The Tangled Nest 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

One of the most lamentable things about the corporate takeover of the winter holidays is the co-optation of gift-giving.  Presents under the tree have become synonymous with obscene mobs at Walgreens and Best Buy. In an effort to separate ourselves from that scene, many of us seeking a simple, authentic season have declared “no gift” holidays.  But here at the Tangled Nest we believe in a middle way.  For hundreds of years before Christmas was on the calendar, Europeans celebrated the return of light at the Solstice by sharing gifts–an expression of the beautifully human realization that simple gifts freely given can lift the spirit, and that in the long dark of winter, a little spirit-lifting is essential. We want to re-claim the “sanctity of giving,” and follow our natural heart’s impulse this season by sharing gifts that are simple, beautiful, useful. Here are some of our favorites.

Arts and Crafts

Etsy We are big supporters of cottage industry–those who step outside of the corporate world to support their households through their own art, craft, pen, or wits.  That’s why we love Etsy – an amazing online marketplace where you can get lost for hours perusing arts, crafts, prints, vintage, and more. (It’s also cool to see the videos that our friends Mike and Riley made for them).

20X200 and Thumbtack Press These online galleries (and others) offer original art for $20 (and more). 20X200 in particular sends great emails several times a week offering 8X10-size prints in an edition of 200 for $20 each (hence the name) (also larger sizes). We’ve given several as gifts–they come with a signed artist card.

Fountain Pens.  Inspire a letter-, novel-, poetry-, or diary-writer with a beautiful fountain pen and a bottle of ink.  See Lyanda’s post for suggestions on giving fountain pens as gifts.

Alchemy Goods A pick from Tom: This Seattle company upcycles bicycle inner tubes into a stylish line of bags and accessories – 182,000 inner tubes recycled so far!

Homemade! As you know, we’re crafty and we like to make homemade gifts. Peruse the blog for earlier posts on beautiful homemade gift ideas like:


Baby Gear Friend of a friend Heather runs Rain or Shine Kids, which offers great baby blankets, bibs, and accessories for rain or shine. For the toddler crowd, Pigtail Pals is on a mission to “redefine girly” with their printed t-shirts and apparel for girls, while Toto Knits is hand-knit children’s wear from Kenya.

Betabrand Hip clothing made in small batches in San Francisco – we’ve been a fan of this company since they were simply making Cordarounds, their unique horizontal corduroys. (No Tom, we’re not getting you a disco hoodie!) Slightly pricey but very cool.

Food and Garden

A Mushroom Kit These kit come ready to fruit mushrooms of various varieties, and are great for kids or adults. Several vendors sell them, including Back To The Roots, who will donate a kit to a school if you post a photo on their Facebook page, and Fungi Perfecti, the business run near Olympia Washington by mushroom evangelist (and author) Paul Stamets.

Heirloom Seeds Purchased at your garden store, bought online, or just shared in the form of a gift certificate for the gardener, seeds bring a little ray of summer sunshine into the darkest season of the year.

vacu vinVacu Vin Wine Stoppers Possibly the best stocking stuffer ever. There’s only one wine drinker in our house, so we almost always have an open bottle of wine. Pop in a stopper, pump out (most of) the air in the bottle, and the oxidation of the wine is slowed considerably, making a bottle last two or three extra days.

Gourmet Finishing Salt It’s fun to be a salt nerd.  Yes, your taste buds really can tell if your roasted asparaus has been finished with a French Fleur de Sel, or a gorgeous pink Australian Murray River salt. Available at most upscale grocery stores (or in Seattle visit the amazing Tenzing Momo in Pike Place Market).

Spork.  There are lots of fancy carry-along utensil sets out there, designed to help avoid using throwaway plastic.  But all you really need is a spork, and this titanium version works much better than the bamboo sporks, pretty as they are.  Wrap it in a small cloth napkin. (Tangentially, we are also huge fans of Seattle’s hard rock marching band The Titanium Sporkestra).

And of course, we make lots of extra jam, cookies, fudge, and spiced nuts to package up pretty and share with friends and neighbors.


crow planet coverCrow Planet! Because David Sedaris calls it “A completely charming and informative book on the pleasures of keeping one’s eyes open.” And if you can’t trust David Sedaris for your book recommendations, then who can you trust?! (Tom notes that Lyanda’s Rare Encounters With Ordinary Birds paperback is also a great stocking stuffer for bird- or  nature-lovers)

Poetry. Lyanda loves the pocket-sized Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series from Random House, and keeps the small volume of Keats in her bicycle’s saddle bag.  These books are beautifully produced, and the poems nicely selected.  Instead of mypopically tuning into a handheld “device” while in line at the PO, we can pull out a little poetry.  Try the Keats, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson volumes.

Other books we liked this year include Just Enough, Singing To The Plants, The Wayfinders, and Making It from our friends Kelly and Eric at the Root Simple blog. (Tom asked Lyanda to suggest a novel and her reply was “I haven’t read a new novel, I’ve read old novels. I like those pretty new Penguin Classics editions. I re-read Jane Eyre, and Middlemarch.” Which leaves it to Tom to recommend William Gibson and John LeCarré)


Current favorites at the Tangled Nest include:
Brandi Carlile Live at Benaroya Hall Lyanda and Claire were in the audience for this CD, so of course we recommend it (it’s also great, and captures the energy of her live show).

