The perfect gift

Sometimes, you get the perfect gift. The gift that my wife bought me for Christmas finally arrived today, and it is every bit as awesome as she promised that it would be.

Presents are kept as great secrets in this house, and when it didn’t arrive for Christmas, she was very upset, and insisted that there was no way that ‘they’ could possibly send another. Also, she let slip that it came from Ireland. Now I don’t know about you, but thinking of strictly limited items coming from Ireland left me stumped. Unless it was a Leprechaun’s pot o’ gold. Or his Lucky Charms (that’s a North American cultural reference. I’m getting better at those). Fortunately, whatever Giants, Faerie Kings, Sober Irishmen and other mythological creatures she dealt with came through and another was sent.

When I finally saw what it was, it made me think about what it takes to get that perfect gift for someone, and hopefully how I can get there next year.

In essence, there are a few different categories of gift that can be given from one person to another. The first is the sort of gift that you buy, maybe when you don’t feel that you know someone particularly well, that you base off of what you would like to get. There’s no shame in that; it’s a perfectly good strategy when working with limited information. However, the gift is likely to be uninspired, and might even be something the receiver hates.

The next type of gift is the easy route: Get the thing that the receiver has been asking for, or dropping massive hints about, for the last 9 months. While possibly uninspired, you’re going to pretty much guarantee a happy recipient. You can also step this one up a bit by getting something that you know the receiver wants, but won’t ever get for themselves. Perhaps it’s a collectable gadget with no practical use or just something a little on the expensive side like the best watch ever.

If you’re not Mirto you can ignore this next bit: LOOK!

So how do you get the perfect gift? Well, it’s risky, but as with most risky strategies it has the greatest potential payoff. You get something that you know the receiver will love, but would never, in a million years, think of getting for themselves. That’s what Mirto is able to do again and again.

This time, she found a limited print of a watercolour of a scene from a magical kids book that I adore. Amazingly, I did not know that I adored the book until she bought it for me this Christmas. Yes, she knows me frustratingly well. The book is Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and the print is the cover of the book. The book, by the way, is being released as an animated movie.

I would never buy art for myself. And if I did, I would never think to find a print of a scene from a book that I haven’t even read yet. Still, it is just what I wanted. I just never knew it until I had it.

A perfect day

It’s the end of Christmas day, and while it was the least Christmassy Christmas day I’ve had in a long time, it was exactly what I needed in terms of a day just hanging out in the apartment with the family.

There were some last minute things to finish up from the move yesterday, including the great Book Purge and Sort Out. I’m not a fan of getting rid of books, any books, and never have been. However, it became clear while unpacking that we just don’t have the room for every single book, and there are some books in the collection (800+. And now I write that down, I realise just how silly a number that is) that really don’t need to be kept. Someone else can find joy in the Dan Brown bought-at-an-airport-about-to-get-on-a-flight novels and a selection of fad diet books from the last fifteen years. As it turns out, figuring out which books to pass on to others was the easy bit; the difficult bit was actually putting the books we wanted to keep in the bookcases.

In the past, I have ordered my books loosely by genre (fiction, non-fiction, reference) and then by author, and finally by chronological order of first publication. However, when you are working with limited space, and many, many (i mentioned we have over 800 books, right) books, this is no longer an option. So I had to find a new system. The one I settled on is still ordered by genre, and in fact more strictly than I have in the past, but the author order is more general. When there are multiple books by the same author (Adams, Gaiman, Pratchett, Banks, Scott Card, Herbert, Tolkein, spotting a pattern?), they stay together, however the Herberts are not necessarily before the Holts, but they are kind of on the same shelf. The general effect is actually rather pretty, aesthetically, as the bookcases appear to be a little haphazard and disordered, but any book can be found very quickly.

The real end result of that digression, which I am leading too in a rather too rambling manner, is that we awoke this morning to a finally tidied apartment (not counting the den, or study, which we won’t speak about until after the holidays).

Now, I’m afraid I must wander off down the path of another aside here for a moment, before finally getting to what is rapidly becoming the point of this post no longer. The family tradition round these parts is not to cook the almight turkey and its various accoutrements, but instead to offer a smörgåsbord of cheese and breads, as well as meat things for those that eat it, and a selection of other bits and pieces such as hummus and pesto.

However, this Christmas morning, we started with pancakes. I’ve posted about pancake breakfasts before and they still remain my favourite breakfast. Now that we’re in the US, I suppose I’ll have to clarify that there are really crepes, and that I, probably unusually, prefer mine with different cheeses and pesto or olive tapenade fillings.

Once these were eaten, and episodes of Fringe and Pushing Daisies were also consumed, it was time to think about putting out the food for the rest of the day. But wait! No hummus has been made! And the last of the pesto was used in the crepes! What are we to do?!

Fortunately, sitting in the corner of the kitchen is a shiny new Krups mini food processor, perfect for tackling such projects. Now, we had a mini food processor previously, but it worked on the wrong voltage and was so old and blunt that you could put your hand in while it was working and still walk away with all of your fingers. The new one, though: You can feel the power throbbing beneath your hand as you push the lid gently down and encourage the blades to whirr within. You can hear the motor whine as it forces the blades through whatever you choose to process. It is just the right size, and an extremely pleasing shape, and activation by pressing the lid adds a more visceral interaction to something that is normally abstracted by a switch or button. I think it’s my new favourite gadget.

I decided to celebrate the arrival of this newest electronic child into the home by making pesto, for the first time, and hummus, not for the first time, but on a much longer leash than normal; away from the strict instructions of the hummus master of the house. For once, both my kitchen experiments were successful and it all turned out deliciously fresh and tasty. While I will take credit for much of this, I do have to allow part of that success to be down to the inclusion of the special ingredient: Skywalker Ranch Olive Oil, fresh from Uncle George.

The rest of the day is actually a bit of a blur, which is almost certainly due in some part to the bottles of wine that have become mysteriously empty during the course of the day. We had a short but sweet visit from our new neighbours, a chicken was roasted and two batches of Swedish cinnamon buns were baked, and the day was rounded out by a few hours of playing Little Big Planet together.

All in all, a pretty darn perfect day, Christmas or not. Tomorrow, we might even get the smörgåsbord going and try to make a dent in the dozen cheeses in the fridge as we entertain a very special guest.