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Our Family Gift Exchange


Over the years I’ve been asked how we do gifts at the holidays. Low key spenders and absentee shoppers that we are, I’ve never thought I had much to share on the topic, but with much of my (mid)life being about reflection in recent years, why not. Now that I’ve spent some time thinking about it, I realize we do have a certain way of approaching holiday gifts! Maybe sharing it can be helpful or at least relatable for another person. 

Truth is, for a family of low key spenders and absentee shoppers, we do actually exchange gifts pretty heavily at the holidays. Maybe not “heavily” by western standards, but for us, it is indeed a time of abundance. I guess because we don't shop much throughout the year, or spend much money on ourselves in general, we approach the holidays as a big annual resupply. A single day of abundance, even if most of the items are everyday things that others might budget for throughout the year. Instead, we wrap it all up and place it under the sparkly tree. For some reason, we find this to be fun! And, tradition! Seriously, I’m genuinely happy to receive a half gallon of local raw honey. I have so many more uses for that than I would a gold bracelet. Yes, please load me up with beeswax for candle making, or oils and fun ingredients for soapmaking. A fat quarter bundle from the quilt shop? Heaven! Yarn from my favorite yarn shop? What a gift. A new broadfork? What did I ever do to deserve such nice things! A couple of books for our library? Swoon. 

Adam is thrilled with his annual package of Made in USA bungee chords and also one of tie-down straps (hint: every man you know would appreciate this gift). He is genuinely happy about a few new pairs of Darn Tough socks. Tools are something he usually holds off on buying throughout the year, and let’s me know of a couple he could use. Another axe, one more knife. Maybe some new boots. A couple of books. Good chocolate, a few bottles of wine. Hunting gear. Work gloves. Always new work gloves. 

Emily is a less is more person when it comes to material goods; too many gifts would be stressful for her. She’s young and is building her library, so books from her favorite authors are always appreciated (she is someone who re-reads favorites). Clothing if she needs it, maybe a new pair of boots. She’s become quite the world traveler so luggage and travel accessories have made their way under the tree in recent years. She likes a new journal and stationary set each year (she is a dedicated journal + letter writer). Living Libations face wash (Best Skin Ever). Adam likes to buy her organic-free-range mascara and nail polish because the thought of her buying low quality makeup on her slim college student budget is not cool with him. Tea, snacks, some cash. Good chocolate.  

Chocolate for all!


There are popular themes out there (something to wear, something to read, something to play with... though I’m probably getting that wrong), but we’ve never followed a theme. For us, it’s really just about not buying much throughout the year, then having fun, being generous, and stocking up on one special day. All with a nod to practicality and good consumer choices. Also, anything that can be found second hand, all the better. 

Our main gift exchange takes place on Christmas morning, which we try to linger over as long as possible. As for Solstice, I’ve written about how we celebrate that here. One more fun link: I made this Cranberry Orange Tea Bread over Thanksgiving and it was the very best ever. I think the buttermilk can take credit for that! And the orange zest in the glaze. If you're looking for a good cranberry orange recipe, look no further.

I do love this time of year. 

They Continued Walking, Close Again {Plus, Homemade Macaroni & Cheese}


On Sunday I took the long way to my destination, choosing a winding drive around the lake over a straight shot through heavier traffic. Beside the lake, two older women walked closely together, but quickly put some distance between them as my vehicle came into sight. Driving closer, they switched to single file. I couldn’t give my usual wide girth, moving entirely to the opposite side of the road, as their position was just near the top of a hill I was about to crest and no telling what was coming from the other side. But I gave them all the room I could, and slowed my pace considerably. As I passed we exchanged a wave, one of the women decked in comfortable L.L.Bean-type attire, earthy heathered colors, properly bundled in layers for the brisk October day. The other, walking closest to oncoming traffic, wore a blaze orange safety vest with yellow reflective stripes. Both women were dressed far more sensibly than me; I didn’t even have socks on, reluctant that I am to give up my sockless feet of summer. 

Past them, I glance at their increasingly distant reflection in the rearview mirror. Then, with me safely down the road, the silver haired woman reached for the hand of her partner, and they continued walking, close again, holding hands. With me, safely long gone. My stomach tightened as I thought how painful it must be for two mature, consenting humans to not trust that their love is allowed. How so many feel that way. Do I rage or do I weep? Both. I thought of them for the rest of the day, and still am, four days later.


I prefer to wrap up tender posts with a silver lining. It's more comfortable for everyone. But sometimes I can't think of a way to do that. So how about some comforting food if I cannot find a comforting sentiment?

I haven’t made this in a couple of years, though I thought of it yesterday as it’s been a traditional Halloween meal for Emily and friends many times. Even though I can't seem to justify a pan of such tasty gluttony for two middle aged empty nesters, you should definitely make it. This recipe is unapologetically filled with dairy and carbohydrates and if we’re being really honest, it is also the gateway to heaven. 



Homemade Macaroni & Cheese 

Inspired by Tasha Tudor’s Recipe

Serves 4 to 6. Can be doubled to make a large pan. 

  • 2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup Gruyere, grated
  • 1/2 cup crumbled buttery crackers, for topping


1. Preheat oven to 350º F and butter a shallow 2 quart baking dish.

2. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until just tender.  Drain and prepare cream sauce (you could also prepare sauce while pasta is cooking).

3. In a large saucepan, melt 4 tbsp of butter, then whisk in the flour and slowly add the milk, keep whisking.  Whisk mixture until it thickens, then add the both cheeses and stir it in until it melts.  Season well with salt and pepper. 

4. Place the drained macaroni in the prepared baking dish, pour the cheese sauce over it, and stir gently to mix. Sprinkle the crumbled buttery crackers over the top, and dot with the remaining butter.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until browned and bubbly.


See? If you’re not sure how to end on a high note, offer carbs and dairy.