Emerson Quartet: The Art of the Fugue Lyanda’s taken up violin and gotten a little obsessed with the Emerson Quartet. She loves this album’s interpretation of the Bach fugues, and has taken to saying things like “I think Drucker used his Zyg for that album rather than his Strad,” as if everyone should know what that means.


gillian and dave

Gillian Welch: Harrow and the Harvest We catch Gillian and Dave every time they come to town, and we’re overjoyed they finally put out this great album after a long break. (Here they are singing The Way It Goes from the album.)

Rachel Lyn Harrington: Celilo Falls Rachel is our friend and she’s also a star! This album is awesome and is getting named on lots of Best of 2011 lists.

Greensky Bluegrass: Handguns This summer we were introduced to this great band, and they just released a new album. We’re not big fans of the album title, but we love the music. (Watch this Greensky concert free online)

The Goat Rodeo Sessions Tom learned about this blend of classical and bluegrass when he saw the NPR Tiny Desk Concert online. He’s hoping for it under the tree!

Free downloads Tom’s a big jam band hippie and is partial to the endless free downloads at Download a show and make a CD for someone you love! (There’s lots of Greensky Bluegrass to download – here’s a great show we saw.)

Give Experiences or Donations Instead of Things

We like giving experiences that can be shared together, and supporting charities.

Tickets for live music Tickets can be wrapped in a card or tucked in a stocking but Tom thinks the true spirit of Christmas lies in surprises and misdirection, and advocates using the largest box possible. With something heavy inside. Like a brick. And great tickets to a great show!

A Coupon Book With hand-made coupon books, only your imagination and generosity is the limit. Will you give your partner a coupon for a half hour massage? A ninety minute massage? A weekly massage? It’s up to you. Our coupons usually range from the slightly silly (“Tom gets one free pass to order meat in a restaurant without us hassling him”) to the truly unexpected (“Redeem this coupon for 36 hours in San Francisco on the weekend of your choice”).

Travel Gifts of travel don’t have to be expensive vacations to Bali. Plan a romantic local getaway (Northwesterners can use our friend Lauren’s TripFinder website). Ride a train.  Or send the kids to a friend or relative and plan a “staycation” around those concert tickets!

Support a Nonprofit in Your Loved One’s Name Nonprofits have gotten more and more sophisticated about their year-end offerings, and in these lean times they need support more than ever. In our family we try to donate generously, and we support several great projects including:

  • Village Bicycle Project will donate a bicycle in Ghana for just $25. “A bicycle can make all the difference.”
  • West Seattle Community Orchestras is an amazing local community symphony we love and support.
  • The Electronic Freedom Foundation has our back as bloggers and netizens.
  • iLeap runs innovative cultural exchanges to strengthen civil society worldwide.
  • Sahaya has built a long-term commitment in South India into an impressive network of local projects.
  • We also try to support our friends when they join charity races, trips, or other endeavors that introduce us to great nonprofits.

Happy Holidays, dear friends.  Give joyously.  And please comment and share your own favorite simple gift ideas!

Thank you artist Dan Cautrell for the beautiful “Sanctity of Giving” artwork.


  1. These are great suggestions, and I will share. Two additional ideas, which I like because they involve the recipient in an active way:

    1) A “baking kit” with a homemade, easy to complete, cake or cookie mix. For example, last year, we gave away an 8″ cake pan with two jars: one with all the dry ingredients for a simple chocolate cake and one with the wet. We also included all the baking instructions (dump the dry ingredients, mix. add the wet ingredients, mix. Bake at 350 for 30 mins). The recipe was vegan not because we’re vegan, but because the wet ingredients were shelf stable at room temperature. I’m a cooking evangelist, and love the idea that we may have encouraged a non-cooking family to bake something great.

    2) Charity gift cards (Donors Choose or other). I love the idea of charity as gift–especially for kids who already have everything. But I want them to have the opportunity to apply their values to the gift. Donor’s Choose is our card of choice, but there are others. Last year, Spencer decided he wanted to give his card to a school that needed PE supplies, because PE is his favorite class :-). A few clicks later and the gift was made.

  2. What a wonderful post and such great suggestions! I am going to spend the evening following links and perusing blogs and websites now. There are things here I may have to add to my wish list.

    My family and I make most of the gifts we give to friends and family. Our gifts last year included hand made cards, breads and muffins made with fruits and nuts we grew– in drawstring bags I sewed, honey from my bees and eggs from my hens. This year we are making ceramic ornaments and I am trying my hand at making little honey pots. The kids in the family are getting handmade paper dolls of favorite literary characters. We have lots of fun making gifts like these. My whole family pitches in with their creation.

    When we do buy gifts, we buy a lot from local artists and then we turn to Etsy. I love Etsy.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours, Lyanda!

  3. Great suggestions Lyanda (and fans). There are also many local, independent stores that have great stuff; wonderful selections of locally made, hand made and cool things made with recycled material. Two of my faves are Portage Bay Goods (offering many products made from recycled goods and a great selection of funny greeting cards and Bitters Co. a beautiful store with gorgeous hand made objects handpicked by the owners from around the world. Both stores are in Fremont.

  4. I’m going completely against the objective of this post and tagging a copy of the book for myself! Yes it’s selfish but it’s the only gift I would be sure of. 😉

    I Like the Sanctity of Giving logo.

    1. lyanda

      Wonderful suggestions, one and all. Thank you! But making me hungry for popcorn.

      @David F–Trust me, it is in never against the spirit of this blog to buy a copy of Crow Planet!

  5. David Griffin

    If anyone is really interested in gifts and the history of gift giving, check out “The Gift”, by Lewis Hyde. It can be a bit dry but it is very interesting and worth reading.

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