Let's Go Christmas Shopping!

I know, it’s frivolous! The whole world is “in turmoil” and disaster looms on every corner.

But after being sick for three weeks and now all these concerns about my husband, I find frivolity is in order, and besides, you know you’re wondering what to buy people for Christmas – how to gift people in the spirit of the season without breaking the budget. I am here to help!

This year my husband and I will be shopping mostly online, from mostly monastic and “cottage” businesses; we’ll be “sharing the wealth” with folks who are doing what they can to support themselves by offering superior products at reasonable prices, and I have some incredible new products (and some old favorites) to share with you. You can group these into gift baskets or give them individually. With the exception of one item which is so new we haven’t had a chance to check it out, I can tell you we have personally used and totally loved everything listed below.

Most Flavorful Mustards. Ever.

First up: BUY THIS INCREDIBLE MONASTERY MUSTARD from the Benedictine Sisters at Mt. Angel Monastery, in Oregon. The Garlic Mustard is scrumptious and an award winner, as you see, but my very favorite is the Hallelujah Jalepeno, which is so flavorful it cannot be eaten without people pausing in their conversation to bop in their chairs and say, “Mmm, mmmm, mmmmmm, mmmm, MMMMM!” My neighbor recently used the Devoutly Dill on baked salmon and said her family was licking the plate. I highly, emphatically recommend Monastery Mustard for your gift baskets, stocking stuffers, Secret Santas and so forth. It’s great on sandwiches, great for cooking, and I know someone who just uses it straight for pretzel and chip-dipping, too!

Soft lips, soft skin, great value

I’ve already proclaimed the lip balm made by the Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ to be the BEST. Lip. Balm. Evah but I have to tell you the more I use their lavender scented hand lotion, the more I love it. The scent is light, the glide is smooth, the ingredients are pure and a little goes a looooong way. I like it as a whole-body lotion, too, not just for the hands. The sisters are getting very creative with their little shoppe, introducing a line of Christmas-themed soaps and pump-action room sprays in delicate scents. I haven’t tried the room sprays, yet – I’m not much of a girl for those things, as a rule, but they sound worth a shot. They also have balm/lotion samplers, soap gift crates and more. The sisters are engaged in raising money to meet their day-to-day expenses, but they’re trying to make repairs to their growing house of prayer, and so they’re especially grateful for their customers.

Spoils you for any other coffee…

You knew I would have to once more sing the praises
of the incredible Mystic Monk Coffee***, the best coffee I’ve ever gotten addicted to, bar none. Over the course of the year I’ve given out “Monk Coffee” to friends and family for various occasions and in every case, the feedback has been, “I need more of this!” Therefore, these coffees are forming the core of our Christmas giving this year – every basket we make will include at least one bag of the stuff. We love the Hermit’s Bold Blend, the Ethiopian, the Columbian Dark Roast, the Hazelnut and the Irish Creme, but we’ve recently discovered that a cup full of the Royal Rum Pecan, sweetened (or not) goes down like the equivalent of one of those expensive and fattening franchise caramel concoctions and is as satisfying as a whole dessert. One of my readers has also enticed me to order the Chocolate Cherry flavor, about which I was doubtful, but she insists it is as good as a chocolate-covered cherry. And I have a weakness for those. Buying this coffee helps support a fast-growing order of Carmelite Monks (the only Carmelite Monks in the US, I believe) who are building themselves a monastery with their bare hands, supported by prayers and the sales of their coffees, mugs, tee-shirts and cd’s.

These go down way too easy…

Most of our baskets will include Candy from the Trappistine Nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey – my L’il Bro Thom refers to them as the Sisters of Our Lady of the Incredible Candy. They have a whole range of products, but I like these little 8oz bags of caramels (either classic vanilla or the delectable, mouthwatering chocolate-covered caramels); they’re good in the baskets, but also make nice gifts when you just want to give “a little something.” And the bags are pretty enough that you can stick a bow on ‘em and call it “done.”

