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Posts Tagged ‘holiday gifts’

Twenty-Five Fab Christmas Gift Ideas — Elephants Included!

In culture, domestic life, food, life, Style on December 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm
English: The Park House Club in Cardiff, wrapp...

Image via Wikipedia

This year, skip the dreary I-have-no-idea-what-to-get-them standbys — scented candles, scarves, hats, mitts or gift cards.

How about:

An elephant! Here’s a lovely stuffed, embroidered one from India for $60. My mom has owned one of these for many years and he’s a cheery addition to the household.

Or, why not adopt an orphaned elephant in Africa?

For the older music-lover in your life — perhaps someone in their 70s or beyond — how about this mix of classics from Kern, Berlin and others, played by the inimitable Stephane Grapelli?

For a stylish woman who likes unusual jewelry, these shield-shaped earrings from Vivre are exquisite: yes, a splurge at $280.

If you know and love Joni Mitchell (fellow Canadian!), you’ll know that Hejira, from 1976, is considered one of her best albums ever. I adore it.

This elegant women’s silk jacket — rich purple reversible to brown. I own one of these, (in burgundy) and love having two jackets for the price of one.

A travel shaving kit for the man on the go: $50, smells of sandalwood. Yum!

A mini food-processor, in bright tangerine, great for soups, smoothies: $39.95. I use mine all the time.

For all you old-schoolers who still wear a watch, here’s a simple, all-black field watch from LLBean; $129. A nice unisex gift for all ages.

I dare you to resist this insanely great-smelling (citrus) French soap, Hesperides by Fresh. One bar lasts for a month. A friend gave it to me and I now love it; $14.

For a woman with pierced ears, these tiny “diamond” studded pyramids would be perfect with everything from jeans to her favorite LBD; $28.

Or these really comfortable lug-sole black patent leather loafers. Comfy, water-resistant; $99. I own them and love them!

This Turkish seasoning is the bomb! Rub it into chicken or pork. Add it to Greek yogurt. A big $3.49.

How about a meter of this amazing Liberty print cotton? Red, yellow and blue ladders designed by an award-winning film and fashion designer. From my favorite London shop, Liberty. 21 pounds; $38.85.

From one of my favorite old-school Manhattan shops, founded in 1907, Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, a pound of chocolate cinnamon coffee; $9.95. Their teas are great as well.

Here’s one of my favorite lingerie stores, in Canada, La Senza. Two of these floral push-up bras for $39.50. Deal!

I love this tight close-up color photograph of a cowboy’s tools of the trade, by a Wyoming female photographer on Etsy; $20. If you haven’t yet explored Etsy, get on over there! It’s a huge on-line marketplace of things all made by creative individuals worldwide. (I’ll be opening my site there in 2012.)

This home goods store in Alexandria, Virginia has a fun, retro-look mantel clock in red. It would add a nice pop of color and a small, great style hit; $118.

A fresh set of towels, in rich and unusual earthy stripes: rust, gray, cream: $35-45.

These astonishing pewter candlesticks -- with a geranium leaf motif. Designed by a San Francisco artist, I have one by my bed and love looking at it every day.

Here are five global charities endorsed by international columnist Nick Kristof of The New York Times.

If your giftee has an Iphone 4, here’s a leather Iphone case; $38.

Or a man’s tattersall shirt in a nice weathered gray; $69.50.

Here’s a blog post with ten gorgeously-wrapped foods, (cake, chocolate, marzipan) you can order on-line.

You could also buy a copy, e-book or hardcover, of my own memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which received terrific reviews from People, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and Marie-Claire. It tells the story of working in a low-wage job, and is filled with useful, practical lessons for employees, managers and shoppers alike. You can read two chapters for free here.

I hope, wherever you shop and whatever you buy, you give as much business as you possibly can to your local retailers, the men and women who give our cities and towns such character and style.

Be sure to say a genuine thank you!!! to the weary associates helping you. Their feet are killing them, they’re making minimum wage and no commission and working crazy-long hours. (Give the best ones a candy cane! Then tell their manager how helpful they were. That way they might get hired on after the holidays.)

Be the best Santa ever!

