Last minute gifts for girls.

A version of this post originally ran on December 19, 2011. 

A few days ago Will and I reviewed our Christmas shopping list, just to make sure we were actually finished.  I thought we would give it a quick approval and be done with it.

I was wrong! We realized we bought one of our girls the stocking stuffer-type items on her wish list—a journal, chunky yarn, lip gloss—but we never filled in with anything substantial. I’m so glad I realized it when I did—when there was still time to do something about it (without going to the mall).

shoe books collage

After a lengthy brainstorming session, I ordered her several of Noel Streatfeild’s Shoe Books.  They’re classics: in You’ve Got Mail, these are the books a weeping Kathleen Kelly recommends to a Fox Books customer in the children’s section.

I chose Ballet ShoesDancing Shoes, and Party Shoes—and with Amazon Prime, they’ll be here before Christmas Eve.

ballet shoes

My daughter is obsessed with ballet, so I ordered her a pair of ballet shoes from Zappos to go with her Shoe Books.  They’ll be here with time to spare.

My two favorite sources for ordering last-minute Christmas gifts online are Amazon and Zappos.

Today is Amazon’s last day for Prime customers to get free shipping for Christmas. If you’ve never tried Prime, you can start a free 30-day trial now to take advantage of the free and fast shipping. (Need a nice last-minute gift? You can give the gift of Amazon Prime.)

Zappos is famous for their free overnight shipping, both ways. They guarantee Christmas delivery on all orders placed before 1:00 pm PST on Tuesday, December 23. I love Zappos for gifting because returns and exchanges are simple and free, and their customer service is fantastic.  The one thing I don’t like is that since they’re located in my state, I have to pay tax on my online orders.  But the good news is that you probably don’t.

Will and I reviewed our list last night, and I think we’re done—except for one more gift we’re picking up at Trader Joe’s. (Seriously.)

What are your favorite last-minute gifts for Christmas (or any other occasion?) 

Links I love and books on my nightstand.

books in the window

my favorite instagram

Links I love:

• Listen to Neil Gaiman read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

• What happened when I lived according to the Pinterest popular page. This is surprising and funny and relatable. (Language warning.)

• The unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this long form piece. It’s worth it. The ending kills me: She said she knew the subject of her next book but wasn’t ready to make it public.

• The New York Times reviews the Serial podcast finale. “A writer for The Guardian has called the fever around the show ‘the Beatlemania of the nebbishy public radio long-form nonfiction world.’ ”

Most popular on the blog:

Great reads for your Christmas vacation.

Series kids love (and their parents do, too)

Best book you’ve never heard of on … getting over it.

• The great kindle deals page is hopping this week. Lots of good stuff on sale.

books on my nightstand

On my nightstand:

(I’m borrowing this great idea from Erin.)

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Katie recommended this (and she has great taste). I’m only on page 40 but so far it reminds me of Flavia. That’s a good thing.

The Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. I’m reading these with 9-year-old Sarah. This book (#1) in the series makes me want to read Little Women. Maybe that’s next?

Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life by Erin Gates. This design book has good info, beautiful photos, and a nice layout, even if sometimes the writing makes me cringe.

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley. This book (coming January 6) is getting tons of buzz. My one word review: don’t. 

Italian for Beginners by Kristin Harmel. I picked this up at the library today and might let it jump line.

Have a great weekend!

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

It’s true: these Jane Austen movies have nothing to do with Christmas… except that Christmas vacation is a great time to watch one (or all) of them.

(Sarah’s reading a book right now in which one of the characters has a standing date with Mr. Darcy—er, Colin Firth—on New Year’s Eve, when she watches the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice from start to finish. I suspect she’s in good company with her holiday ritual.)

Some Jane Austen adaptations are terrific; some will make you feel like you squandered two hours. Here’s my guide to the best versions.


My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

At a Christmas party two years ago, I spent two hours trying to figure out which of my friends I should set up the guests in attendance, and came home in the mood to watch this version of Emma with Romola Garai. It took me weeks to catch the irony.

This is the best version of Emma; it’s not even close.

Kate Beckinsale makes a fine Emma in this version. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma at the time, but find her much too irritating as Emma to re-watch now. Romola’s version is perfect, and Jonny Lee Miller makes a great Knightley. (I was surprised, too.)

