Keep calm and win Christmas: 10 last-minute gift ideas

keep calm and don't blinkOriginally published in 2012.

The best laid plans can go astray in the run-up to Christmas and you may find yourself having to buy a last-minute gift, as I did yesterday.

In the weeks leading up to holiday I have felt that I have been engaged in a kind of stress challenge, a triathlon for moms that measures thoughtfulness, organization and endurance.

Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” recently had guests Allison Pearson, author of I Don’t Know How She Does It, and journalist Deborah Orr on to debate the extent to which an Asda supermarket commercial was celebrating reality or perpetuating gender stereotypes and whether or not Christmas is a mother’s realm, her undoing, or her finest hour.

It hits a nerve, right?

In an anthropological aside, an American ad would never end with giving the mom a glass of wine. Instead mom gets external validation, male approval or female envy, a sticky kiss from her son or Santa winking from the rooftop or the husband’s arm around her shoulders.

So, here, in an effort to help you in this final push before the big day, or as on online note to self as I train for next year, are some last-minute gift ideas, for men or women:

1) If you have a Doctor Who fan on your list, they might like a “Keep Calm and Don’t Blink” T-shirt. Books-A-Million carries them. Book stores in general are a good port of call. Having a good book is one of life’s joys and is up there with socks for me as a thing I am always happy to receive.

2) Speaking of a good book, my desert island pick would be Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, a 12-novel cycle of life in England from 1914-1971. The television miniseries didn’t do it justice or you may never have heard of it. And before you groan and say 12 novels, that’s so long, don’t. I don’t understand why people react this way about a long book anyway. If it’s good, you want it to last. War and Peace is highly readable, to say the least, and if you haven’t read that you should. Lots of you read the Harry Potter books. Anyway, I have read Dance in print a few times but also listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Simon Vance, who does a brilliant job with the ranges of characters and accents, which you can get from Audible and listen to via iTunes or on a Kindle. You could give this gift wirelessly and instantly. Each of the four volumes is about $25.

3) Bake something. All week, I have been enjoying the cookies our neighbor gave us. There are three kinds (I’ll never take gold in Christmas, I know). My favorite that she makes are the very thin ones with oats and candied fruit. They are good with coffee in the morning.

4) A recipe book. Planning ahead for 2013 or preparing something to give someone in person in two days, you could print out or photocopy recipes on a relevant theme. Actually you could transmit this electronically as a PDF. Depending on your skills, you could include photos. Themes: 30-minute dinners, 10 ways to prepare a particular type of food, a seduction meal, decent meals to come out of a slowcooker, favorite family recipes, bake sale survival kit, etc. You could bump this up by including ingredients, especially ones that might be hard to come by, like dried morels, or things people don’t always have to hand, like white chocolate or peppermint extract. Use a binder that has a plastic sleeve on the cover and put the recipes in plastic sheet protectors. Have a child draw the cover, if you have a child. Or draw it yourself.

5) Did I mention the joys of socks already? You could give an array of socks, seven pairs, for each day of the week, or nice stripy ones from Paul Smith.

6) A selection of Badger Balms. (We like Sleep Balm.) Health food stores carry a great range of nice smelling things.

7) A mix tape/iTunes playlist. Again, can be themed like the recipes.

8) Maldon sea salt, olive oil. Go to Waitrose, Williams-Sonoma, Amazon.

9) A box of chocolate tiffin cake, no baking required, just melting. You can buy Lyle’s golden syrup at Publix or use light corn syrup.

10) If you know something about cars, are a fix-itty kind of person, and/or don’t have many shopping options/hate department stores, go to Wal-Mart or similar and assemble a car emergency kit. You could include a few bottles of water, a flashlight, maybe printout good instructions for changing a tire, include a blanket or sleeping bag, you can get a reflective emergency one or a fleece sleeping bag for about $5. Put in lidded box.

What would you put on this list?

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