Yes, fruitcake…and bonsais!

Most people will tell you they don’t like fruitcakes. Neither do I. But the Trappists down in Conyers, Georgia at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery make what turns out to be a pre-tty tasty fruitcake – one that won’t get re-gifted! They also sell an array of gift sets and yes, bonsai and bonsai pottery. Lovely stuff. We accidently killed a bonsai which had been put into our house for safe-keeping (it’s not our fault, we are famous for killing plants) and will eventually replace dead bonsai with one of these lively ones, when it’s time to. Sigh.

Pooch gets the yogurt-covered biscuits for Christmas!

Lest you think nuns and monks are all about soap and food, note that you can buy everything from cellphones to printer ink and toner to dog biscuits – yes, doggie treats – from the Laser Monks, also known as the Cistercian Monks of Spring Bank. Our pooch loves the biscuits and my hubby, who is skeptical about everything, loves the toner and the idea that our purchases actually help the larger community surrounding the monks. The lasermonk website is a revelation and a source for monastic products from all over.

On the cottage industry side:

The Dangerous Stuff by Toffeehouse

I wrote about The Most Dangerous Toffee in the World last year, and am still recommending it to you, this year. The Ross Family sells these sinfully delicious and irresistible toffees from their own home – each adorned with a note of thanks and good wishes drawn by one of the children – in gift towers, small boxes, 1 lb and 1/2 lb tins and so forth – and while they may not be great stocking stuffers near the fireplace, they make great hostess gifts, corporate gifts, etc. This toffee is seriously addictive. My hubby will be delivering tins of this stuff to admins and receptionists; it’s amazing how easily he can get their help on shipping or paperwork after they’ve tasted it.

African Turquoise

I’ve written many times about St. Hubert’s Rosary Bracelets, and I still can’t say enough about them. I’ve worn my original, beautiful “fancy agate” bracelet almost every day for a year and it still fits comfortably; it’s not stretched out, at all. Buster has worn his black obsidian for nearly as long, and he loves it. Elder Son’s Sweet Fiance, wears the purple fluorite, which is very pretty. You can see pics of various styles here, but they don’t do the bracelets justice. I recently gave African Turquoise bracelets to two teenage girls who loved them, and this year several of our gift baskets will include bracelets for men or women and for young girls. Readers who have bought St. Hubert’s bracelets have written telling me how happy they are with the product, and as you know, my readers are very smart! :-)

Finally – these two recommendations are not monastic or “cottage” but they are small businesses offering excellent quality products, and your patronage helps to support this site; they get to grow, you get to finish your shopping and this site pays for the bandwidth for another month! A win-win-win!

If, like me, you’re grouping any of these gifts together, you’ll want to attach some sort of personalized label. My Own Labels*** has a large selection of labels – everything from CD covers to beer and wine labels, to book plates to packaging. I’ve used them several times this year for party favors, but also as gifts (one of my favorite gift ideas for little kids is a few books with a few sheets of bookplates. They love putting the “stickers” into their books.) A few readers have used them for their canning and recipe-sharing and been very happy with their orders. I think they’re great. I also love the ideas and recipes section of their site. Fun and smart!

Okay, this is the one product here that I have not tried – The Nuddle Blanket*** – seems like an idea whose time has totally come: You put the blanket over you, put your arms through the opening “slats” keep exposed hands in the front pouch, put your feet into the pocket sewn into the bottom and it sounds like the perfect way to stay warm when you’re lounging about, reading, watching television, working on a puzzle or knitting. This is a little pricey but they’re currently offering 20% off holiday blanket purchases, and if you have someone who is “always cold” on your list and that’s what you’ve budgeted for their gift – or you’ve decided that you want to save on heating expenses by bundling up – well…let’s just say my Mother in Law and I will be having a tussle about who gets to use this one.

Happy Shopping!