An Alphabet of Holiday Gift Ideas, Alpaca to Zanzibar

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 at 5:32 pm
iPhone Alphabet

Image by schnaars via Flickr

Twenty more shopping days ’til Christmas. I’ve already mailed my mom’s presents and still have no clue what to get my Dad.

Here’s my alphabet of non-mall, somewhat unstandard ideas:

A: Antiques. Not everyone is as crazy about them as I, but this time of year there are antique shows all over the country, from small, affordable local shows to the glossiest, vetted international events. If someone you love is a collector — of magnifying glasses, or walking sticks or majolica or Depression glass, an antique show is a fun, efficient place to find all sorts of good things and high-quality surprises. Auctions: again, many smaller, regional auction houses have extremely affordable possibilities, much of it viewable on-line and biddable by phone or email, from crystal decanters to prints. One of my favorites, William Smith, recently offered lovely 200+ year-old Japanese woodblocks, some estimated as low as $150 apiece. Alpaca: is light, warm, lovely change from cashmere. One of my favorite sources with sweaters and shawls of alpaca is the 33-year-old company Peruvian Connection.

Baked Goods. If you can afford a loaf pan, some flour, eggs, sugar and fruit, you can make banana, lemon or cranberry loaves. They’re quick, easy and delicious. Delicate cookies are impressive indeed, but anything home-made with love (and some skill!) is a treat.

Charity: For the person who already has everything, make a donation in their name. Camera: My sweetie, a professional photographer, gave me the Canon G7 Power Shot, a tiny digital camera that fits in the palm of my hand and takes fantastic images. I started my career shooting with Nikons. This is just as good — I’ve sold my images shot with it to The New York Times and Toronto Star, so far.

Duvet: It’s a European thing, but the best! Not cheap, but a great lifetime luxury. Light, warm, comfortable year-round. Cuddledown has good choices.

Elephants: I love elephants. I even rode one in Thailand, best travel experience ever. Here’s a great list of terrific non-fiction books about these creatures. If you don’t know and love the 78-year-old children’s storybook classic Babar, about an elephant family, check it out.

Fountain pen. I know, some people think they’re pretentious. Nuts. Using my Lamy makes even writing out my quarterly tax payments a little less painful. Filofax. Equally old school, equally elegant and sensual way to stay organized. Mine is a decade old, fuchsia leather. I love all its accessories — yeah, pre-Iphone apps — like a ruler in metric and Imperial, map of the world with time zones, NYC subway map and notepaper for jotting down random ideas.

Glasses. Champagne flutes, martini glasses, fun juice glasses. Crystal or glass, antique or new. I like these, with bees embossed in them.

Hermes scarf. Oh, go on. $300. Gorgeous. Their silk twill has a lovely crispness and feels like no other. The patterns can be spectacular and come in wonderful color combinations. Their site has perfume (Caleche is a crisp classic), men’s and even baby gifts.The orange box is heaven and so is the chocolate brown twill ribbon printed with their name; I wear an antique locket on mine.

Isamo Noguchi lamp. I love his simple, quirky white paper lamps, like this one, at $105.

Jacquard pillow covers. Great paisleys.

Kitchen timer. Boring? Not if you have a crummy old stove or oven and/or you do a lot of cooking. Helpful to have several to coordinate the chaos at dinner party time. Affordable, cute, stocking stuffer: chickens or cow, $7.99 each.

Lillet. My favorite French aperitif: light, a little bit citrusy, not too sweet. $18 a bottle. Serve over ice. Yum!

Massage. Give one, get one. Or give a gift certificate for one.

Notecards. I’m crazy for beautiful stationery and recently discovered this great national chain, Paper Source. How about a set of personalized cards? A nice touch for all those thank-yous you have to send out while job-hunting.

Osa Martin’s biography, I Married Adventure, published in 1940. One of the first and most daring women adventurers in Africa.

Paperwhites. A perfect fragrant addition to any winter-bound home.

Queen Anne upholstered chair. Simple, elegant, comfortable.

Rwandan-made baskets. I love these affordable and gorgeous bowls, $40, woven in Rwanda by local women.

