Category Archives: Gift Guides

The Top Five Things I Bought in 2018

2018 has been a weird year. I’m not talking geopolitically for the world at large (though I could be talking geopolitically for the world at large), but for me, personally. I’ve done a lot this year – got a job, moved out, realized that living in a house with eight other strangers, seven of whom were dudes, was less like the fun parts of The Real World and more like the boring and unshown parts of The Real World where the kitchen’s always too small and no one else agrees with you that keeping toilet paper (and backup rolls of toilet paper) in the house is important, moved back home, completed tons of college classes, babysat too much, petsat too much (can you really do either, though?), and generally did and experienced so much that fitting it even in this run-on disaster of a sentence is impossible.

I also, in the course of these events, did not have any time to write anything that wasn’t an academic paper, but I did need a lot and buy a lot. And since people so enjoyed reading about stuff I enjoyed last year (or, more accurately, I enjoyed writing about it), I figured why not make you all read about the favorite things I’ve bought this year? I obviously didn’t get this done in time for Christmas (see: I got a job), but let’s just pretend this was on purpose so I could look more holistically at truly all of 2018 and my purchases. Here, in no particular order, are the top five best purchases I made:

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Stuff I Can’t Live Without

Everyone, I have an exciting announcement: I’ve fallen in love.

Not with an actual person,  don’t be silly. That would require a human man who wasn’t related to me or a co-worker actually initiate a conversation.

No, what I have fallen in love with is The Strategist, an entire blog from NY Magazine about good stuff to buy. I’ve lost count of the number of hours or days or potentially weeks I’ve spent browsing their back catalog, but it’s a lot. And while I strongly disagree with their distinctly New York sensibilities on the idea that you should spend $40 on a plain white t-shirt or over $200 on a non-cashmere sweater, for example (WHY?!?!), what initially got me into them was their series where they ask celebrities what products they can’t live without. I am nerdy enough to consider this a fascinating anthropological study of what objects people define themselves by, unlike a normal human who goes “oh cool, I can use the same candle as a famous person!” I would love to be asked to do this feature, but being famous is my literal worst nightmare, though things like this being interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air that make me wish I could be just famous enough for precisely two milliseconds so I could be asked to this and nothing else. I can’t, because that’s impossible, but I can pretend The Strategist asked me to make a list and publish it on my own. Which I did, because of course I did. What are you, new here?

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The Gift Guide For People Who Don’t Want Gifts – Part Three: Everything Else

Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s too late. Do you think I wanted to be finding a proctor for my stats final and then taking it while trying to figure out how to turn off push notifications AND silence my phone without silencing-silencing it because some random fact I tweeted about elephants went supernova mega viral? I will tell you what, dear reader, I did not want to be doing that, and having a viral tweet is a decidedly unpleasant experience when you are a deeply introverted introvert who has a lot of anxiety specifically centered around other human beings paying too much attention to you (ie: almost any attention, specifically for something you don’t feel you did anything to merit getting attention for) – though I’ve had a pretty pleasant go of it, as far as internet attention goes. Nor did I want Photoshop to decide to crash three times, meaning this is my second go-round on this post because after the first luckily I got smart, defeated my hubris, and started saving versions as I went.

On the other hand, getting gifts on Christmas morning is not something I know about, having never done it myself, but I do know from birthdays that the anticipation of a gift is much, much more fun than actually getting a gift. Once you get a gift it’s just – it’s there. And you have a whole 364 days until you’re going to get another gift, and oh dang it, you just thought of this one thing you really, really need. This is why I suggest doing what my mom does when it’s present time and something hasn’t arrived yet, which is the following:

  1. Print out a picture of the thing she bought
  2. Put it inside a box with a lot of tissue paper (so you can’t tell it’s just a printed out picture)
  3. Act like she has just done something terrible by not having your present right there that second when in fact she has given you two gifts: the present, and the gift of anticipating the mail

And boy, do I love waiting for the mail. I would bet other people would love it more if they were also waiting for presents, and not just a forest’s worth of charity solicitations, usually and ironically from environmental protection groups. I love waiting for the mail even when I know that all I’m getting is charity solicitations, because – and I hate to reveal my true identity – but while it is true that I have red hair and glasses, this is what I really look like, without Instagram filters:

I’m sorry. But I feel the holiday season is a time for honesty. So here are some honestly great gifts you can either go out and pick up last minute or tell people to wait for in the dead time betwixt ye olde Yule and New Year’s when they need something to look forward to besides the eventual murder they are plotting on the family members they have spent entirely too much time with. (If you’re missing them, here’s part one on food gifts and part two on book gifts.)

