Twas the Night Before Solstice

We generally celebrate the winter solstice in a few ways, but I’m looking for ideas to add to our list.

On the shortest day of the year, December 21, we try to focus our celebration on food and on light.

We try to wake before dawn and walk the neighborhood with flashlights to greet the faraway sun. We also do this after dinner so we can help the sun get stronger for the next day. Every bit of light helps the sun get the idea of coming closer, bigger, and warmer, right?

During the day of the solstice we make and hang pine cone feeders for the birds and squirrels (shortest day means less time for them to find food). We bring food and toys to the animals at the local shelter. And we bake throughout the day and eat our warm goodies outside. A short, cold day means we need as much vitamin D as the sun can dole out.

And because Spouse and I agree we want to spread the gifts as much as we can through December, we exchange a few gifts on Winter Solstice. The small stuff comes during Hanukkah, other small stuff in Christmas stockings. Our real gift, if there is one, comes on Solstice.

So that’s it. Walk with lights, give animals food, bake, and exchange gifts.

Feels a bit anemic, though for a day that needs some extra warmth. Do you have something special for solstice (or Christmas Eve, for we’ll willing steal from that similarly “on the verge of” December holiday)? Anything you think we should add to our Solstice traditions?

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In case you need this

Many fine bloggers handle In Case You Missed It posts, wherein they point us to lovely writing, hilarious rants, and cultural memes. They keep us abreast of the words and images that we might enjoy.

In that spirit, for this season of catalogs full of stuff nobody needs, pleas to spend money few of us have, and pressure to cement relationships that none of us really want, I offer the following.

DJ Cat Scratching Pad at Uncommon Goods

The cat scratcher guaranteed to get your cat a job. Tired of your pet lounging about, leaving hair everywhere, and whining about it being “dinnertime” and “cuddle time”? Get your cat this scratching turntable. And get him out of the house for a new career in the club scene the kids are all talking about. In the ’80s.

Potager Coffee Table at VivaTerra


The toddler entertainment center. Wondering how to occupy your toddler while family gathers to drink heavily and scream at each other? Get this gorgeous coffee table complete with sharp corners, potted plants, and unattended wine glasses. Your wee one can learn valuable lessons about the physical world by scattering dirt all over the living room, sipping adult beverages, shattering glass, and uprooting cacti. The highly sought-after blood-snot-tears sprinkler effect resulting from her profusely bleeding head-wound, thorn-implanted fingers, and wrought-iron-pinched fingers might even stop the family bickering for a while. I hear the well-lit and bustling E.R. is a great place to spend the Winter Solstice.

Out of the Woods Tool Kit from Sundance Catalog

A gorgeous reinterpretations of an old classic. Why get simple, functional tools for someone who needs a screwdriver, ruler, level and flashlight, when you can get simple, functional, expensive tools? Levels are wonderful for fun and sport, especially when one of the three axes is replaced with a logo. Flashlights help in so, so many darknesses, and wax even brighter when set in sustainably grown beech wood. Multi-tipped screwdrivers are endlessly useful, but even more so when included in a canvas carrying case. Four tools *plus* a carrying case for $95? Oh, the value.

Okay. That’s all I care to share. The secret to shopping this holiday season is finding gifts that show people you care, that you think of them, and that you want to leave a glow of joy in their lives. To that end, my kids and I will spend hours deciding who on our list will get what from this catalog.

Oxfam Unwrapped Catalog

It might not be a job for our cat, a party in the ER, or a wildly useful reinvented bag of simplicity, but giving a family whose needs outstrip those without sustainable beech artisan tools something useful like a goat, a flock of geese, a piglet, or a hive of bees can feel pretty good. As a survivor of a couple of natural disasters, I might choose to send emergency supplies to those in need as a gift to my family and friends.

And for the cost of a cat scratcher, a potager table, and an imported tool set we can give families in need a pig, a cow, honeybees, a dozen chicks, a couple of goats, a donkey cart, and a bicycle. For a few people on our list, we’ll send a a pile of crap in their name.

Or a for the same cost we can buy a six backpacks full of food for six hungry American children. For a YEAR.

Or more than 200 pairs of socks dropped off at our local homeless shelter.

Or more than 75 bags to hand out to homeless people in our area, each with peanut butter, bread, plastic utensils, and a bottle of honey. Everyone deserves a peanut butter and honey sandwich in the cold, dark days of December.*

*Except the peanut-butter allergic among us. Dudes. I’m so sorry. Peanut butter is cheap and full of protein, but you deserve to be safe. You’re welcome to a bag with sunflower seed butter instead. Be careful out there in this season of peanut butter donations, friends. I’ll have a couple of bags without any nut products just for you. XOXO.

