Holiday gifts for 2015 — my 30 suggestions

By Caitlin Kelly

Happy holidays!
Happy holidays!

Welcome to my annual gift list!

I have a lot of fun putting it together each year, and I hope you find some inspiration here.

NB: No one has paid me to mention them.

All prices are in U.S. dollars, hence a bit higher for Canadian readers.

What you won’t find here: electronics, books/music, sporting goods, baby/kids/teen suggestions, anything costing more than $300.

You’ll find variety — a $5 stocking stuffer, multiple tea and elephant options (albeit not in combination),  and a beautiful pair of moonstone drop earrings.

Enjoy!

Here are seven charities recommended by New York Times social justice writer Nick Kristof.

Love this double-sized duvet cover, in cream with a crisp black graphic folkloric design, by designer Gudrun Sjoden.  $110.00

If you’re here, you enjoy reading smart writing.

Broadside now offers more than 1,700 published posts, many of them offering helpful tips for fellow writers and travelers.

But today’s journalists, many of us now full-time freelance, are working with the only safety nets possible, our own savings. I’m now co-chair of an all-volunteer 13-member board, an organization that  offers grants — up to $4,000 within weeks — to qualified writers in financial crisis. Every penny we collect goes directly to those in need. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund!

I love to cook. I really enjoy Penzey’s spices. Here’s a four-pack of delicious spices you can rub into/onto any kind of meat (or mix into yogurt to make a marinade.) $30.75

Please add a charitable donation to your holiday shopping list
Please add a charitable donation to your holiday shopping list

Grey tights, yes. Grey tights with a bunny on the ankle, definitely! $29.99

Also pale grey, a carved-edged mirror to hang vertically or horizontally. We’ve owned this one for a few years and love it — especially nice against a colored wall. $128.00

And these trifoliate lovely moonstone drop earrings, by one of my favorite jewelry designers, Jane Diaz. $298.00

Dash & Albert make fantastic and well-priced throw rugs in a wide assortment of colors and styles. I love this wool throw rug in tones of lavender, cream, kiwi fruit and raspberry sorbet. 3×5 size $262.00


A watch? Yes really!


Enough with staring at your phone to tell time! Bring back the pleasure of wearing an elegant watch, complete with black crocodile strap. This one is gorgeous, made in arrangement with the British Museum and sold through the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. $129.00

This Art Deco style watch is also terrific. $60.00

A regular delivery of fresh flowers, sent directly from growers in Ecuador, might make a lovely ongoing gift for someone who loves flowers as much as I do. $40-60.00

Who wouldn’t love an elephant…pillow? $220.00

Or maybe you’d prefer to foster an orphaned baby elephant through the Daphne Sheldrick Trust? $50.00

Waking up to beauty sets the tone for your day. Perfect for one small blossom on a bedside table, this glass riverstone shaped vase is only three inches high. $28.00

Lipault is a French maker of luggage in unusual colors and fabrics; I really like my chocolate brown satin backpack made by them. Love their 12″ cosmetics bag/dopp kit in four colors. $29


Time for tea!


 

Too fun! For those of you, like me, who drink loose-leaf tea, this infuser that looks like a deep-sea diver. $14.99

And to go with…how about a few pounds of loose leaf tea from my favorite Manhattan store, in business since 1907? $12.00/lb and up

Now, of course, you need a lavender glazed teapotone of 320 (!) china and metal teapot choices (from the shop we buy all our tableware from), William Ashley in Toronto. Yes, they ship domestically and to the U.S. $186.00 ($140.00 U.S.)

I love to sew and mend. Yes, very retro! If you know someone who does, they might appreciate this charming pin/needle holder, a tiny bird with a grey cotton cushion. Mothology is one of my favorite websites; roam around a bit if you like their esthetic. $22.95

These shawls from the Aran Islands of Ireland are a classic, perfect for travel and a lovely winter accessory — knit in baby alpaca and silk — in a range of neutral tones. $209 (186 euros)

We all need a good supply of elegant thank-you notes on hand. These gold-embossed ones are simple but lovely. $18.50

These earrings! Bronze and sea-glass. $60 (Check out their entire site. Some of the most interesting jewelry I’ve seen in years.)

