Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Poetry and Edible Houses: Christmas 2015

Someday, I will write a holiday-themed post before the holiday in question. But today is obviously not that day.

We had a simple, stripped down Christmas this year. (Thank goodness.) But I did attempt some baking. Last year, a friend gave me some house-shaped cake molds.

One of the houses came out cleanly:
Gluten-free gingerbread cake with chopped candied ginger and powdered sugar snow.

The other one. . .less so. At which point, it was 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and I decided that the only logical thing was to attempt to glue it together with cream cheese frosting.

Remember how I said that I don't bake much? The last time I had tried to make frosting, it went flat as a lake and turned into glaze. ("How can you mess up frosting? There must have been something wrong with the sugar," my mother said. Sure, let's go with that.) But this time, it actually became frosting, so I'm marking that as a success.

I knew the second house wasn't remotely pretty, but I was still a little shocked when Mom said, "Oh, what a cute chimney."

That's a tree, Mom. Obviously.
Well, at least it tasted good.

This year, my church's Advent sermon series was titled "Simply Jesus." I wrote a poem for the series that was handed out at our five o'clock service. 

A small Christmas gift to the other members of Gateway Fellowship.

I realize that (unless you are Orthodox) we are well into the post-Christmas season now, but I've included the poem below for those who are curious.

Simply Christmas

Don’t misunderstand, I love
the ridiculous ritual
of it all: the maudlin movies, the bell-song,
the scent of cinnamon and cloves, the way everything
is red and green and glitter
until your eyes water. The trouble
lies under the glitz and the gilt,

near the core of Christmas: a human poverty, the empty ache
that called the riches of Heaven
down to earth. The trouble is I know
there will never be enough
in my checkbook to give
the people I love the gifts they need most.
So the ache in me prays for the ache you:

May you receive a spark of courage
to light the woods ahead of you
in dark months. May you find a peace
to wrap around your head like an oversized
scarf, blocking out the cold and anxious wind.
May you maintain that stubborn flame of joy
we find in the Beatitudes: “happy are. . .
the poor in spirit, the ones who mourn, the meek,
the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers,
and the persecuted.” May all your God-given hungers—
for food, for safety and shelter, for love, for justice, and for family—
be filled. May you find your people this year,
your place of belonging, and may you discover
forgiveness for those who once ignored your worth.

May your heart not just be a cup
waiting to be filled, but a channel
that spills into the thirsty world. May you give
as you have received. And may the gift
that stays the closest to your
heart be the one that first arrived
without receipt or ribbon, tagged
for the world God so loved
with Heaven’s brightest beam and wrapped,
by human hands, in simple
swaddling cloth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

30 Last-Minute Bookish Gifts

Let's be honest: I rarely need lists like "Top Ten Great Gifts for Readers" because it's generally the non-readers in my life that I have the hardest time shopping for. ("You don't enjoy reading? I know a great book about that you might like!") But I love looking at those lists anyway. It's a like a catalog of all the things I didn't know I wanted. So here, in an attempt to be useful, but with the understanding that I am probably just tempting you, is my last-minute gift guide for 2015.

Shipping and tax are included, but the cost estimates are based my location in the U.S. Items should arrive in time for Christmas (particularly if you have Amazon Prime), but do double-check with the seller (particularly on Etsy). Some of these sellers only guarantee a Christmas delivery through their standard shipping method if you order by Dec. 16th.

You'll notice that at times I've stretched the term "bookish" to mean "things Bethany likes."

Gifts Over $25 (with some exceptions)

Digital Subscription Services. When you just don't know what to get a reader, but you know you want to give them reading, this may be your best bet. At this point, most people know about Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service (at $9.99 a month, or $59.99 for six months, and $119.88 for a year). But there are many other options.

1. Scribd has a wide range of books available, including comics and graphic novels. It's $25 for three months, $50 for six months, and $100 for a year.

2. I don't know much about it yet, but there's also the recent Playster, which allows you to choose between movies, music, books, video games, or a combination of your favorite services (runs between $3.95 a month for movies to $9.95 a month for books or music, with deals on bundles).

