Holiday Gift Guide, 2023!
This year, I’ve heard more people say they haven’t done their Christmas shopping or that they still have so much to do before Christmas Eve than ever before. I have tried to figure out if it’s just the way of a wacky calendar and Christmas Day being on a Monday or if we’re all just so busy in our daily lives that there’s very little time to spare for all that the holidays require of us (especially women)…which could be a whole other thought-provoking post about “busyness”, boundaries, and toxic consumerism…but I digress! Just as we did last year, we at Her Voice at the Table seek to prioritize well-being, especially during a time of the year when self-care is reduced to a pair of fuzzy socks or a bath bomb and simplify gift-giving in a way that honors the receiver’s spirit and the true meaning of this special time of year. So, without further ado and with even more voices at the table, we hope you enjoy our second annual “Need & Read” holiday post! With diverse interests (and ages), we have compiled some unique gift ideas that each of us hope to unwrap this Christmas and that might tickle the fancy of one of your loved ones too. Happy Holidays, everyone!!
-- Jessica Bailey
During the pandemic, it was all the rage to make sourdough, but the bug didn’t bite me then, and I’m surprised because I love baking bread. But now, thanks to a gift of a sourdough starter from Jenn Wilson, our wonderful internship coordinator, I am poised to spend this winter finally pursuing my dream of learning to bake sourdough. Based on the recipes I have read and the notes I have from Jenn, I will be honest- I feel intimidated. One of the recipes started with the phrase, “Baking sourdough is not a recipe- it’s an understanding.” Eek! But one of the ways to get started on a project when you feel out of your depth is to collect all the fun gear, which for baking bread, an ancient practice, is quite simple. This year I am asking for a banneton, or proofing basket, which is basically a fancy basket with a cover that makes a cozy space for bread to rise.
Over Thanksgiving break Ms. Golson loaned me a copy of Sangu Mandanna’s The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches (2022), and it was the perfect read for a long fall holiday. The story has so many things I love: life in a cozy country home in England, witchy brews and spells, a strong and independent protagonist, and a bit of a love story. I especially appreciated how the author includes characters from across multiple racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, weaving a story about a company of orphans and outcasts who don’t have much technically in common, but form a family despite, and maybe because of, their differences. This book feels like a warm hug from cover to cover!
If you must know one thing about me, it’s that I am an avid (and certified) fangirl. When something sparks my interest, I immediately want to know more about it and express my love for it! This appreciation for culture stems from my early fascination with literature. This particular passion reached new heights when Greta Gerwig’s Little Women hit the screens in 2019. I still remember how I shoved my nose into the yellowing pages of the book in 5th grade at every chance I got. I soaked up the story like a sponge and grew fond of the March sisters and their mother who they refer to as “Marmie.” Somehow it felt as if I too was a part of their world – learning about life and all of its complexities alongside them. As the holiday season readily approaches, there’s one gift I’m dying to ask for: a Moonkissed Collective “It’s No Use Jo!” t-shirt. This shirt not only pays homage to an iconic line from the movie, but it also serves as a sort of emblem of the enduring spirit of author Louisa May Alcott. Even if Little Women isn’t your style, this small business is sure to carry items that fit your niche!
As soon as the release of Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was announced, my 11-year-old heart swelled with joy. I frantically tore up my room, on the hunt for the one thing I needed to get my hands on: my well-loved stack of The Hunger Games novel series. Like so many others through generations, I return to this series again and again. Although I enjoy my fair share of YA fiction, dystopian novels have always gripped me since they speak on relevant social issues in a hauntingly prophetic way. In her prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins delves into the villainous origin of President Snow. She tells the story through his twisted perspective, so we the readers get to hear his inner dialogue which, at times, did have me seething with rage. Yet, that just means Collins has done her job well – crafting a character we should all strongly hate! This book has you searching for parallels with her later works and tastefully injects political intrigue and commentary on the thin line between survival and corruption into its pages. All in all, this novel is a masterful addition to the dystopian genre that leaves you questioning the shades of morality in a world gone awry. It is truly one of my must-reads!
Back in October, my younger sister shared with me an Instagram Reel set to the music of Girl in Red’s “We Fell in Love in October” of every romantic exchange between Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley from the 1985 made-for-TV Canadian adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I was instantly brought back to my thirteen-year-old self: a skinny, pale, and freckled book nerd swooning over a young man who, well, had immediately fallen in love with a skinny, pale, and freckled book nerd. But more importantly, the reel led me to the official Anne of Green Gables Instagram page (@anneofgreengablesofficial), which in turn sent me to GazeboTV (where I could, after over a decade, finally rewatch my beloved movie), and then, the rabbit trail led me at last to this year’s Christmas mecca: Shop at Sullivan, the official store for all things Anne of Green Gables. To be honest, I’d be happy if anything on this site ended up under my tree, but here are a few highlights: Anne’s plaid beret, a hat that signals her grace, elegance, and flair for style; a Depths of Despair sweatshirt that speaks for itself; a This is My Cordial Glass for all those cozy fall and winter drinks; or the Avonlea October candle, because, as I quote ad nauseam, “I am glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
I am in the thick of Christmas reading and viewing right now: if it includes a woman returning home (or at the very least just heading to rural America) for the holidays, I have probably read it, seen it, or have it on my to-read or to-see list. So inundated am I, that by the time Christmas arrives, I’ll need something just a wee bit different in my stocking. So this Christmas, one of the books at the top of my list is journalist Sarah Viren’s To Name the Bigger Lie: A Memoir in Two Stories (2023). A trusted friend told me that this was perhaps the best, most mind-blowing book he had read in a while and could not stop raving—in broken, raptured sentences—about how much he loved it. The book is based on Viren’s viral 2020 New York Times Magazine essay about the false Title IX claims made about her wife. Layered into that more current story, however, is one from the past about her high school philosophy teacher who taught her to question ideas about truth—only to ultimately betray her and her classmates. A gripping, enraging psychological thriller to close out my year? Why not?!
