THOUGHTFUL LAST MINUTE HOLIDAY GIFTS: (Hurry!!)
Can you believe it?? Christmas is now less than ten days away. Not to panic anyone, but I really hope you have all your shopping done, because there’s not much time left!!! In case you’re not quite there yet, here’s a couple of ideas for thoughtful gifts that might help make this winter of Covid just a tiny bit better. You can still order from these shops online (alas, now with premium shipping), or you may be able to use curbside pickup, depending on where you live. So, check it out--one of these may be the answer to your last-minute gift needs.
Wild Birds Unlimited
300 stores nationwide (https://www.wbu.com/store-locator/)
“I caught a glimpse of happiness, and saw it was a bird on a branch, fixing to take wing.”
We have three hummingbird feeders near the kitchen window and two seed feeders in our backyard. It’s amazing how many birds we attract! The seed feeders hang on a shepherd’s hook stuck in the planter near an olive tree, easily visible from our family room window. All day little birds come and go, picking at the seed cakes or hanging out in the tree. Often there are three or four on each feeder!
Backyard birdwatching is a wonderful, simple pleasure. Calming, meditative and a proven stress reducer, it's an easy way to interact with nature. It’s also perfect for anyone who’s housebound due to weather or health concerns. And considering that the U.S. has lost some 30% of breeding birds since 1970*, feeding and providing a haven for them is a good thing.
I get my bird food and feeders from Wild Birds Unlimited. I love this place because not only do they sell tons of stuff (feeders, food, nesting boxes, baths and other accessories), their website is a fountain of cool information! Check out the Backyard Bird tab. It lists almost thirty varieties of birds, with a further page on each species describing how to identify and attract them, what their nesting and migration habits are. The Get Close to Nature tab offers bird feeding basics and solutions, podcasts, a blog, information on the Great Backyard Bird Count, and my personal favorite, the “Owl Cam”.
-Large seed cylinders fit perfectly into the cylinder feeders.
-The No-Mess Blend of birdseed contains no shells, so the birds eat every morsel. No mess, no waste.
-The Hot Pepper Cylinder really works to prevent the squirrels from devouring my bird food! Birds don't mind the pepper, but the squirrels sure do.
-Complete your gift with a folding, laminated backyard bird guide for their local area. (https://www.amazon.com/s?k=laminated+backyard+bird+guides&ref=nb_sb_noss)
Savory Spice Shop
Stores in 15 states (https://www.savoryspiceshop.com/locations)
The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. I n cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.
— Julia Child
Is someone you know--possibly the chef of the house--in a Covid-cooking rut? (No worries, it happens to even the best cooks.) If so, a selection of new spices may be just what you need (oops, I mean, they need).
Check out the offerings at Savory Spice. This is one of my favorite places to find gifts. While I often stop by their local shop to stock up on spices, it’s fun to browse their extensive selection online. Explore the American Pantry tab, which includes all-purpose seasonings and regional blends like “Brooklyn Everything Bagel” blend from the East Coast collection, or “Cajun Blackening” from the Low Country & The South. Other collections include Baking, BBQ & Grilling, Chiles & Paprikas, Herbs, and World Spices. You can browse by cuisine or ingredients, and purchase gift sets.
So, heed the advice of Julia and Emeril: Take a “what-the-hell” attitude and have fun with spices. It’s a sure way to get (someone) out of a cooking rut!
-Pearl St. Plank Salmon Rub is my favorite spice blend. Its spicy, smoky, sweet flavor is great on salmon and shrimp, as well as on chicken, meat and veggies. (I use a ton of this stuff!).
-With garlic, onion, ginger, mustard and hickory flavoring Longs Peak Pork Chop Spice rub tastes amazing on pork chops, ribs, steaks and chicken wings.
-The herbal Capitol Hill Seasoning, made with shallots, salt and pepper, dill weed, parsley and chives. Try it on fish, veggie or egg dishes.
-Bakers, rejoice!! With four types of vanilla extract, multiple forms of cinnamon (Ceylon, Indonesian, Saigon, ground, in sticks or chips), and seven types of cocoa—you’ll be ready to riff on any recipe!
Calm and Headspace Apps
(https://www.calm.com/) and (https://www.headspace.com/)
I’m a terrible sleeper. Every night it’s the same routine: I dread not being able to fall asleep, so I stay up way too late messing around on my iPad. And I often wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Stress, bad sleep habits—whatever, it’s just a bummer.
Not long ago, I subscribed to “Calm”. It's an app for your phone or iPad designed to develop your meditation skills and help you fall asleep. The app offers sleep stories, meditations, soundscapes and music to slip you into dreamland. And you know what? It’s really helped me cut short my nighttime technology sessions!
Sometimes I listen to rain or ocean sounds set on a low volume with a timer. But I really like the sleep stories! Over 100 to choose from, these are tranquil, soothing bedtime stories for adults. The topics are wide ranging—descriptions of train rides, walks around Paris in the rain, lavender fields in Provence, the story of a sloth named Siena, a reading of the classic Velveteen Rabbit, the evolution of jazz. Honestly, the topic doesn’t matter—I’m usually asleep well before the 30-minute reading has ended!
But it’s the voices of the narrators that really captivate. Calm has tapped the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Priyanka Chopra Jones, Idris Elba, Harry Styles, Scottie Pippen and Stephen Fry (from the Harry Potter audiobooks) to tell the stories. Per Chris Advansun, the head of Calm’s Sleep Stories, narrators are “using flow, using poetry, using image, using rhythm all as ways to …lull the listener to sleep.”
Calm and Headspace are similar: both offer meditations and sleep stories for essentially the same price. The difference is in their approaches. Headspace is more focused on the “journey”. It’s simple, straight-forward, emphasizes long-term goals and has a fitness component. All meditations are fully guided which beginners may prefer; there are also less-structured programs for the more experienced. The voices are British, and per reviewers the Headspace animations are great. There is no background music.
Calm is visually serene with a more “meditation-retreat vibe”. The meditations are less formal than Headspace but are accompanied by nature soundscapes. Calm offers more content variety, including sections like “Quick and Easy” (tune into your body/relieve stress), “Mental Fitness” where LeBron James helps train your mind, motivational interviews in the “The Spark”, “Calm Masterclass”, and more. It’s also known for its celebrity collaborations.
For someone interested in developing a meditation practice, getting to sleep more easily, or just learning to be more mindful, either of these apps would make a thoughtful gift.