3. For the comic book fan, Marvel Unlimited is available for $9.99 a month. (The fact that there is no similar service for DC keeps me up at night. Just take my money already, DC!)

Non-digital Subscriptions.
4.  In spite of how often I hear that print is a "dying medium," I'm constantly surprised by the number of small journals and literary magazines I run across. These publications vary widely in price and themesci-fi, YA and children's lit., poetry, religion, and much moreand chances are pretty good that you can find something for any reader. I find that small literary journals produced by colleges are sometimes a little cheaper (but it really depends), and many print journals also offer a digital version of the publication for a reduced rate. This could run anywhere from $50 to $10 a year, depending on the publication and how frequently it's printed.

Home Decor

5. Customized Penguin Book Pillow from DecorByEdna on Etsy ($22.00, plus $7.50 shipping).

6. If you want me to fall in love with something, just tell me "It's a normal household object. . .except it's tiny." This isn't directly book-related, but I find that readers also tend to be "collectors of bits of paper." (Recently, I've been overrun with business cards.) Just look at this miniature filing cabinet from Kikkerland and tell me couldn't use one ($30.00 w/ free shipping).

Clothing and Accessories

 7. I'd be lying if I said that I knew why anyone would need this $44.00 Literati Club Hamlet umbrella, but I'd also be lying if I said wouldn't use it all the time if I had one.

Gifts Between $25 and $10

8. What does Edgar Allen Poe smell like? I'm not sure I want to know. But you can give his essence in the form of candle from Bookish Gifts ($18.00, plus approx. $4.00 shipping for the U.S.). The description simply says "Can also be used to summon ravens." (There's also a Dickens candle and an Austen, as well as smaller travel candles for $7.00.)

9. What goes together better than books and tea? This Kate Spade thermal travel mug lets you celebrate both ($22.95 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).

10. Dictionary is one of my favorite group games, so Discovery Bay's Liebrary game sounds amazing. It's basically a similar bluffing game, but with the first lines of books. The game doesn't seem to be in production anymore, but "collectible" editions are available at Amazon for $24.99 (after tax and w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).

11. These tea-scented erasers available through The Academy of American Poets should make mistakes a little sweeter (five for $5.00, plus $7.15 for two-day USPS priority shipping; these can also be found at Kikkerland).
Clothing and Accessories

12. I have this tote, and I love it. The bag goes with most outfits, it's fun, and it has room for several books. It's available from the wonderful Out of Print Clothing for $16.00 (plus $5.95 for USPS shipping). It also comes in a variety of colors.

13. I didn't even know this existed until I received one for my birthday this week, but oh. my. word. I love this! Yes & Yes Designs makes pins from recycled, falling apart books, including these lovely ladies. (Pins are approx. $18.00, depending on style, w/ $4.50 for standard shipping.)

14. The only thing wrong with this Eric Carlye, Hungry Caterpillar umbrella is that it seems to only come in child-sized versions ($19.97 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime). It seems like the sort of accessory that could brighten up anyone's rainy day.

Gifts $10 and Under

Bookmarks. When in doubt, readers always need bookmarks. Sure, any piece of paper will do in a pinch, but why not have a little fun?

15. Zipper bookmark ($7.00 or less w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).
16. Hippo bookmark ($9.90 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).

17. Cassette tape bookmark ($8.09 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).

18. Woodland Friends magnetic bookmarks (eight for $3.95 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).

15. I have a weakness for cute notepads. And cupcakes. (From Kikkerland for $4.00 w/ free shipping.)

16. Or if you prefer something a little more natural looking. . . . ($3.00 w/ free shipping from Kikkerland.)

17. This ninja pen makes its own "SHHINNG" sound ($6.00 w/ free shipping from Kikkerland).

18. "I shot a pencil through the air. . .good thing I had three others" (4 for $5.00 w/ free shipping from Kikkerland).

19. And if you're buying pencils, you'll probably need a pencil sharpener. So why not get a fun one? (From Kikkerland for $5.00 w/ free shipping.)

