It’s getting to be that special time of year, when you either 1) descend into a sparkle-light-filled state of holiday bliss because your life is a precious snow globe of wonder and joy or 2) begin to freak the fuck out because November is just one long pressure cooker simmer until the hellish flop-sweat panic of December when you’re inevitably paying out the ass for last-minute shipping fees and wishing you could deck that smug matching-pajamas family along with the walls.

Ha ha, of course I am just kidding, the holidays are always AMAZING and not at all a teeth-grinding endurance challenge featuring a depressing spiral into rabid commercialism and culminating in a series of offensive dinner table jokes. Ha ha!

Okay, I really do love Christmas, but I also acknowledge the less-pleasant side of things, which is why I’m sharing a few gift ideas that have been successful for me in the past. I don’t have the easiest list to shop for and who knows, maybe something here will alleviate a tiny bit of holiday-induced stress for one or two of you.

For the person who is IMPOSSIBLE to buy for:
This bag from LL Bean, monogrammed with their initials. My mother-in-law loves the bag I got her and uses it all the time while traveling.

For the person who likes to bake:
This cute stamp customized with their name, which can accompany bags of cookies and treats and whatnot. My sister-in-law, who makes unbelievable cakes, was very charmed with her stamp.

For the person who likes to entertain:
A pretty cutting board, customized with their name. Another gift for my sister-in-law, who’s much better at hosting dinners and things than I will ever be.

For the person who likes to grill:
They probably have a lot of grill tools, but do they have a fancy Himalayan salt plate? I got this for my brother-in-law and he seemed pretty excited to try it out.

For the person who likes to write, or at least likes to reminisce:
A subscription to Storyworth. This is not a slam-dunk gift, it was a giant fail for both John and his dad (I gifted to him, he gifted to his dad) in that neither felt they had the time/attention to write every week, so the questions piled up or the answers were very brief. But the reason I will keep recommending this forever is because my mom treated her subscription like a true creative prompt and sent SO many wonderful, amazing, illuminating stories that are absolutely priceless to me. I will soon have a printed book of all her essays and it will be one of those rescue-from-the-house-fire items, just an unbelievably wonderful experience and a lovely way to preserve her memories for my boys and even their children.

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When John and I first moved to Seattle we lived in the area known as lower Queen Anne, in a ramshackle apartment with no parking and a dreary forever-damp shared laundromat. It was decidedly unfancy but offered a sweeping view of the Sound, where we could peer around the stacks of a grain mill to watch sparkling cruise ships glide into the bay alongside the dark hulking slabs of cargo ships and jaunty angled sailboats.

That’s where I can first remember going on walks together, leaving our mostly-crummy neighborhood for the spectacular mansions further up the hill. The climb to fancy upper Queen Anne is a steep one, and later when John was training to summit Mt. Rainier he would wear a backpack weighted down with milk jugs filled with water.

When we moved to Bellevue and entered the small-children stage of life we relished walking there when we could, pushing a stroller or wearing a carrier. Walks felt like a luxury, a bit of a risk during our longer loops (naptimes, diaper blowouts, feedings — it never felt like a good idea to be too far from home), and they eventually petered down to the outings that are specific to toddlerhood: a slow, short, meandering journey filled with the aching marvel of sharing their excitement (another squirrel, can you believe it) but also the frustration that comes with matching a young child’s erratic pace. (I remember joking that it felt like we were trying to ever-so-slowly escape a sandworm from Dune.)

For years we went walking as a family, and we still sometimes do. Riley will sometimes amble alongside with one Airpod in place so he can exist in his preferred state of Technically Present But Immersed in That Mumbly Hip-Hop All the Kids Are Into These Days, Dylan might ride his bike in lazy loops around us.

Most of the time, though, John and I go out on our own. The kids don’t see the appeal of walking the same path day in and day out but we sure do. Our walk — and I think of it this way, as a route that’s somehow ours alone — takes us out of our immediate neighborhood, past a park, and around some nearby streets. We move at a brisk pace for about forty minutes, passing familiar houses as we step over piles of jewel-toned leaves in the fall, navigate muddy puddles in winter, work up a sweat in the high buzz of summer.

We’ve talked about so many things on these walks. Business, friendships, the kids, their school, our lives, our future, family, current events. We’ve had walks where the things that were left unsaid hung in the air beside us, a roiling darkness we could not escape. We’ve walked in companionable silence, lost in our own thoughts and dreams.

I could not have predicted how important this ritual would become to me, how the body movement would come to feel so good and necessary, how the head-clearing time away from the computer and household noise would be such a critical recharge, how the time spent together would add to the sometimes-shaky foundations holding up our marriage.

What seems most meaningful of all is that it feels like we have been walking for so long, through all kinds of different terrain, and despite so many twists and turns and obstacles, we still manage to find a way to stay side by side.

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