Making people into Santas

I wrote two years ago about how Christmas is different in our house. We celebrate every December holiday we can think of: Hanukkah, Solstice, Nana’s birthday, Christmas…

And we try to temper the gift receiving with a lot of giving. When Peanut was almost two he focused on giving to animals at the shelter. When he was almost three he chose to give to the hungry and to animals at the shelter. At almost four we brought toiletries to the homeless, toys to shelter animals, and human toys for toy drives.

And this year he spent almost an hour with me at the Heifer International site, making people we love into Santas.

See, we’ve taught him that the myth of Santa is a story about a man who, a long time ago, gave a lot to people who need. (Yup, we’re the jerks whose kid told your kid that Santa is dead. Cuz he is, yo. His story of selflessness and charity is what’s important and if you’re still pretending that’s your business but I ain’t playing along.) We talk about how the pretend Santas around this time of year are roaming the scenes of capitalist excess to remind people to give to others. Our Solstice-tradition pine cone bird feeders give to animals who need food when it’s cold; and this year our gifts of animals and education to families all over the world make each of our loved ones feel that they can be part of the Santa myth of love, peace, and charity.

Because the more Peanut thinks Christmas is about giving, and the more he thinks about people who need, the better our holidays feel.

Happy Almost Nana’s Birthday, everyone!

Well, it seemed like a good idea…

Successful planning is biting me in the ass again.

I have to admit my terrible flaw (that’s right. just one.) I’m a hyperplanner. I used to begin assignments the day they were announced, drawing up a timeline that allowed for two serious mishaps and a twice-edited paper by the day before the deadline. And I would stick to the schedule. I acknowledge how gross that is, but also offer that it’s a wicked good skill for freelancing and writing in graduate school.

I plan holiday presents in October, because that’s when I think of them. I buy holiday items eleven months in advance because that’s when they’re on sale. (Did you just suggest I get Hannukah candles a month late? Shame on you for talking to everyone who has ever met me. It just takes a little perspective shift for parsimonious to be 11 months early, dammit. And surprised every year when I open the December-decorations box and find new things with the tags still on them.)

(Also? Bite me. The world at large and the people who care about such nonsense are lucky I even decorate. Waste of my dwindling goodwill and patience, decorating. I still wrap presents by putting them in recycled tissue paper and cramming them in a sort-of-the-right-sized bag. Not a gift bag. Just any not-plastic bag. Cuz I’m that classy. And lazy. And cheap.)

Anyway, this year Peanut started his present list a week after his March birthday. I have never, ever bought him something in a store on request. I always tell him we can put it on his gift list, and I type it into my phone’s memo field. (Spouse just showed me how inefficient I am because when Peanut asked for something last week, Spouse took a picture on his phone so all the info, including price, is right there. Um, wow. That’s wicked efficient. I bow to you, Mr. Pants’-Seat-Flyer Who Has Awesome Ideas on Cutting Corners.)

So in November, when family started asking for Peanut’s list, I had it ready. And I offered to buy the items locally for people to save on shipping and to support local family-owned stores. Many relatives agreed. Way cool. All desired gifts are present and accounted for way before I get nervous that the deadline approaches.

Small problem, though.

I now have to wrap more than a few presents. Spouse and I gave Peanut a small gift for each night of Hannukah, plus a big present for Solstice and one for Christmas. There is no Santa gift to wrap, thankfully. (In our family Santa picks up presents to give to charity but doesn’t deliver because we’re lucky and can give instead of receive from the pretend old bearded guy who is just a story so don’t ask how he gets in the house). But there are, like, a dozen other presents to wrap. I’m used to one a night and then reusing the paper for the next day. I think he’s gonna notice if they’re all in the same pink tissue paper I’ve been using since my birthday two years ago. (Thanks, Mom, for being one of those Martha Stewart wrappers who includes a whole ream of tissue in the gloriously sparkled and themed gift bag. The rose and fuscia paper has served the pinkphilic child through seven major holidays thus far. And counting. [the secret is no tape. Just surround the gift rather than really wrap it.]

But this year’s stash will task my supply. So I’m considering newspaper (dammit, I read online) and magazine pages (dammit, I forgot to steal some from the dentist) or actually buying wrapping paper.

Or just hiding gifts in the house, scavenger-hunt style. Now *that* would go over big with the grandparents.