20. Book labels are always a good stocking stuffer, and here some from one of my favorite Esty shops, boygirlparty (six for $4.50, plus $2.30 shipping). Other designs are available (but I thought the reading octopus was unusual).

Food and Drink
21. Jane Austen cookie cutter, enough said. From regencyaustenation at Etsy ($7.50, plus $2.25 shipping). 
22. Or you could get a regular book-shaped cookie cutter from Cheap Cookie Cutters (a three-inch cutter for $3.49, shipping runs between $2.90 and $5.99).

23. I am always looking for an excuse to combine books with good tea, and this Book Lover's Tea from Adagio sounds like the perfect stocking stuffer. (Sample tins start at $4, plus $3.75 for ground shipping.)

24. "Tea + Books = Bliss." This tea ball knows what's up. It's available from TillaHomestead through Etsy ($6.50, plus about $2.90 for shipping).

Clothing and Accessories
25. Ashi Dashi Pencil socks! ($9.99 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).

26. Or if you prefer to immortalize a slightly more "modern" writing instrument on your feet, Sock Smith offers these typewriter socks ($9.95 w/ free shipping through Amazon Prime).
27. Typewriter key jewelry. Typewriter key buttons are available from TursiArt through Etsy for $1.50 each ($2.99 for shipping). Typewriter key charms can be purchased for $2.00 each from Gvioletshop through Etsy ($1.00 shipping).

28. If you're looking for something similar but a little fancier, I suggest SugarLaneShoppe's necklaces ($6.95, plus $2.50 for shipping through Etsy).

29. Speaking of typewriters, SkullAndHawk has a silver typewriter pin/tie tack ($5.99, plus $3.00 shipping through Etsy).

30. Or there's this lovely wooden typewriter pendant, from FrillyChili ($6.95, plus $2.50 shipping through Etsy).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

CSI: Turkey Division

Last week, I managed to come down with the flu, which I'm still fighting, so between that and work deadlines, blogging just didn't happen.

But I did manage to accomplish other things. Exhibit A:
Things I made: maple-glazed roast turkey, sausage and chestnut stuffing, gravy, and green beans with maple-Dijon almonds. Things I did not make: canned cranberry sauce. (There were also mashed potatoes, but the less said about those, the better).

Exhibit B:
This is the only photo I have of the table. Behold! a bunch of covered dishes and some foil lumps.

In case you haven't figured it out yet: I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner this year. I cannot adequately express how aggrandized my sense of accomplishment is. When that turkey came out of the oven, I wished there was a cliff nearby to pose on top of.

Gluten-free sweet potato chiffon pie: Exhibit C? Beautiful thing I did not make. (I've run out evidence of "things I did instead of blogging," but I still have photos left.)
I talked Mom into making the pie, and it was delicious. (Baking frightens me a little. I feel there's some truth in the adage "Cooking is an art; baking is a science." And gluten-free baking is like replacing half the elements in your experiment with "things nearby on the periodic table" and hoping the result won't burn off your eyebrows.)

We have a mini-fridge out back where we kept the main dish (in a brown grocery sack). When I retrieved it on Thanksgiving morning, I said "hi" to the neighbor's turkeys, like usual. And suddenly, I felt like I'd been interrupted in the middle of dragging a carpet-wrapped body from my car trunk: "Heeeey, Bob. . . . How're the kids? Nah, nah, I got this, thanks."

Later, they visited the scene of the crime.
"You know and I know what happened here, Becky, but no judge is going to convict on butter splatters alone."
"I can't prove you did it, but I can defecate on your deck."
I can't end a post without giving you something to read, but I really just want to suggest every article I've read about Ian Dengler, food sleuth. He can deduce your family's history just by hearing what you eat for Thanksgiving. Also, I love breakdowns of what people eat in each state for Thanksgiving. So here's one on the most googled Thanksgiving side dishes by state (chess bars for Kentucky sounds about right). Moving across the country has driven home the truth that there's no agreed on "typical" Thanksgiving meal.

I've been asking people this all week (and loving the answers): What dishes (beyond turkey) are required in your family to make Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving?