gift guide graphic

Gift Guide 2017

The Holiday Gift Guide for 2017 is here, but you don’t need it.

I enjoy putting it together, so I do it, even though none of us needs more crap.

If you’re reading this, let me not be the first to tell you: you don’t need more crap.

I don’t. You don’t. The people you’re buying for don’t.

Since we’re all going to buy more crap anyway, here are my brilliant suggestions.

For Littles and Middles

 Nesting houses or balancing blocks

Bath pipes


Woodcut Memory Game

Harry Potter Room Decor

Fancy tic-tac-toe

Tetris-like puzzle game

Puzzle spheres

For Tweens and Teens

Hydro Flasks are stupid-expensive, but all the teens at my son’s school have and love them, so this gift is a homerun.

A Multitool is our go-to graduation gift

Headlamps are always handy. My husband uses his for reading, cooking, home improvement, car work. These would be great for college students, too.)

Dry box for their gadgets

Grown-up fidget spinner

Phone camera lens and light

Carabiner charging cable

Cereal Killer spoon or t-shirt

A stocked toiletry kit

Water color temp tattoos

Game of Phones

A strand of light up photo clips. For extra credit, print out a few photos from their social media account and hang it up on the wall for them to wake up to.

For Whimsical Friends (who love all things rainbow-sparkle-mermaid-unicorn-glitter)

It’s a thing


Gluttonous (thanks Shari)

Glitter confetti studs

Print and frame or grab this mouse pad

A gorgeous platter  Gah, it’s so pretty!

Hand warming mugs

For Everyone Fighting the Good Fight

All things Emily McDowell. I want this,  this,  and  this as well as all the other things.

Dumpster fire ornament

Boob stamps, because you can

Postcards, postcard stamps, and a sheet of pre-made labels with addresses for their government representatives

For Pretty Things Lovers

All things geode: ornament, coasters (thanks Diane), state-shaped trivets.

Anything from this store Her next shop update is November 29.

This tote bag couldn’t be more perfect

These cards

These blocks are sublime

Zen blocks

Penguin   or  Owl  Tiny, adorable things are my favorite!

All I want is ardent admiration and love

For Friends (whose day jobs are smoldering piles of turds)

Per hour


Pocket Pema

Affirmator Cards

For Everyone Else on Your List

For the sweethearts that you are, complements with your coffee.

For when, even after decades of practice, someone still can’t fold a shirt.

For the parents, DNA testing kits. These are ½ off through Thanksgiving.

For anyone who doesn’t already have one, an electric kettle.

For anyone really, a ceramic bud vase phone stand or a  wood phone stand or book ends from this great store.

For the sea lover, this wave necklace. Upgrade to the magnetic clasp and save everyone’s fingers.

For the perpetually cold, slipper socks or gloves.

For all the aunties and grandmas of the world, a copper planter filled with something pretty.

For the always sick and/or always on the go, a travel humidifier.

For all the dudes who don’t need another watch nor do they need more electronic gadgets nor do they need more grilling implements, whiskey glasses, a beard shaper, or Hamilton Paraphernalia.

For the traveler, or the person who loses everything, Tile.

For the athlete, trekker, trucker, a Road iD.

For the doomsday prepper, a mosquito net hammock. You know this is on my wishlist.

Stocking Stuffers

A shower scalp massager

Card decks and a booklet of card games, as we’re going to need some way to entertain ourselves in the post-apocalypse.

Unscented lip-balm  Those are my favorite, but these are good, too.

RX BARS The Chocolate Sea Salt are my favorite. These are very rich in flavor, but contain no added sugar.

Credits to print their social media photos

Soap for a good cause (I may order myself some)

Pocket Rumi

Light-up pen


Dual-tip marker set

The One and Only Gag-Gift


Books for Everyone

Her Right Foot (a cool video about the book)

The Smell of Other People’s Houses

When the Moon Was Ours

You Are A Badass

The Power of Onlyness

Good Bones

Resistance, Rebellion, and Life

A Secret Sisterhood

Living a Feminist Life

The Annotated African American Folktales

A Paradise Built in Hell

The Mask of Masculinity The more I think about gender, the more I think we need to focus first on deconstructing masculinity, as men will not change until they understand the full impact, on them, of all this bullshit.

Braving the Wilderness Buy all of her books for all of the people.

Love With a Chance of Drowning I am reading this now and it’s excellent. I can’t wait to read her most recent book.

Accidental Saints  Cranky and tattooed Pastor Nadia; one of my favorite reads of the year.

Experiences Over Things

An experience is always a good gift. Give an adventure, a trip, a class, a museum subscription, a club membership.

Escape Rooms are all the rage, and families still Geocache.

