Some of our neighbors put up Christmas Holiday lights two weeks ago. Jim followed suit, thinking why not do it when it’s warm outside? I’ve long been a bit of a grinch when it comes to starting the December holiday season long before we’ve eaten the last of the Thanksgiving turkey, but this year I’m all in with lights and color and everything else joyful that we can manage. (I’m not alone, apparently tree sales are already booming.) As we all know, it’s going to be a challenging winter. (As if things haven’t been challenging enough.)
Anything and everything we can do to lighten our lives is a good thing, and we know that one way to do that is to give to others. And so here is my starter list of gifts that we can give others, knowing that the benefits of giving accrue mostly to us.
DONATIONS There are a whole lot of people in a whole lot of hurt right now, and the best gifts we can give are to help them out any way that we can. The trick is to figure out what you can afford, and where to help. There are so many ways to do this: For example, I’ll be writing a check to our local food pantry soon—what is more basic than needing to feed your children? (Jim and I have donated to Second Harvest, as well as volunteering on occasion; you might search for local food pantries in your own areas.) For years my sisters and I have donated to each other’s favorite charities in lieu of sending gifts. A good friend sends money to Heifer International in all his friend’s names, providing a life-giving farm flock to needy families around the world. And of course, your local animal shelter or rescue group desperately needs all the help it can get right now. If not money, perhaps food, or toys, or some volunteer time?
FOOD My favorite part of the holidays is creating baskets of homemade food for our friends. When you are our age (Jim and I just turned 72), the last thing you want are more “things.” I carefully check the “Please don’t send me a blanket/bag/T shirt with a panda/whale/bird on it,” and sigh (or curse, let’s get real here) when it comes anyway. But food? Oh yeah, never enough of that. In year’s past I’ve made up baskets of Butternut Squash soup, crusty French dinner rolls, wild plum/apple butter sauce, and Jim’s famous Christmas cookies (get in line, he could send us on a trip around the world if he sold them). This year I’ve made my own catsup (thank you Rick!) and put it in vintage glass jars. A good friend gives us her yummy sourdough English muffins (talking to you Harriet), another (thanks Renee!) gives us homemade soap which is heavenly. (Okay, it’s not food but . . .)
Our friends with dogs get homemade doggy biscuits added to their baskets, always from Liz Palika’s The Ultimate Dog Treat Cookbook. My favorite recipe, a simple one, is Chunk Chicken and Sweet Potato Treats (page 6):
1 ¼ c small pieces of cooked chicken
½ c small pieces cooked sweet potato
2 c all-purpose whole wheat flour
1 c evaporated lowfat milk
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350, mix all ingredients, drop by rounded tsp onto greased cookie sheets, bake 14-18 min til golden brown, let cool.
Of course, you have to know your friend’s dog—some can’t eat one or more of the ingredients, but you can riff on this recipe easily. Better yet, make up the treats, order the book and give them both to your friend or family members. Perfect.
Another way to gift friends is to give them gift certificates to local restaurants that do take out. Many of us, me included, miss restaurants deeply, desperately, and have already seen beloved, locally-owned cafes go out of business. Any way we can support them, and other local business, is a good thing. Pet related? Sure… pet owners need to eat too, right?
THINGS Okay, I’ll admit, there are some things that either we really need, or that light up our life and enhance it in some way. Or both, even better.
Number one on my list then, is custom-made masks with the wearer’s dog on them. Practical, fun and very, very good for all of us. (You can add any photo for that matter. A person could get very creative here, just saying.) Last year I mentioned custom made socks with pet portraits on them, still a great idea. As a woman who goes through socks as if at a dead run, socks are always welcome in my house, and funny or happy ones are cherished.