Soap. Few affordable presents beat a hard-milled, long-lasting (like a month) fragrant bar of soap. Here’s all-natural, woman-owned Sarva soaps. Sephora carries Fresh soaps, $14 each, and anything by Roger & Gallet, three to a box, is a do-able luxury at about $16.

Toile de Jouy. (Twal de Jwee, for the non-Francophiles!) This is one of my favorite things in the whole world, a fabric design that dates back centuries. Pottery Barn has lovely cosmetic bags, two for $36, as well as bed linens and shower curtains, in this pattern.

Umbrella. I like this one, cheetah-print, that you can monogram in red, $36.

Vintage. Anything! Jewelry, vest, hats, handbags, tableware, napkins. EBay, thrift and consignment shops.

Woolrich’s Civil War artillery blanket, $119. Cozy and historic!

XKCD. Check out this fun comic website, xkcd.

Yaktrax. I love to walk outdoors even in ice and snow. These things , $17.95, strap on over your sneakers or light boots, allowing safe year-round treks.

Zanzibar. If you can find the time and money, go for me. It’s near the top of my wish list!

Best/Worst Presents Ever — And A Few Ideas

In business, Money, Style on November 24, 2009 at 9:54 pm
Presents Under the Tree

Image by di_the_huntress via Flickr

As most of us, eagerly or reluctantly — (I love buying presents!) — start holiday shopping, if you work retail you can feel the gift anxiety level rising, like a low-grade hum in the background.

In my part-time retail job, I see this panicked insanity launch like some toxic stink bomb on Black Friday. By Christmas Eve, the last refuge of the utterly disorganized or desperate, people are almost vibrating with stress over whether their presents will find favor. I literally had a guy come in last year, Greenwich-elegant, and start pawing through the racks in a fugue state of frustration. “Can I help?” I asked.

“I need a present for a pain in the ass!” he spat. Poor bugger. I calmed him down, found him something and watched his shoulders drop with profound relief.

Some people, sadly, are almost impossible to buy for: fussy, spoiled, eccentric, unfocused tastes, already have everything. Which is why so many of us love to give, and get, cash.

The secret to the absolutely best gifts — within reasonable range (i.e. not a Mercedes) — is finding out what your recipient is utterly passionate about, no matter how obscure. What color(s) do they love or hate? Allergic to wool? A huge fan of motets or Chinese calligraphy? People who know me well know I am mad for Paris, so almost anything with a French or Parisian theme would be welcome. Ditto lush cashmere.

A lukewarm gift radiates blah, boring, I-couldn’t-be-bothered. Avoid whenever possible. Few gifts are as precious as someone paying careful attention to what you most crave and maybe can’t even say out loud. (Maybe, for a worn-out new Mom or Dad, a months’ worth of free babysitting or housecleaning services, from you or a service.) The very best presents often don’t come from any store or wrapped in a box.

Here are (I think) a few fail-safes for many adults, all available through on-line resources:

gorgeous soap (Roger & Gallet, Fresh, Lafco); thick towels (Williams-Sonoma), lovely linen or cotton napkins (Pottery Barn, Anthropologie and Sferra always have good options); fantastic cheese/condiments/chocolates/cookies (Crate & Barrel’s peppermint bark); a fabulous cookbook or coffee table book on a topic they adore; really good wool or cashmere socks.

My go-to bargain choice? Buy a bag of lavender ($10 or so), some vintage or antique fabric and a needle and thread — whip up some home-made sachets people can tuck in their linen closets, suitcases or drawers. But I’m obsessive enough I already have those things in my home, ready to go.

Here’s are some presents that, over the years, truly gladdened my heart:

Best

An antique Japanese chest with mirror, gray pearl earrings, Times Atlas of The World, skis, boots, poles, a new toaster and colander when I was really broke, a fuchsia leather Filofax (still going strong after 10 years), a gift certificate for Sephora, gift certificate for Saks, gift certificate for Barnes & Noble and one for Posman Books (a great New York city independent bookstore.)

Worst

Anything that said “not for individual resale”, books clearly off the remainder table, snowshoes (perfect for someone else, I know.)

What’s the loveliest or most thoughtful gift you ever received? Or gave? The worst?

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