Trampolines, bowling, laser tag and the like are all fun school break activities.

We gave my kid a flight lesson for his 13th birthday.  For his 17th, his dad took him and two friends zip lining in the redwoods. A friend’s dad took her sky diving for her 18th birthday.

If you’re local to northern California, you could give the gift of a class at somewhere like the Sierra 2 Center, where I happen to be teaching a poetry workshop in January.

Money is Better 

I have strong feelings against gift cards: corporations don’t need more of your hard earned money sitting in their assets columns. If you’re so inclined, just gift money. It’s better for people.

Worthy Causes

Together Rising is one of my favorite organizations as they get money and supplies on the ground very quickly in response to need. “One hundred percent of what Together Rising receives from every personal donation goes directly to an individual, family, need – not one penny goes to overhead, administrative costs, or salaries — unless you specifically request that we use your donation for those purposes.”  

The ACLU has had a very busy year, as had The Southern Poverty Law Center.

Donate to a local election candidate.

Donate to local human and animal shelters, as well as local libraries.

Give the gift of a local newspaper subscription to someone who would enjoy it.

What are you buying this year? What’s on your wishlist?

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Giving and The Love Languages

Have you heard of Gary Chapman’s Love Languages?

In this schema, each of us have different channels through which we most readily give and receive love. The Happier Podcast recently did an episode on it if you want to learning more. If you want to find out your love language, take the quiz here.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts on gift giving rolling around in my brain for years, yet learning about the love languages helped me clarify some of them.
My primary love language is acts of service, like how my husband vacuumed my car last week *heart eyes.* The best acts of service are things I don’t have to be in charge of. For instance, my husband says he’ll cook for me, but when I have to ask him to cook, and then tell him what to make, I feel anxiety and shame rather than loved. But, if he just cooks something for me, I eat it and feel nourished.

For years I’ve asked people to not buy gifts for me. Many might think I hate gifts or hate holidays or am just a joy kill. But my reasons for asking people to not buy gifts for me are more complicated than that, and related to my core story.

First, I hate for stuff to be not used. The stuff in our homes should be meaningful, useful, or beautiful. I don’t like waste or random stuff that doesn’t fit into that category. And I really dislike things that might be useful to someone, but are not useful to me, piling up. Those of you who follow me on social media have witnessed this, as every time I clean out a closet I want stuff to go to a good home rather than just the trash or a thrift store. Ultimately, I believe we show major disrespect for the planet and the future if we don’t value the things we have. So, that’s the first part of my no gifts puzzle.

The second part is that, for years, even when I was explicit about what I liked or wanted, I got other stuff instead–sometimes gobs of other stuff, or other stuff similar to what I wanted but not quite. At a core level, the story I was telling about these gifts was that the people who gave them: did not get me, did not understand me, and didn’t think it was worth figuring me out.

I get I’m a bit of an enigma, but am I really that bad?

What I’ve realized recently is that my secondary love language is receiving gifts even in all of these years of no gifts. Huh. The trouble is, random things, or things that don’t fit into the meaningful/useful/beautify metric, make me feel misunderstood and unloved, so it’s a double-edged sword. The results here are that I’m a complete asshole and only feel loved when people get the gift magically right, which is nearly impossible. Thus, no gift is better than some gift in this labyrinth.

Gifts in recent memory that really meant something to me: two years ago the only gift I got on Christmas was an Amazon gift card from my in-laws. I got to buy books of my own choosing with it and I didn’t feel compelled to buy household shit. The second gift was when my husband taped a Dutch Bros Coffee gift card to my steering wheel at the start of the new semester. I felt seen and understood in both of those moments.

Gift Guide 2016

In no particular order, stripped of images because I moved blogs.)

These great and little bear prints. (So freaking cute!)

For the lucky few who get to keep their butter on the counter.

A brass and glass lantern or terrarium to fill with candles or sparkly things.

This stunning coffee table book.

Vintage bookends. These water bottles keep your drinks cold for hours. Really.

Anyone with pets needs one of these.* I want. You want. Everyone wants. It’s the solution to half of my problems.

A swearing party game. I’m in. Oh wait, the goal is to not swear. Dammit.

I need this.  A plush Scully. Perfection. All babies need this (sans the necklace, because choking hazard.)

For the Lone Gunmen in your life: prayercandles.

Young or old, there is a person in your life who needs a bucket of shit. No really.

And this toy cactus. I bought one as a gift recently and it’s amazing.

White triangle-arrow necklace. A botanical dill necklace.

Any piece from this Etsy seller.  Zodiac Constellation charms for that friend sister who believes that stuff.

Black silhouette jewelry holders in the shape of birds, a ballerina, and more birds.