One of New York City’s most elegant menswear shops is Paul Stuart, founded in 1938, on the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th. Here are some fun socks, in several colors. I like these bright blue ones, possibly terrific spotted between a pair of dark wash denim and polished black loafers. $44.50

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Readers of Broadside know how much I love to entertain and to set a beautiful table. We only use linen or cotton napkins and I have a small collection of colorful tablecloths. This company offers exquisite linen napkins, runners and tablecloths in 16 colors, from a soft red to teal to classic white, oyster and black.

You’ll have to trust me on this one. This soap! Crisp, fragrant, creamy, dreamy. Lasts for ages. $42.00 (for three)


 

Or a mysterious and lovely historic photo…


 

Fascinated by the American Civil War? Or pinhole photography? The photos made of Civil War re-enactors by our friend, the talented New York photographer Michael Falco, are truly mysterious. Like this one. Contact him for print prices.

In a world where tedious email and torrents of texts is the norm, few items are as deliciously old-school as personalized stationery, a gift I had made for my husband a few years ago. These letterpress cards, handmade in London, (but shipping worldwide), are simple but charming. $57.92 for 25 flat cards.

Do you enjoy baking as much as I do? This palm-sized bright red silicone scraper is amazing — both functional in itself and printed with metric/imperial measurements. $4.95

Those of us in New York know what a treasure trove are the stores of John Derian. Here’s a sweet glass dish, in his typically vintage-looking style you could use for a vide-poche or a spot to drop earrings at the end of the day. $48


 

This one!


 

Eager to raise your writing or blogging game? Want to write a non-fiction book? Break into freelance writing? Ask your sweetie for an hour of my coaching. One man gave this to his delighted wife for her birthday this year. $225/hour.

The Hell Of Holiday Shopping: A Few Last-Minute Tips

Drawing of a self-service store.
The associates have fled in fear...Image via Wikipedia

If you’re still holiday shopping, you’re almost out of time. Working retail offers a front-row seat to the annual insanity of people trying desperately to buy things for people they apparently don’t know.

Yesterday a man in his 60s came in. “I need a gift for my daughter,” he growled. Happy holidays to you, too.

I wheedled and cajoled and finally got enough details from him to show him about half a dozen items that might gladden the heart of a 17-year-old. No retail associate has the time or energy right now to do this a dozen times a day. Here is why he is sadly typical:

1) He had no idea of her size. 2) He had no idea of her taste 3) He had not asked what she might like 3) She had not told him what she might like 4) She was spoiled and fussy enough her father was too intimidated to just buy her something, trusting she’d appreciate his love, attention and thoughtfulness; at least he didn’t hand her a gift card 5) He threw his frustration and bad temper at me to solve.

Don’t be this guy.

Tips:

1) If you have no idea what size your wife/kids/husband/partner is — look in their closets and drawers! How hard is that? Or, just ask them. I found out my partner’s neck size is larger than I thought, so I could order his shirt in time.

2) Take a good look around your home: garage, kitchen, terrace, back yard. If you’re totally out of ideas, these might inspire you to refresh or replace weathered, broken or out-of-date items.

3) Give gifts of your time and talents: babysitting, dog-walking, tutoring, knitting, cooking, home repairs, snow shoveling. The best gifts are about love and attention to someone’s needs, not just their material cravings.

4) If you ask a retail associate for help, be nice! Yes, it’s their job to know their stock, but demanding “Would he like this?” when you have no idea of the recipient’s size, age or tastes is absurd.

5) Stores run out of things. Do not snap at the associates if this happens because it is management’s decisions that have created this siutation — and, just because the associates are standing before you and physically available to take the brunt of  your rage, it is not their fault. We ran out of gift boxes yesterday morning for a few hours and women in their 50s stood there, paralyzed with disappointment and disbelief, for many long minutes, sighing and moaning “What will I do without a box?” Get a grip.

6) Call ahead. Our phones are ringing off the hook as people ask for specific sizes, colors and items that we place on hold for them. This saves everyone time, energy and frustration.

Best/Worst Presents Ever — And A Few Ideas

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?