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Holiday Gift Guide Pt 2: A few ideas for the little people in your life

puro puzzle

First off, you can just feel good about buying anything at the Smithsonian Institute. Your kid will automatically be on the direct path to being a genius with anything you find there, right?

Even if not, they will have a blast building and creating with these blocks. Colorful, so they’re cheerful. Made out of cardboard, so they’re light (which means they are light weight and compact enough to take them with you on vacation… ) and with the 18 round and 48 square pieces, you can build just about anything. Puro Puzzle, $49.99.

casagami solar nightlight

While we’re on the topic of cardboard, what about this miniature house aka night light for a little something? Solar powered, so you never have to worry about your carbon footprint or getting new batteries. Casagami solar night light. $12.

georgie porgie thank you notes

Now I am all for kids learning to write. I also love how the letters look on a card or a page when the little author is just learning how to make them. I am also all about the thank you note, in it’s traditional pen-and-paper format. But sometimes getting one’s 5 year old to settle down and write a note can feel harder than negotiating peace in the middle east.

Enter the Georgie Porgie Thank You Notes For Beginners kit. Kids get to choose from a selection of stickers of words, phrases and pictures and can structure their own collage style message. Suddenly, writing Aunt Lucie becomes a game rather than a chore, and positive feelings become associated with thank you note writing, thus making the whole situation easier the next time around. Georgie Porgie Thank You Notes For Beginners Kit, $24.

crystal growing kit

The Exploratorium in San Fransisco is quite possibly the best interactive natural history/science/art/discovery museum in the world. Not that I’ve been to all of them, but after a day at this place, I don’t see how it can be beat. And their gift shop is full of all sorts of treasures for kids.

Like this crystal growing kit. There’s something for everyone… an experiment for the little scientist, mystical purple gems for the little fairy, the chance to build shapes like octahedrons and pyramids for the little mathematician, hours of occupied kids for the parents… a dream come true. Thames & Kosmos Crystal Growing Kit, $35.99.

chair game

Speaking of building shapes… these chair/blocks have always captured my attention (as I have a little architect in residence) and I have never gotten them. Perhaps this is the year. Look how great they are. Just think of how many crazy structures you can build with them. And they also serve as the perfect place for the fairies/toy mice/elves to sit when they have to gather for important meetings or puppet shows. Chairs Game, $80.


I have always imagined that Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is one of the happiest people on the planet because his work is so consistently joyful. I also love him because he makes “decorative” art (aka stuff you can actually use) and this flower pillow is a perfect example. Imagine how happy your little kid (or your friend’s kid or your nephew or whatever) is going to be if their brain gets to develop in the presence of such exuberance. And then in 15 years you can always sell it to help pay for college… Flower Pillow by Takashi Murakami, $399.

DIY Instrument Kit

As a lover and maker of music myself, I admit to being a bit of a hard ass when it coes to what kind of noise makers are allowed into our house. Toys that played that cloying electronic beeping music and had flashing lights were disposed of immediately. Or their batteries were removed, at the very least. Encouraging kids to generate their own music is a different story entirely.

Enter the DIY Instrument kit, that uses light to make music. You solder together a light sensitive board and then use two intersecting beams of light to control volume and pitch. DIY Instrument kit, $23.50.

wildcraft game from learning herbs

I will go on at length in a future post about the excellence of the Learning Herbs website and all of the incredible amazing things you can learn about herbs just by paying them a visit every now and again. But this is not the time for all of that. Right now is all about holiday gifts for the kids. So just make it easy on yourselves and get them Wildcraft, a cooperative board game that teaches young people about herbs while they are having a fun adventure climbing up an imaginary mountain behind their all-knowing grandmother’s house. And unless you are an herbalist, you will most likely learn a thing or two yourselves! The drawings are lovely, the game encourages players to work together as a group, you start to learn how to identify plants without even realizing it… What’s not to love?. Wildcraft, $37.

Hazel Village Lucy Owl

Here’s the thing that’s great about stuffed animals… especially ones that are kind of like humans and as such can sub in as make-pretend babies in a pinch. They are great gifts for tiny babies. They make the nursery look cute, you’ll probably spend more $$ on them than their own parents will (because you only have to get one thing for the kid), the babies sleep with them, drool on them, drag them around, etc etc. Then, for awhile, they become more decorative than anything else. But just when you start to think that the time for stuffed animals is over, inventive play comes back into full swing, and suddenly cities are being built for them, whole narratives spring up around their particular personalities, your kid actually starts to make things like clothes and furniture for them… it’s a whole rebirth.

So the lesson here for new parents is: buy good quality stuffed animals and dolls because they are going to be around for longer than you think. And we, as friends of aforementioned new parents, have a duty to supply our sleep addled fellow parents with some quality fabric companions for their little ones. Like this super cute Lucy Owl, who by the way is wearing the lovliest little skirt and bonnet you’ve ever seen. Hazel Village Lucy Owl, $39.

The 2014 gift guide begins now: Chapter 1– Help us feel beautiful, please

Vintage Black Glamour by Nichelle Gainer

And maybe hook me up with this dress while you’re at it…? Photo of Eartha Kitt from the cover of the new book Vintage Black Glamour by Nichelle Gainer

We are officially well into the holiday shopping season. So far into it, in fact, that panic has started to set in. Yesterday, it was October. Today, we have essentially 45 seconds before Hanukkah and a minute and a half to get ourselves together for Christmas (we do both in our family.)