A unisex bag that’s been in my shopping cart for months. Lapel pins are back in. A dandelion.

How you doing? I know a few people for whom this applies.

Ribbons are popular too.

I am positive my mother needs this ironed onto a jean jacket.

I saw a gal walking across campus with this bag and I fell a little bit in love with her that day.

If you’d like your cat to look like a  16th century jester AND you’d like it to stop eating birds, try this.

A box of greeting card “pick your own” charts can only go awry if the gifted has no sense of humor.

We all need a box of theseLiterary metal bookmarks.

This Rocketbook smart notebook is pretty dang cool. Victorian Lady Sex. Sold!

The Night Voyage coloring book. A set of the best coloring pencils.

On My List For real though, I want this. I’m not being ironic. (Okay, maybe I’m being a little bit ironic, but I have been a doomsday prepper since the 3rd grade.)

Calendars and Planning for Rebels

Poster of Calendar

I pour over the calendar aisle in every store soaking in colors and bindings and smooth papers.

How does one choose something so important and personal?

When stressed, I obsess at planner porn and wonder how other people make them so pretty. How do they make their handwriting so neat? How do they know what pens and markers to use? How much flipping time do they spend writing out their schedules? Who has that much to write down? What do they do when they make a mistake? Why does anyone need a water log?

But alas, all this pretty is simply not useful or practical for me, because I’m a rebel.

One of the best things I learned from reading The Happiness Project was happiness begins by understanding our true nature, and not by pretending to be fantasy version of ourselves.

When I look at planner and journal porn, and the little voice in my head says, “maybe I do need a new planner,” what I’m really doing is imagining a fantasy Cherri, who is an upholder, and has a whole set of skills and habits that real-life rebel Cherri does not.

Gretchen Rubin’s first commandment of happiness is to “be Gretchen.” So for all personal organizational tasks, I must be Cherri.

Here is what I know about being Cherri when it comes to calendars and planners.


  • won’t write in a planner or journal if she paid too much for it. We could delve into the psychology of this, but this post is long enough.
  • doesn’t enjoy waste, nor does she like buying shit she doesn’t need, nor clearing out clutter fantasy Cherri purchased years ago. (She does, however, enjoy browsing, and often puts things in her cart while shopping and puts them back on the shelf again before leaving the store.)
  • prefers paper to digital systems. (Ideally I’d have a digital reminder system, but google calendar notifications stopped working on my account–and I’ve tried every trick to get them to work I can find–and so paper it is.)
  • prefers to use pencil in a calendar so it can be erased, but will use pen and whiteout tape when necessary.
  • likes to see a whole month at a time.
  • doesn’t write a to-do list in her calendar.
  • prefers low-contrast design with white paper and black/gray lettering.

I did not know these things about Cherri at ages 20, 25, 30. I mostly had them figured out by age 45, but still need to remind myself sometimes. I go into a panic every now and again about some aspect of my life, and for a brief moment, I think a new calendar or planner will fix it. Because, of course we should be able to organize the chaos of an uncertain universe with a few pieces of pretty paper. Of course.

Mostly, being Cherri means I know better.


Before you decide on a calendar/planner system—or before you revise the one that isn’t quite working–you might take an inventory of your actual habits when it comes to writing things down and keeping track of your must-dos. What you think is a gorgeous work of art and what works for your friend/spouse/parent might not be the right choice for getting your own shit done.

As far as my own calendar, as that is the theme for today’s challenge, I keep a simple monthly paper calendar where I write appointments, etc. If I have to be somewhere other than my normal work schedule, it goes on the calendar.

I don’t carry this calendar with me. I leave it at home on the desk. If I need to add something while out and about, I use my Penseive app to email myself then add it when I get home.

Originally published for #readwriteplan by Cherri Porter August 1, 2016.

Protip: Do not google “calendar porn” or “planner porn” without your safe search on. You can never unsee that!

Image Source: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. “August” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1887 – 1922.

Retrieval Effect and Testing for Learning

The retrieval effect is a powerful tool to enhance student learning.

retrieval effect

Why Not Testing?

As a student I loved taking tests, largely because I was good at them.

As a writing teacher, my attitudes about tests have been mostly negative. For one, grading handwritten essay exams sucks a whole lotta squirrel shit.

The fact that students freak out about exams, to the point where they don’t do their best writing and thinking on them, is another consideration. In their panic, they lose what little thread of sense we think they might have acquired in our classes, and they write wacktacular theories about how more guns and processed food will make preschoolers healthier.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want students to suffer like that anymore than I want to read that crap.

Testing, as done by most schools and most teachers, is a pedagogical nightmare I have avoided as much as possible.