This Christmas, I would like a vinyl player. Even though many of my friends have one and I have been gifted a vinyl here and there, I would like a player so that my vinyls aren’t just being used as decoration. I am trying to play music less on my phone because it oftentimes leads to me to get distracted while I’m doing homework. I also think a vinyl player on my bookshelf would look great next to all my favorite books and records. This year, I want to enjoy holiday music with my family as we eat pumpkin pie and bake sweet potatoes for our yearly Christmas dinner with extended family.
The next book I would love to read is The Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson, which is the story of Dracula told from his wife Constanta’s perspective. I was first introduced to this book on Goodreads and wanted to dive deeper because I love retellings told from a different perspective. Even though I was planning on reading this during October (the perfect time for a spooky book), I am still excited to read it any time! My cousin also happened to read this book over Thanksgiving break and told me she thought it was the perfect read for me, which just makes me more excited to start it.
On the door of my fridge is a whiteboard where I list my family's meals for the week ahead, record what groceries we need as we run out, and add to a small “want” list of kitchen-related items. One item has been on that list since just after Christmas last year – I realized I could no longer live without a butter dish. Who wants to scrape cold butter from a stick to spread on toast? Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to have room-temperature butter ready to go? Now, you may ask, why have I not purchased one myself at any point in the last 11 months? And I could not tell you. But I did just confide in a close friend that this was on my wish list, so here’s to hoping for a merry, buttery Christmas to me.
I am close to a decade late to this book, but if you have not read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (2017), I suggest you RUN to find a copy. I recently listened to this audiobook while home on maternity leave with my new, small human. It is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set in, of all places, Cincinnati, Ohio. As a recent convert to reading romcoms, I enjoyed the twists and turns of this familiar tale with hilarious, modern takes on key plot points.
With the immense amount of stress that transpires during the holiday season, from Christmas preparations to studying for final projects and exams to conclude the year, it can be easy to overlook the little things that make our days brighter and light-hearted. When I unwind from a busy day, part of what makes me the most excited is getting in bed and truthfully…. putting on my Christmas pajamas. It sounds silly, but something as simple as looking forward to wearing my Christmas pajamas has reminded me that appreciating the simple things and embracing the holiday spirit in a variety of ways is the key to unlocking a fun part of each day, no matter how stressful everything else may seem. I purchased these red silk Christmas pajamas off Amazon; I wanted a pair of short-sleeved pajamas that would tackle the two essential c’s that I value in clothing: comfortable and cute! In the chaos of the Christmas season, it is unbelievably easy to get sucked into the big stressful moments of each day, but taking the time to unwind and relax is the key to tackling priorities head-on with a positive mindset. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax, so don’t be afraid to be productive this holiday season by investing in pajamas that will allow you to relax and embrace some holiday cheer. Go buy a pair—you won’t regret it! 😊
With 2023 coming to a close, I have started thinking about my New Year Resolutions and goals I want to set for the upcoming year. There are many things I want to do and goals I want to stick to, but the list is overwhelming, long, and frankly, just seems unattainable. So, in order to declare a more concrete game plan of curating a list of goals and values for 2024, I decided to research self-help books that can provide suggestions for how to live a better lifestyle, physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. As I started researching, I came across one that caught my eye—The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). I listened to a short podcast with the author Stephen R. Covey giving a general synopsis of the book, and I was intrigued with how he outlines each of the seven habits with an applicable execution for each goal. One of the hardest parts about setting goals is setting concrete plans of action that make the goal tangible. I am excited to read this book and consider how I can take Covey’s suggestions and apply them within the context of my own life and my personal goals.
When I was a little girl, I used to love “vacationing” at my grandparents’ houses during school breaks. I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents about a ten-minute drive from one another, so I would spend the first half of a week with my maternal grandparents and then finish the week with my paternal grandparents. It would be a week full of “yesses” – yes to baking, card games, library outings, and make-believe. Pure childhood magic. Typically, at some point in the later afternoon, my Nana would make a cup of tea and sit down to read her book, which told me it was time to play “Beauty Shop,” which meant I would gather lotion, nail polish, eye shadow, rouge, lipstick, brushes, various hair products and set to work on making her beautiful. One of my favorite “tools” was a heated bonnet, essentially a shower cap with a long tube connected to it and some kind of compressor-thing that blew warm air around Nana’s snow-white permed curls that I combed out and braided. My passion for playing “Beauty Shop” with my Nana morphed into a love of beauty products and gadgets. This year, I am asking for the Shark FlexStyle Air Styling & Drying System. As a woman with naturally curly hair, I use many tools to do my hair, and I am always looking for ways to cut down on styling time. I am hoping this will be the ticket…and let’s be honest, I was influenced on Instagram. ;)
Recently, I was in St. Louis with colleagues for a conference, and, one afternoon, Kate Schenck suggested we find an independent bookstore to browse, a practice of hers when she visits a new city. Upon Googling, we discovered Left Bank Books, whose tagline is “Literacy and Justice for All.” Sold! While perusing the shelves in this perfectly sublime shop, my eye caught these two beautiful book covers – Pip Williams’s The Bookbinder and The Dictionary of Lost Words – and I was charmed by the author’s name. As a lover of books, words, historical fiction, and Feminism, these two novels are right up my alley. I hope they’re both sticking out of my stocking on Christmas morning.