The Times' 2016 holiday gift guide 

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Maybe Christmas, to paraphrase the Grinch, doesn't come from a big-box store. What if it comes from a hat maker? A feminist website? Your own pen?

Here are some ideas that members of the Arkansas Times' staff and friends can offer, and acquiring them requires absolutely no elbowing your fellow man for that last whatsit or standing in a long line to get to the cash register:

For that happy, creative person who doesn't give a tinker's damn about what others think of them, may I suggest giving him or her one of Leigh Abernathy's felted wool hats? Perhaps you saw them at the Craft Guild show recently? The tall purple cone that ends in a twist and sports a big purple flower on the side? The cat hat? Civil War-inspired hats? Monks' hoods? The Santa hat? Furful hats with ears? They're $75; worth every penny. Check out Abernathy's hattery at twiningvinedesigns.com. She's a jeweler, too. 

— Leslie Newell Peacock

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The Oxford American recently published its annual music issue (with companion CD), and as usual it's essential reading and listening. Unlike the previous seven versions of the magazine's annual bestseller, which were all themed around a state, this new edition is all about a genre — the blues. Naturally, the OA takes a big-tent approach throughout its 160 pages and 23 tracks. Prince and Gil Scott-Heron make appearances; Jimi Hendrix and Francis Bacon meet in Jeffrey Renard Allen's short story; and the accompanying CD is truly a mix, with songs from names you might expect (Charley Patton, John Lee Hooker) along with a number you wouldn't (Mali's Bassekou Kouyate and Alexis Zoumbas, a little-known Greek violinist who recorded in the 1920s). Another reason this should be on your shopping list for the music nerd in your life — the Arkansas-related material, including former Arkansas Times associate editor David Ramsey's definitive profile of Pine Bluff's CeDell Davis; Hot Springs native (and Arkansas Times Academic Allstar) Rashod Ollison's affecting memoir about the Jackson, Miss., label Malaco and his grandmother's house parties; and Oxford American senior editor Jay Jennings' fascinating exploration into the early life of Robert Palmer, the Little Rock-born rock critic, producer and musician. You can get the music issue at independent bookstores and at oxfordamerican.org. It's $15.95.

— Lindsey Millar

We all bemoan the slow creep of the holiday retail messaging's sensory assault ever backward into early fall, but I'd suspect that the head start doesn't actually make gift shopping any less harried for most people. The average American's workweek doesn't leave much room for pensive strolls along rows of glowing tinsel-clad boutiques, tidy list clutched in hand.

With only a handful of exceptions, I'm able to recall in much more detail the handwritten letters I've received from friends and relatives than I am the contents of the packaged gifts I've opened. For these reasons, I'm inclined to suggest we forgo a substantial chunk of our gift-giving altogether, sit in the comfort of our own homes and write letters to our friends and family instead. Before you roll your eyes, I've anticipated (and tried to assuage) a couple of potential objections.

1. Won't that come across as cheap? You mean cheaper than it came across when you bought the tree ornament or the noise-canceling headphones at the Walgreen's down the street from your aunt's house, and then wrapped it in the car? They were never the wiser, but isn't that sort of ... not the point? For most people, gift shopping is a trade-off between time and money. That is, "I don't have enough time to think a lot about the gifts I am giving, so I am spending a $20 bill so that I'll have something." But how many times are we buying the something because it's what you knew the recipient wanted?

2. I don't have time! Yeah, that's a hard one. Worse, the rest of the world goes on Christmas break and into gift crisis mode at roughly the same time you do, which means gift shopping is an activity rife with stoplights, congestion or — if you avoid all that mess and do it online — shipping costs and wait time. Either way, it takes time, and time is hard to come by. There's a reason we refer to it as a "commodity," and a reason why productivity experts are treated like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But here's the thing: Spending your time connecting with your loved ones is a pretty sure bet. You might leave the Best Buy empty-handed and starving at 8:30 p.m., but a letter's a letter, and I'd be willing to wager that even the most cynical of your relatives would remember the effort you made, even if they don't remember a word you wrote. 

3. I don't know what to write. Start with this: "I thought I'd try something different this year, and wanted to write a little bit to let you know what's been going on in my life, and to find out what's going on in yours." Then, scroll through your social media posts. Or your phone camera gallery. Chances are, you're gonna find something notable that happened this year to write about. If you don't, ask the recipient some questions. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who's interviewed any of his or her family members and regretted doing so. You might find that, having widened the circle of your correspondence past the bounds of your digital connections, you've started up a conversation with someone who's been there in your life all along, but whom you barely knew. 

Stephanie Smittle

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The only positive feeling I experienced on election night this year was the assurance I felt standing literally arm in arm with women at a watch party. And now, still, nearly every woman I know is alive with an almost desperate determination to create a world where we never again underestimate the prejudices of our neighbors and the apathy of our friends. In that vein, smashing the patriarchy is about the jolliest holiday wish I can muster this season. Here are some suggestions for clever, mischievous and amusing gifts for all the feminists in your life (which should be EVERYONE IN YOUR LIFE):

Visit amysmartgirls.com. Founded by artist Amy Poehler and producer Meredith Walker, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls organization is dedicated to "helping young people cultivate their authentic selves." If you don't know about this project yet, you're welcome. Check their shop for merch.

Visit wildfang.com, whose creators describe themselves, in part, as "modern-day female Robin Hoods raiding men's closets and maniacally dispensing blazers, cardigans, wingtips and bowlers ..." and also selecting choice stocking stuffers from across the internet for their curated brand including the "Smash the Patriarchy" Black Sparkle Pen Pack (check getbullish.com for more like this) and the "Super Discrete Pouch," with the words "Just a super discrete way to carry tampons around" written pretty boldly across it.

Visit fab.com and search for "Broad City," where you'll find the fruits of the collaboration between the design company Fab and "Broad City" creators and costars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, two icons in every sense of that word. It's impossible to choose a highlight.

— Sarah Stricklin

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I moved into a new home this year, so I've been prowling for art, prints, art prints, ephemera, et cetera to adorn my sad, naked walls. If anyone on your list is a homebody — and if his or her home could really use a little aesthetic toe dip into a Laurel Canyon vibe — check out the Etsy store of Capricorn Press.  

— Ashley Gill




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