Your holiday shopping, sorted
Every year, around this season, I fantasize about helping humanity by listing the items that I have given or been given or bought for myself that I wholeheartedly endorse and believe would make excellent stock stuffers. While stirring my oatmeal this morning, I found myself compiling this list in my head. Let’s see if I can do this. I’m not getting any affiliation kickbacks here, because I don’t know how to and life is too short.
The best (most value per dollar) object created by modern capitalism is Ikea’s pepper grinder, formally known as the 365+ Ihärdig Spice Mill ($7.99). Elsewhere in the market economy there is a fancy brand of pepper mill that costs about a hundred dollars, of which you can buy budget model from the same brand for about $35, but the Ikea pepper mill grinds pepper just as well, if not better, and you can put (most of) it in the dishwasher. Satisfying solidity and tactile crunchy soundfeel when you revolve it. Adjustable for pepper granularity. Will change your life. Our first one lasted about seventeen years. The second one only lasted about eight months, so maybe they’re less well made now than they once were? Or maybe it was just a bum instance. (I find myself using the word instance a lot lately.) Our third one is still going strong.
A few years ago, my mom gave my husband and me these blinking LED armbands for Christmas, and if we are wearing them at night, it is impossible for us to take a bike ride in the city without being complimented on them. And we basically wear them anytime we’re biking after dark. Official name: Nite-Ize SlapLit LED Slap Wrap ($13.99). It’s hard to describe how they work, but once you see them, it’s immediately intuitive. Each band has LED lights inside, which start blinking when you push a little button. The band is stiff when unrolled and snaps into a ring when you tap it against your arm. Kind of like Wonder Woman’s arm cuffs? They make your triceps look enormous. You didn’t realize you wanted flashing lights around your triceps, but you do. In the pic above, the guy on the bike is wearing his bands around his ankles, which I guess you could do, but if you wear them around your triceps, it looks better and adds to visibility at eye level, which is better for biking in the city, I think. The same company makes a blinking multicolor light that you can clip onto your dog’s collar (the Nite-Ize SpotLit Carabiner Light Disc-O select, $9.99), which also used to get compliments whenever my dog wore it into the park on a winter evening.
A lot of you have asked about these. You came over to our house, and while inspecting our bookshelves, you said, “Is this mylar on your books? How cool.” Sure, your tone was a little ironic, but the thing is, I could tell you meant it. The glossy sheen. The insurance against finger smudges and spilled coffee. The care. You were seduced. It isn’t mylar, actually. It’s polyester. Just let yourself have it. What you want is the Brodart Just-A-Fold III Archival Book Jacket Cover Sheets ($11.02 for a pack of 25), and I recommend getting one pack of 9-inches-high by 19-inches-long and one pack of 10-inches-high by 21-inches long, to start out with. Once your habit is firmly established, you are also going to want to get the Teflon bone tool ($24.40).
As a serious person, you of course inscribe all your first drafts in pencil (Wirecutter is wrong about pencils, FYI), and from time to time, as you perfect your deathless prose, you are forced to deploy an eraser. Which leaves behind, alas, little gray nubbins. Unseemly nubbins, which can never quite be swept away with your mere hands, because nubbins fragment when touched. What will perfect your life, and bring it into harmony, is the Midori Eraser Dust Mini Cleaner II ($8.50), which is like a little lightweight Matchbox car, somewhat reminiscent of Herbie the Love Bug, which, as you run it back and forth across your desk, has inside a tiny rotating brush in the caboose that picks up all the nubbins and deposits them in a little cabin, which can be swiveled open over a trash can later. It’s like having your own ASMR channel—IRL on your desk with you.
Wirecutter is right about the best birding binoculars (the Athlon Optics Midas ED). Or at least, I’m super happy with mine and don’t know any better. But in winter, a bird photographer faces a choice: warmer hands or more agile hands? There are specialized gloves for outdoor winter photography, and I have bought some of them, and they are a waste of money. What served me best, last winter, and they’re still in great shape a year later, are the Pearl Izumi Cyclone Gel Gloves ($33.75), which are actually biking gloves. Are they super warm? No. For biking in winter, what you want is these gel gloves inside a pair of big lobster-claw gloves. You’ll also need those lobster claws if you’re birding at the shore in winter, or at least deep pockets to shove your gloved hands into. But these are reasonably insulating, and in them your hands retain almost all their flexibility. New this year for me are Caiman’s Deerskin Heatrac Insulated Touchscreen Heavy Fleece-Back Winter Gloves ($14.99), which are at a slightly different place on the warmth-agility trade-off scale—significantly warmer but also boxier and muffled-feeling. Liking them so far, though.
When the Cross Fitters in your life perform kipping pull-ups or toes-to-bar raises, they risk tearing open the hard-earned calluses on the palms of their hands, unless they have perfect form, which I do not. Once this happens, these Cross Fitters will show their wounds to you every day for weeks. No one wants this. Give them these vegan (!) devices, officially known as Victory Men’s X2 3-FC Full Coverage grips ($48). You will have to secretly obtain your beloved’s hand size first, which may be tricky. And you will have to make sure your beloved understands that the grips are not supposed to fit snugly over the palm of the hand; there’s supposed to be so much slack that it folds over at the top, over the bar. I don’t really understand the physics but I promise it works.
(These seem to be out of stock right now, but they’re so awesome I’m including them anyway.) Social life has returned, for better or worse (get your bivalent booster! and fyi, this looks like it’s going to be the worst flu season in a long time, so get a flu shot, too), so we’re back to the bad old days of high-decibel restaurants and parties. Although the foam earplugs sold at drugstores are powerful and inexpensive, they block more sound at high frequencies than at low frequencies, which means you won’t hear most consonants—and won’t understand what people around you are saying. The Etymotic company makes earplugs designed for performing musicians, and they block sound more or less evenly across high and low frequencies. The protection isn’t as strong as foam earplugs provide, not enough for wielding a jackhammer or a buzzsaw. And I find that they aren’t comfortable enough to wear for more than a few hours; you aren’t going to want to take a nap in these. But they work like magic: in a crowded, clanky room, you suddenly can understand what your friends are saying better than if you aren’t wearing them. Official name: the Etymotic ER20XS High Fidelity Earplugs ($19.99). I have the ones with a little lever at the bottom for pulling them out of your ears. It takes a little practice to learn how to put them in smoothly; you have to sort of pull up and back on the pinna of your ear as you put one in. In my experience, no one ever says anything when you insert them, probably because they don’t look like earplugs and people think they’re hearing aids (which in a high-noise environment, they effectively are). So there’s no embarrassment factor, or anyway, there isn’t with me, who am shameless. I am going to be able to hear when I’m eighty and you’re not. Unless you buy these. They come in a little traveling box, which I keep it in my pocket at all times.
Looking back over this list, I see that it’s almost painfully self-revealing, possibly the most intimate piece of public writing I’ve ever done. But since Twitter is dead now, there’s nowhere online for you to make fun of me anymore, and I’m safe.