Confession: we bought a fake Christmas tree. Now, depending on your perspective, you’re probably either Awwww but nothing can replace the charm of a real tree or FUCK YES TEAM FAKE. I’m finding a lot to like about the artificial variety: no spiders, no mess dragging it in or taking it down, built-in lights that can be switched between multicolor (the kids’ favorite) or all-white (best!), and no need to vacuum 17 times a day as it dumps a continuous needle-sprinkle every-fucking-where. Cons: no pine smell, and yeah, at the end of the day it’s a big old hunk of wires and plastic. Still, did I mention the lack of needles and spiders? And the fact that there are all sorts of nice spruce-scented candles?

I initially said I still wanted to get a real one — a small one to sit on the porch, maybe — for the experience of visiting a farm and cutting our own but the recent Biblical levels of rain in Oregon have made that activity sound muddy and unappealing. The kids are perfectly happy with what we’ve got, so I’m calling it: TEAM FAKE.

This is the first year I’ve been a little head-scratchy about presents for the kids. Both of them are completely obsessed with sports, to the point that other obsessions have mostly fallen by the wayside. I did not predict I would mourn the absence of Legos strewn across every surface of the house, but I guess I prefer a bruised instep over the blare of “Top Best Most Awesome Amazeballs Buzzer Beaters!” YouTube videos which are comprised entirely of low quality video, annoying music, and people shouting at the top of their goddamned lungs. (“OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”) Since they weren’t very helpful in terms of expressing reality-based desires (both of them wanted “real Oregon Ducks helmets,” apparently for the dual purpose of draining our bank account and giving each other concussions in the front yard, and Riley wants an iPhone, which ha ha ha no), I tried to think of things that might help with the cabin fever brought on by our miserly winter daylight hours (“Sorry kids, I know you just had lunch but it’s time to come inside. Remember, at night the ice weasels come”).

Here’s what we came up with: this basketball hoop to replace the cheap broken one that’s dangling from the downstairs door like a loose tooth (along with two fresh non-dog-chewed mini foam basketballs), a “motors and generators” kit for Riley (Snap Circuits were a HUGE hit last year), this stuffed pelican for Dylan (he asked for something like this months ago [when we visited Klamath Falls where every business is named Pelican Something-or-Other which led us to assume we’d see plenty of the actual birds there but we never did] and I have no idea if it’ll hold any long-lasting appeal, but if it provides some cuddly delight on Christmas morning I’ll be happy), the Wrinkle in Time graphic novel for Riley, The Day the Crayons Quit for Dylan, and for both of them, this slotless racecar system (I lingered over the more popular Anki Overdrive starter kit but apparently it’s controlled by a mobile app, which means it would have been the perfect choice if I were also gifting Riley a phone, OHHHHHHHHH). Also I got this bag of assorted Pokemon whatsits which they’ve been finding in their advent box each morning. What else — fingerless gloves, garish basketball socks, and jersey type pants so I can hopefully convince them to dress for the weather when they’re playing outside. Plus this behemoth Batcave for their 4-year-old cousin.

If you’re shopping for kids this year, what did you get?

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I’m taking an online class in fiction writing and it’s been nice, an opportunity to learn the basics (third person multiple POV wha? Ohhhh, the thing they did in World War Z, gotcha) and flex some muscles that normally lay dormant unless I’m invited to some sort of group gathering in which case oh BOY do the hastily-invented excuses flow like wine. The class consists of ongoing lectures — wall-of-text-style as opposed to video, or worse, the sort of class that involves Skype, don’t think I didn’t conduct exhaustive research ahead of time on that horrifying possibility — a forum discussion, a weekly writing prompt, and the occasional “booth” assignment where you submit written work for your classmates to critique.

The weekly prompts are mostly fun with the exception of the one where we were supposed to write a fictional dating profile (heaaaaaarnnnnnnnngggggh), but the booth critiques, holy cow. Each week I have three or four pieces to read and comment on, and it is SO hard. It’s like being asked to provide constructive criticism about someone’s child: “Well, he has great hair! Just great. Love the curls. I think it would maybe be nice if he wasn’t quite so, ah, high-spirited — can you get him off my leg? Thanks — but that’s just my personal preference. Overall you’ve done a great job birthing him and I’m eager to see how he develops.”

The idea is to be encouraging but also provide feedback on what could be improved and I just want to do it in a way that is kind and useful and perhaps even so meaningful it propels them to become wildly successful and years from now they post it on some Reddit thread titled “What was the greatest piece of advice anyone ever gave you?” and everyone is like no way was that really So-and-So, Bestselling Author, and they’re like yes it is me I just wanted to share this amazing thing on account of what a positive impact it had on my life. However, I suspect what I really end up writing sounds like “ALLOW ME TO CLUMSILY PRAISE YOUR EFFORTS! SOME WORDS GOOD SOME LESS GOOD.”

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