Imaginative conservatives love words, but we’re not an effete bunch, no sir. We know that the pen is mightier than the sword—but we respect swords, too.

I suspect that our ancestors were better prepared for Christmas than we tend to be. Unless you’re the sort of person who breathlessly anticipates the holy day, like we all did when we were kids, it has a way of coming up from behind and tapping you on the shoulder and startling you.

That’s the way it is for me, anyway. I think our ancestors were better prepared because they followed the cycle of the year. How could it be otherwise? Their livelihoods were tied to it more closely. Me? One day is pretty much like any other. Climate control in my house and my car, and the fact that the grocery store miraculously has strawberries for sale in December, makes it possible to live without a thought given to seed-time and harvest. Our ancestors, on the other hand, could see Christmas coming from the end of August. They had time to think about gifts.

Well, so much for that. The season is upon us!

In past years my gift recommendations have followed themes—gifts from New England, for example, or gifts that reflect the transcendentals.

No such pretense this year. Instead here are a few suggestions that simply suit my fancy.

Well, that’s not quite the whole story. I do favor those things that reconcile the high and the low—or the beautiful and the useful. So here are some suggestions along that line.

A tactical pen from Smith and Wesson

Smith and Wesson Pen


Imaginative conservatives love words, but we’re not an effete bunch, no sir. We know that the pen is mightier than the sword—but we respect swords, too.

Walking around with a sword is a bit too provocative in our day, unless you can manage to find a sword cane. But to justify using one you’d need to accompany it with suitable attire, and unaffected dignity. I certainly couldn’t pull that off. That’s why I settle for a tactical pen.

Even though I have a license to carry a pistol, I don’t do it very often. But I sill have a Smith and Wesson on me at all times. I’ve even managed to take mine with me when I fly.

My tactical pen is made of aircraft aluminum, and sits nicely in the hand. One end has a stylus for my smart phone screen, and for signing those ubiquitous credit and debit card kiosks. This unscrews to reveal a conventional ballpoint pen. The other end comes to a tip that would really hurt if used in the right way. I suppose it would also shatter glass—I’ve never tried. But you get the point—it is useful for all sorts of emergencies.

Tactical pens are not terribly expensive. Plan on spending between $25 and $50 on one.

Thorogood Work Boots

Thorogood Boots

This item is a tad more expensive. But it is worth it.

If you’re in one of the trades, you probably take foot ware pretty seriously. You spend a lot of time on your feet, so you want a combination of comfort, durability, and protection that can only come from a good boot.

Thorogood has a great reputation, but don’t expect to find their boots on sale at Tractor supply, or even the Carhartt outlet. You’ll probably have to special order them.

Here’s a photograph of mine—the ones I use for working, any way. I like them so much that when my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said, “Another pair of Thorogoods for casual wear.” One of my sons is a steel worker—he got a pair he wears all the time. And they’ve held up for him. That’s saying something—he goes through boots at a startling rate.

They’re made in the USA—so that’s something else that commends them.

A print from Jack Baumgartner

Jack Baumgartner

I’m a visual artist, besides being a writer, a pastor, and a builder. I enjoy working with my hands and thinking about what I’m doing from the theological point of view. And because that’s so, I’m always looking out for artists with a similar mix of interests.

I’ve not come across many of them. But one of them is a man named Jack Baumgartner. He is a multidisciplinary artist, woodworker, and shepherd, who, together with his wife and five children, live and farm outside of Rose Hill, Kansas.

I’ve been following him on Instagram since my friend Susannah Black sent me something she wrote about him for Plough. I just recently purchased on of this prints. I’m sure it won’t be the last thing I buy.

If you’d like to learn more about him, you can read this profile from Image journal. Or you can subscribe to his blog, The School of the Transfer of Energy. If you’re interested in his farm products, you can make a purchase on his farm’s website: Baumwerk Farm.

Mr. Baumgartner should be better known than he is. Hopefully this will change as the body of his work grows. In our time of self-promotion through social media, we have access to people like Mr. Baumgartner, but one has to press through a crowd of mediocre artists who excel primarily at talking about themselves.

Mr. Baumgartner is the opposite. He doesn’t say much. But his work speaks.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

If you’re the creative sort, you’re probably plagued by the dread that there is something the truly great artists and minds knew that you don’t—that there is some magic formula that they followed that you don’t know about.

Well, this book is both a comfort and something of a slap. What Mr. Currey has done is provide over two hundred vignettes about the daily routines of great artists and scientists. There’s Beethoven, who counted out the beans for each cup of coffee (exactly 60), and if you think that’s peculiar, here’s Kierkegaard’s coffee drinking habit as recorded originally by his biographer Joakim Garff, and quoted by Currey:

“Kierkegaard had his own quite peculiar way of having coffee: Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid. The process was scarcely finished before the syrupy stimulant disappeared into the magister’s stomach, where it mixed with the sherry to produce additional energy that percolated up into his seething and bubbling brain—“

Aside from learning that coffee was more important to good work than you ever knew, Currey’s book documents that everyone from Einstein to Chopin did most of his work in the morning, and in less than four hours a day. The greats were not given to long hours in the studio, instead they had concentrated bursts of creative energy followed by long periods of recovery. They had social lives.

If you know an artist, and you’d like help that person to peek over the shoulders of giants, this is the book to give.

Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way, by Lars Mytting

Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way

Who knew a book about firewood could be so engrossing? This one is. If you’re the sort of person who can discriminate about heat—who can tell the difference between forced hot air, baseboard radiant, heat from old-fashioned steam radiators, and a woodstove, you know which is best. Woodstove heat goes deep down to the bones. There’s nothing like it.

But the fuel is the thing—and getting it right is a big deal.

When is the best time to fell a tree? (February or March), how long should wood dry? (At least six months), how should you light a fire? (From the top, believe it or not.) Which woods are best at different times of the heating season? (Too long to explain—get the book, it answers this question and many others you haven’t thought to ask—such as how did Norwegian women judge men by their woodpiles back in the day? And many more tidbits of this sort.)

Well, so much for my suggestions this year. Not a long list, but I hope a good one.

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The featured image is “The Lumberjack” (circa 1840) by Eduard Ritter  (1808–1853), and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. It has been brightened for clarity.

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