***Purchasing from this vendor helps support this site!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Piano Girl

    You know, every year this time, we hear the pundits telling us how gosh-darn awful it is out there in shoppers paradise. And then they act surprised when the season turns out to be better than predicted. Over the weekend, I was at one of the uppity outlet malls in Northern Virginia…you could hardly find a parking spot, and the lines were long. Today I was at Target and, again, the parking lot was full and the lines were long. I’ll be doing most of my shopping online, as well, because I can’t deal with the crowds, plus I’m not interested in the effort it takes to do all the driving. I’m so tired of hearing that the sky is falling…go back to school to learn how to report the news, not just make it up, because you sure as heck didn’t do a good job during this last election! I think I’m grumpy tonight!!!

    Hope you are feeling better and that your dear hubby is, as well!

  • http://www.gesthemanegarden.blogspot.com Hislittlelamb

    My nephew’s fiance brought some Acholi bead necklaces and bracelets to Mom’s birthday party a few weeks ago and I bought 2 sets for Christmas gifts. They are made by the Acholi Tribe from Uganda which has been displaced by 20 years of war and now live in exile and poverty. The purchase goes to help support them with gainful employment, they are made from recycled paper, and they’re beautiful.

    Go to acholiwear.com to learn about the Acholi people and order products.

    I also bought the DVD “Uganda: Ready to Forgive” which is the story of these people and I intend to give the DVD along with the jewelry.

    “This is an African story of God’s amazing grace.

    Through twenty years of war, the Acholi people of Northern Uganda endured rape, torture and child abduction. Thousands died. Many were displaced in squalid camps. Others are still missing. Despite all of this, the Acholi are united in a belief that the only real solution is reconciliation and forgiveness.

    This program is hosted by Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculée Ilibagiza”. She is an amazing woman. I recommend reading about her story also.
    [Edited to admit link - admin]

  • Gayle Miller

    It’s okay Piano Girl and Anchoress – I’ve bookmarked all the sites mentioned. I’ve had the caramels and they are almost sinfully delicious. Will be getting the Nuddle for beloved Sis (who is low on heating oil and right now can’t afford to get a refill at $500 a pop) who is getting along just fine thank you with roaring fires in her fireplace and a tiny space heater in the bedroom at night. She has moved from panic to feeling quite pleased with her ingenuity – and pleased even more so with the humongous oak tree removed from my yard this summer which was then cut into firewood at her house (I don’t have a fireplace) and which will last the entire winter – no problem. For my own gift to me this Christmas I believe that Holy Jalapeno mustard might be just the ticket – this is being written by a woman who puts hot sauce on her bagel/cream cheese after all.

    And Anchoress, dear one, you are absolutely correct! Everyone’s in high panic mode and there’s really less reason than people think. I’m shopping more than ever – of course then again, I’m finally in a job I love with a good and steady income and because I work for liberal lawyers – I think I’ll be fine. Even making enough to give to the less fortunate without coercion! There’s a novel concept.

  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    I tried to order some mustard but it kept wanting to bill it to some guy named Fred. Even welcomed him. I zeroed out the order. Maybe you can give us a better link?

    [Wow, that's odd...when I first went to the site it said "welcome guest" and when I refreshed it said "welcome fred..." I don't now anyone named Fred. I'll see if I can get you a clean link. Anyone else having problems? I will email the sisters about it. Thanks for the headsup, Jeanette. -admin]

  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    I logged out for Fred and came in as guest. I then set up my own account and bought five or six different mustards. I love garlic, my husband loves jalepenos and fancy mustards. Fred has me on his mailing list now. :) Anyway, there was one item showing for him and I zeroed everything out. Don’t want to fleece Fred but he needs to log out.

    Next up is the fruitcake. We are one of the few who actually like fruitcake.

    [J - Glad you worked it out. Logging out for Fred - no brainer, but I didn't think of it - trust me, you're going to LOVE the mustards. I can't get enough of the jalepeno myself! -admin]

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