That is the attitude and experience I brought to James M. Lang’s work earlier this year. The key thing his work has asked of me is to re-think the value of testing for students.

How Might Testing be Valuable for Students?

It’s no surprise to most of us that we’ve been doing testing wrong. Schools and teachers have been stuck in a rigid and unproductive box when it comes to testing, which does nothing to show students’ best work.

It’s time for a paradigm shift about testing; not only can we test outside the box…there is no box.

The fact is, there is no box when it comes to the kinds of tests we can design for the benefit of our students, there is only bad habits and longstanding patterns we must overthrow.

A test is not something that has to happen on paper or come at the end of the unit or be done exclusively as a solo activity. A test is not something that needs to count for a large percentage of a grade or even be graded by the teacher.


The question we need to ask is: how can we create tests for the benefit of our students?

Think about that for a minute.

What happens to the whole education system when we explore ways to help students shine through testing?

The Retrieval Effect can Help Students Shine

The work of James M. Lang provides the foundation for my understanding of the retrieval effect. In his book, Small Teaching he defines the principle that underlies a new way of testing:

Put as simply as possible the retrieval effect means that if you want to retrieve knowledge from your memory, you have to practice retrieving knowledge from your memory. The more times that you practice remembering something, the more capable you become of remembering that thing in the future. (20)

Teachers might assume this is what students are doing when they study, but that is only one form of retrieval, and most students haven’t been taught strategies to help them do it.

Another hitch in this process, is that many of us who go into secondary and post-secondary teaching were naturally good at and interested in our disciplines. This made studying and retrieval less arduous and didactic for us as learners.

Assuming students don’t need in-class opportunities to practice retrieval is dangerous.

As teachers we often reiterate material for students, emphasizing important points. We might provide a study guide for them to use outside of class. But re-reading and reviewing are not retrieval practices, and not testing the knowing in ways that enhance long term memory.

At a very basic level, our class structures and testing strategies are failing students, and not the other way around.

What this means for teachers is that to design a good test, we need to start way before the actual test, giving students opportunities to practice retrieving their knowledge. In addition, there are many ways to practice and demonstrate knowledge retrieval beyond what we think of as the typical formats of college exams: multiple-choice, short answer, or essay.


Retrieval Practice Ideas

  • At the end of each lecture teachers could ask two or three of the exam questions for students to answer on a note card anonymously or via a google forms link or some other social media survey if your students are media savvy. This way, teachers get an immediate sense of what material students know and don’t, which could be reviewed at the beginning of the next class.
  • Teachers might open each class with a question that would be on the exam pertaining to material from one of the last two classes, and ask students to answer the question either individually in their notebooks, on note cards to collect and look at immediately, or in small groups. This, of course, takes time, but it does get them practicing recall regularly. It also conditions them to review their notes before class, because they will be asked to recall what they learned in previous class sessions.
  • If you use an online course management system you can have regular quizzes that students can take as many times as they want (for no points or extra credit) but you can look at the results of those and can see which questions they’re missing and note patterns. Many textbooks have free quizzes on their websites you can encourage students to use as supplement, and the course management systems often have textbook tools that integrate without you having to do more than select and import. Since you’re not pointing these practice retrieval activities activities, you don’t have to go through them and monitor them the way you would if you were using them as part of your own exams, so the workload is minor.
  • Another option is two day testing. On the first day students took the exam by themselves, turned it into the professor for scoring, and then went home to study what they were unsure about. On day two they come back to take the exam again in small groups. Now, some teachers might think it is cheating that they get to work in groups, BUT, what we know about the neuroscience is the important part here: by retaking the same test they reinforced their own learning by testing their memory. It’s the retrieval effect in action that matters, and not that they got to work with peers. The result is that everyone, even the slackers, had the chance to learn the material a bit deeper and test their own knowledge twice. You could let students choose if they want the individual or group score, you could weight them both, or pick the highest score of the two.

Practice and Experiment

However you choose to do this, give it time. These are new strategies for teachers and students. Many students will find them completely foreign and stare at you like you’re crazy. They may even resist. I’ve had stubborn classes that refused to participate in my new ideas and other classes that jumped right into the crazy void with me.

If you have more ideas or thoughts to add, leave them in the comments.

Post script: there is an interesting rubric in this article for conceptualizing the kinds of questions we might design for exams I found really interesting.

I do want to specifically recommend Lang’s Small Teaching and his online columns. His work both synthesizes the current research and contains practical examples of what teachers are doing in their classrooms across the curriculum. If you’re a new teacher, his On Course book is worth your time.

Originally published by Cherri Porter August 20, 2016.

Image by Aaron Burden, Unsplash.

<©2018 Cherri Porter>