Dog toys are always a great idea, but you have to know what kind of toys the dog actually enjoys. High on my list right now is one of the Tearribles, a toy with heavy duty Velcro that allows your dog to rip and tear to her heart’s content . . . and then you put it all back together again. But, it comes with a CAUTION FROM ME. (Yeah, I’m actually yelling.) If your dog tends to ingest parts of dog toys this would be an extremely dangerous toy. Maggie and Skip have never shown an inclination to do anything but rip things into shreds, leaving the butchered pieces lie around them as evidence of their predatory victories. I’ve had this toy for months now, and unlike the plush toys that are in rags within hours or days, our Tearrible looks little different than when it came. It’s a Christmas miracle.
My favorite cat present of 2020 is the Katris cat nest. I’ve talked before about how much Nellie and Polly love it; they literally lay down in it within minutes of its assembly. I should note, however, that they use it less now that it’s cold, which makes sense because 1) it’s on a cement floor in an unheated garage, and 2) they have a heated kitty house that is much more fun when it’s below freezing, as it is as I write. But it would be perfect any time of the year for indoor cats. Honestly, I’ve never seen the cats so fond of something new so fast.
On the other hand, your cat might want a resting place that is a bit more high end. Here’s a link to a rattan, elevated cat throne that would look impressive in any room. I can see a lot of cats thinking it’s just perfect. At $138, it’s suitable to those of you with deep pockets, a friend who would truly love it, and a cat who would appreciate it. It is gorgeous, I must say.
A good friend recommended a company, MIXPIX, that makes “photo tiles” that you can attach easily to the wall and mix and match whenever you want. It sounds like a great way to create a photo display of your pets, that you can then update whenever you want. The photos are 8” by 8” and attach with magnets on the back of the photo and affixed to the wall. Thanks Melissa, sounds like a great idea!
BOOKS You can probably imagine that my favorite things are books. High on my reading gift list is Karen London’s great new book, Treat Everyone Like a Dog. I wrote a post about it earlier, and think it’s going to be a classic. Best part? It’s suitable for anyone and everyone, unless they live in a cave, and have no need to influence even their own behavior. I also loved Ken Ramirez’s 2020 book, The Eye of the Trainer (also worth its own post earlier this year). I’ll read both of these books over and over again for years to come, so be sure to get copies for yourself. Another book that is worth looking at is Lili Chin’s book, Dog Language. I haven’t seen the book itself, just photos of some of the illustrations, and I see why there is a buzz about it. It’s a great gift for a first time dog owner, or someone whose had dogs for years but perhaps could use a primer on understanding canine visual signals. (I should mention that there are a few labels I wouldn’t use myself—not sure the “angry” dog is really angry for example—but these are quibbles and over all, it’s a wonderful addition to families with dogs.)
As always, my preferred place to look for dog books is Dogwise. I’m not objective in the least—Nate and Jason and Jon and Kristy distribute my books and I consider them my friends. That said, they wouldn’t be friends if I didn’t think so highly of them. Because of our work together I’ve gotten to know them, and if there was ever a family business to support, this is a good one. They often have substantial sales right after Thanksgiving, so you might want to check back then. So many great books out there now, and best of all they, have gift certificates available.
Okay! That’s a start–now I’m turning it over to you. What are your favorite gifts to give? (Or get, what the heck, maybe your friends are reading comments!)
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: It’s gun season now, so walks off the farm (and even on it) require some precautions. Skip and Maggie were rocking their orange collar additions on our walk this weekend in Brigham and Blue Mounds Park. No gun hunting in either, but we still kept them close to my Blaze Orange parka and our bright orange hats.
The woods are a testament to the variety within the color brown, along with this fantastical hut someone began building. I love thinking about who started it, and where they are now.
On Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting Ollie, a Llewellin setter pup. He is adorable, full of himself and has a nose that just won’t quit already. I sort of wish I could send you a video of his owner Ann and I chasing him down to pull a stinky, rotted dead mouse out of his mouth. But then, maybe I’d rather not. We were successful however, stamina and determination won out.
Here’s what I get to look at through the kitchen window. It’s not the best photo in the world, but I feel so lucky to look out the window at sheep living in a healthy environment. And now that I look at the photo closely, what are they looking at? Now I’m curious . . .
Here’s hoping your week is full of curiosity too. May we all have a lot to be thankful for, no matter how big or how small.