Sense & Sensibility

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Andrew Davies—who brilliantly adapted the 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice for tv—took a similar (read:sexy) approach with this 2008 version of Sense & Sensibility. (See: Dan Stevens chopping wood in the rain.) Acress Hattie Morahan, who played Elinor, refused to watch Emma Thompson’s 1995 performance prior to filming for fear it would influence her performance (and absolutely paralyze her).

This adaptation is fun to watch and quite true to Austen’s story, although it does have a few added scenes, like a duel between Brandon and Willoughby.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

2008 is quite good, but Ang Lee’s 1995 version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is a classic, even if it’s not the most faithful to the book.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy


Both modern adaptations are worth watching, but neither is amazing. (Screenwriters, take note.)

Of the two, the subdued 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds most resonates.

The 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones has more energy, but that’s not necessarily a good thing: it has a truly terrible ending, in which Anne Elliot’s marathon jog through the streets of Bath culminates in what might just be the worst kiss in the history of movie kisses.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Mansfield Park

The world is still waiting for a Mansfield Park adaptation that does justice to the book. Neither modern adaptation (1999 or 2007) is worth your time. Read the book while you’re waiting on Hollywood. (Or preferably, the BBC.)

Northanger Abbey

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Andrew Davies strikes again. This 2007 version starring Felicity Jones and JJ Feild (and a young Carey Mulligan—I didn’t realize it was her until I saw the credits!) bring’s Austen’s lampoon of Gothic novels to life in a perfect 86 minutes. Don’t worry about the terrible Amazon reviews—those people don’t know what they’re talking about.

Pride and Prejudice

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

The 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice is the best Austen adaptation, hands down. It’s a faithful adaptation, with gorgeous scenery and brilliant acting. Jennifer Ehle is a marvelous Lizzy and to legions of fans Firth is and always will be Mr. Darcy. (In a wet shirt. In the lake.)

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

But the 2005 edition with Keira Knightley also has its charms. It’s lush and rich with imagery. (Mr Collins proposing in front of a ham? Perfect.) And it ushered a new generation into Jane Austen fandom.

What’s missing here? What’s your favorite Austen adaptation? (And if you have any holiday viewing rituals, tell us about them in comments!)

P.S. 5 favorite Jane Austen-inspired romantic comedies

The best Christmas scenes in English literature.

For your holiday enjoyment, I present to you the (highly subjective) best Christmas scenes in English literature.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry and his friends elect to stay at Hogwarts during their first Christmas holiday break.

After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they’d stolen his prefect badge.

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Catherine has just returned to the manor after recovering from an injured ankle. The house is preparing for Christmas but Heathcliff has hid himself from Catherine, as Nelly, our narrator, ponders their lot.

Under these circumstances I remained solitary. I smelt the rich scent of the heating spices; and admired the shining kitchen utensils, the polished clock, decked in holly, the silver mugs ranged on a tray ready to be filled with mulled ale for supper; and above all, the speckless purity of my particular care—the scoured and well-swept floor. I gave due inward applause to every object, and then I remembered how old Earnshaw used to come in when all was tidied, and call me a cant lass, and slip a shilling into my hand as a Christmas-box; and from that I went on to think of his fondness for Heathcliff, and his dread lest he should suffer neglect after death had removed him: and that naturally led me to consider the poor lad’s situation now, and from singing I changed my mind to crying. It struck me soon, however, there would be more sense in endeavouring to repair some of his wrongs than shedding tears over them: I got up and walked into the court to seek him.

Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

It’s Mark Darcy to the rescue when Bridget’s family gathering is hijacked by her mother’s ex-lover.

“Come on,” said Mark Darcy.
“What” I said.
“Don’t say ‘what.’ Bridget, say ‘pardon,’” hissed Mum.
“Mrs. Jones,” said Mark firmly. “I am taking Bridget away to celebrate what is left of the Baby Jesus’s birthday.”
I took a big breath and grasped mark Darcy’s proffered hand.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” I said with a gracious smile. “I expected we’ll see you all at the Turkey Curry Buffet.”

great expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Pip joins his sister’s family for Christmas dinner and fears the moment they notice he stole the mincemeat pie reserved for dessert. First, a guest arrives.

Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty, with exactly the same words, and carrying the two bottles like dumbbells. Every Christmas Day, Mrs Joe replied, as she now replied, “Oh, Un — cle Pum — ble — chook! This IS kind!” Every Christmas Day, he retorted, as he now retorted, “It’s no more than your merits. And now are you all bobbish, and how’s Sixpennorth of halfpence?” meaning me.


Persuasion by Jane Austen

Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of all the noise of the others.

What would you add to the list?