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The Gift Guide For People Who Don’t Want Gifts – Part Two: Books

I’m going to start by saying this – you have every right to be mad at me. Here I was promising you so many holiday gift ideas, and then disappearing for two weeks after only telling you about a third of them. In my defense, I really would have rathered be writing a blog post, but instead I was spending pretty much all of my waking hours under mountains of Statistics homework and yelling about z-values. I, too, have suffered.

Anyway, the next set of suggestions is all Books. Glorious, glorious books for people like me who spent their entire life dreaming of doing this:

Or that someday we’d meet our true love, who we would know was our true love because they would give us a library like this:

Books are great gifts. For everyone. Even people who didn’t share my Disney-fueled dreams. Yes, you read that right, you can get books for people who don’t like to read.  Walk with me, would you?

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The Gift Guide For People Who Don’t Want Gifts – Part One : Food

You have that person in your life. You know the one – you love them and they’re great until it’s their birthday, or the holidays, or your anniversary or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or any other time of year you’d want to get them a present, and you ask them what they want.

“Oh, I don’t know,” they say.  “I don’t really need anything.”

These people are the worst.

Well, not the worst, but I do have three of them in my life (both my parents and my brother-in-law) and they make gift-giving pretty difficult. All three of them have a mixture of a few qualities, which are the same qualities that almost every person who comes to me for gift-giving advice (my favorite advice to give) says their loved or mildly tolerated one also possesses:

  1. They genuinely don’t like having a lot of stuff around.
  2. They’re picky.
  3. When they see something they like, they just buy it for themselves.

Like I said, the worst. But also, not impossible.

There are a few tricks to gifting for difficult people. I personally use the time-honored approach of putting way too much effort in, which is to say that I never, ever, stop looking for presents or noting down when someone during any point in the year says “I wish I had a ____” or expresses interest in an object or event or literally anything. I email notes to myself constantly when I hear about a new product or someone mentions this new thing that changed their life. Every time I go shopping I take pictures of labels of things, and then when I go home I look them up and put them in neatly organized bookmarks folders. Around Halloween I fire up the spreadsheets and go through that subsectioned bookmarks folder and start making my cross-indexed lists so that when Black Friday comes, I will have that list down pat and I will be ready to order for maximum savings.

But this is just me, and most people are not me and do not have what is probably a diagnosable disorder of enjoying gift-giving way too much. So for everyone else who is normal and pays more attention to things that are actually good uses of their time, like balancing their checkbook or keeping living space in a condition that isn’t a constant health violation, there’s a much, much easier solution: treat them to something useful.

Everyone eats. Everyone sleeps. Everyone gets cold in the winter and warm in the summer (or vice-versa if they live in the southern hemisphere).  Everyone needs to wear clothes and not get wet when it rains and keep their cell phone battery from dying. Most people don’t even think about these stupid little things they do every day that are annoying or inconvenient, but they love it when some magnificent angel of a person comes in and helps make doing those things easier or better or more fun.

And I am here to help you be that magnificent angel. You’re welcome.

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The Wes Anderson Gift Guide

Anyone who has known me for at least one holiday season knows that there are very few things I love more in this world than giving people gifts. It combines all of my greatest skills: remembering obscure details, empathy, consumerism without having to keep the stuff I buy, and doing things for other people as a form of self-care. Most people don’t know that I also love Wes Anderson, but when I tell them that’s usually accompanied by a groan or sigh and a reaction of “oh my god, of course you love Wes Anderson.”

I was just looking at my bank account and feeling very sorry for myself with the realization that I simply couldn’t afford to go full Santa’s Workshop (or whatever the Jewish equivalent of that is) this year when Nicole Cliffe and John Leavitt began positing what you could possibly buy Wes Anderson for his birthday if he was your friend. Nicole claimed it was impossible. John claimed it was easy. It was like they put a bat signal in the sky that said “JULIA, PLEASE ABANDON ALL OF YOUR OTHER EARTHLY DUTIES AND ATTEND TO THIS WHICH WILL COST YOU EXACTLY ZERO DOLLARS.”

And, well, I did.

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