Sunday, when I spotted a pile of quince at my local farmer's market, I skipped over with glee, not only due to my fond memory of the aforementioned Scrabble game, but because quince are rare, their season short, and I've been saving up recipes all year (plus I'm intrigued by ancient texts which indicate that Eve's forbidden fruit may perhaps have been quince).  Why did I only buy three?  My bags were already overloaded with kale, Brussels sprouts & jars of honey, but I'm planning to buy more quince next Sunday (reassuring myself that quince season runs through October & November, so they should hopefully continue to appear at the market for the next two months).

I'm not sure which recipe to try first: this one at Orangette, this one over at Food 52, this recipe at Chowhound, this recipe at kitchn, this one at Bon Apetit or this other one at Bon Apetit (I'm thinking maybe the Chowhound one with honey and cognac... or the one at Bon Apetit for fig & quince preserves... oh,my).

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”


the troll cookbook

About a month ago I was craving apples -- good, local apples harvested in season.  And then, like a bit of wish fulfillment, walking through the farmers market, my eyes landed on a pile of freshly picked Gravensteins.

These first apples of the season put me in mind of a watercolor illustration by Karima Cammell from The Troll Cookbook, which she co-authored with Clint Marsh.

I've been intending to tell you about this book since its publication last February, but now that apple-season is here, it seems the perfect time.

The Troll Cookbook acts as an instruction manual for how to prepare food as trolls do: relying on seasonal produce, guided by appetite, and enjoyment of all five senses.  The recipes are organized by season, interspersed with insight into troll-wisdom, sensibilities and folk-tales.  For example, this information appears under the heading Goblin Fruit: Visiting the Troll Market

All vegetables taste best when they are fresh and grown in soil, ideally with a bit of dirt still clinging to them when they are displayed in the market. What sort of dark magic, thinks the troll, is responsible for hydroponic tomatoes grown in the dead of winter? 

... Moving beyond the produce section, the troll is equally frustrated with much of the rest of the supermarket, with its aisles of packages plastered with photographs of the food inside, or worse, of happy people.  Trolls appreciate truth in advertising.  Not once has a troll torn open a box of cereal and found actual people to eat inside.  It's disappointing.

This quote points, alas, to the one deficit in this book.  Trolls are known for tossing hapless humans into their cookpots, and yet I could not find one recipe for how to cook a human among the collected recipes. This is probably for the best. Personally, I'd much rather have a book filled with instructions for preparing apples, breads & cakes, pickled vegetables, preserved lemons, rose-hip jam and warming winter soups.  How about you? 


summer nostalgia

I wasn't sure what to title this post.  Is it possible to be nostalgic for something which only ended last week?  Is it possible to be nostalgic for a time of year I don't really like? (Nostalgic about fall & winter? Yes. Summer? No.)  Still, when I ran across these photos from the very first day of summer vacation, despite my usual aversion to anything involving hot weather & sunscreen, I felt nostalgic.  How can a person not feel nostalgic about a jingling, jangling carousel circled by a rainbow of horses?  My little son rode three times that day and it was a good way to start summer, indeed.

But last week we said, "Good bye summer.  Hello fall." (Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case you said "Hello spring.")  I've been busy at the farmer's market buying as many apples & quince as I can possibly carry, and I'll be back soon to tell you about it. xo


'tis the season

...for acorns!

Note: The leaves and acorn above are from a variety of oak called California Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia); as you may have noticed, the leaves are not deeply lobed in the way that would identify most varieties of oak leaves.


good morning starshine...

Did you ever wonder what mornings are like in the Bloom household?  Today I'm going to give you a glimpse.


Our school days start with me barging into the bedrooms of my boys -- first the small one, then the larger one -- and flinging open the curtains.  My barging is usually accompanied by a song which has been popular around here for many years:
Good morning dear earth,
Good morning dear sun.
Good morning dear stones,
and the flowers, every one.
Good morning dear beasts,
and the birds in the trees.
Good morning to you,
and good morning to me.

...and if the cat is following me from room to room (which he usually is) I also sing "good morning to kitty's fleas."

For occasional variation I sing THIS SONG, THIS SONG, or my favorite from summers at sleep-away camp:

Good morning to you! Good morning to you!
You look kind of drowsy, in fact you look lousy.
Good morning to you! Good morning to you!
You look kind of sleepy, in fact you look creepy.

However, Tuesday was the first day of school for my boys, and I came up with a whole new way to torment my family.

I'm not sure why, of all possible mornings, I was suddenly inspired to sing this song... but there you go. And why do I seem to know most of the words by heart?  That's another mystery altogether.  ("Gliddy glub gloopy/Nibby nabby noopy/La la la lo lo/Sabba sibby sabba/Nooby abba nabba/Le le lo lo..." Good lord.)

Next week I might sing this song (my favorite part starts at around 2 minutes, 20 seconds). My younger son and the cat like the newly added song in my morning repertoire.  My husband and older son are investing in stock with companies which manufacture earplugs.

And lest you think it's otherwise all bluebirds and sunshine in my house every morning, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.  After the singing, it's all downhill.  Everyone jostles in our our small kitchen (including the cat who is inevitably underfoot, and complains when he's shifted out of the way) to throw together hasty breakfasts and pack lunches.  I get distracted reading the comics section of the newspaper until my husband points out that I should probably get moving, which sends me dashing upstairs to change out of pajamas with reminders flung over my shoulder to please hurry with shoes & socks, and then we're all barreling out the door.

Do you have any favorite morning routines?  Any special or unique ways you like to torment your family? Do tell!