How did this happen? Or perhaps the better question is… why does this happen EVERY YEAR? When will the lessons of the previous year sink in and inspire me to start buying holiday gifts in September like organized people who have assistants and use Siri on their iPhones and know how to fold fitted sheets?

Perhaps never. But at least I have some good ideas when it comes to what to give people and I’m happy to share them. For the rest of this week (and maybe into next week, too) I will flood you with all sorts of thoughts about what you might want to be getting your loved ones (or better yet, what you should be asking your mother-in-law to get for you!) for the holidays. Please enjoy, and if you have any great things you’d like to add, don’t hesitate to put them into the comments. I am always looking for new things to ask for…

Today, in honor of the cold and relentless rain, is all about beauty.

monk oil

Monk Oil is my newest obsession. This subtly scented body oil is formulated especially to help us to thrive in the city (and we NYC folks sure could use all the help we can get)! It’s got avocado and apricot oils to moisturize, cedar and lavender to ground and energize, rose otto to lift our mood and yarrow to ward off environmental toxins. But my favorite part is the tiny rose quartz crystal hiding inside of each bottle to help harmonize the whole mixture.

Mixed and bottled on full and new moons, it feels like you are spreading a little but of magic onto your skin whenever you put it on. And it’s brand new, so your wife/brother/sister-in-law probably doesn’t have a bottle already. And if they do, I bet they won’t be bummed about having a bit more.

spa heroes beauty subscription

There are zillions of beauty products out there, but many (if not most) of them have harmful ingredients that might make us feel good for a minute or two, but are really doing harm to our bodies long term. And how are we to know which products are entirely safe? Enter Spa Heroes, a brilliant and reasonably priced subscription service that has done all of the research for us and is ready to help us clear out our medicine cabinets and restock them with the kind of stuff that… well… Gwyneth would probably use. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

Every month has a theme: November was all about being luminous, while December’s selections are all about mood and memory. A box arrives at your doorstep with at least one new full sized product (moisturizer, cleanser, scrub, etc) plus a sample or two with no toxic ingredients. There is also a beautifully designed fold-out card with information about the ingredients and benefits of the expert selection plus tips on how to best use your new prize. You use the products, fall in love with them and then can restock (at a discount!) at their online store. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving…

skinny skinny glowing skin kit

Skinnyskinny is one of those shops in my neighborhood that is next to impossible to leave empty handed. They have their own line of beauty products, all totally natural and handmade, plus they sell little plants, candles, and the Best. Lip balm. Ever. But if I were to be getting a gift from these guys, I’d want the “Luminous You” gift set, which includes cleanser, toner, moisturizer and scrub. That way, I could immerse myself in their universe and come out all glowing and whatnot.

red flower hinoki mint mineral bath

Anybody who knows me (or has read this blog for longer than a few weeks) knows how much I love Red Flower. It is far and away one of the best beauty companies out there. Using their products is like drifting into a fairy bath of rose petals and lavender, with magic fingers giving you massages and splashing your face with mystical serums… I could go on forever.

To be perfectly honest, if you were shopping for me, you could go to the Red Flower store or website and pick anything, wrap it up, and give it to me for the holidays. I promise you I would be thrilled. Today, as I look out over the dark cold rain, I am fantasizing about a nice hot bath, so the Hinoki Mint mineral bath soak comes to mind. It’s both soothing and uplifting, and it always leaves me feeling like I’ve just spent an afternoon at some expensive spa in Costa Rica. Which, I might add, is a beautiful feeling to have.

ever brooklyn lavender hydrosol

Last, but not least, comes the hydrosol. Now mind you, I didn’t have the faintest idea what a hydrosol was until my friend Fannie McWatt started her aromatherapy company Ever Brooklyn, but now that I’m in the know I have become a true believer. There is nothing like spritzing your face with a light mist of lavender and feeling this fragrant herb regenerate and renew your skin as it calms your mind.

Another thing I really don’t need but totally want regardless

wooden rulers by Hay

Do you think if you get rulers like these, your kids would automatically understand the metric system of linear units of measure?

OK so part of my (seemingly endless) de-cluttering project has involved discovering just how many versions of single items I actually have. Lets not get into how many blank pads of paper (of various sizes) or scotch tape, or half empty bottles of Elmer’s glue, or scissors I have unearthed… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out I have 4 or 5 rulers, of various sizes. But none of them are as happy as these Geo-metric rulers by Hay that my evil husband had the nerve to point out to me the other night. He claims to want to help me to minimize my possessions, but I’m not so sure. Luckily, the site is in the UK, so maybe I can’t get my hands on them after all.

Oh no wait, they ship internationally, for a small fee.


When Father’s Day and your husband’s birthday fall on the same week

Every year, about this time, I get a series of text messages from my mother-in-law asking me what she should get my husband for his birthday. He is notoriously picky, and she is a wise woman who knows that if anybody has an idea of what to get him, it would be me.

And while one part of me just wants to crawl into a hole (“It’s bad enough figuring out what I am going to give him, for Father’s Day and his birthday, let alone help people who need to shop early to allow for shipping!”) the other part of me does have answers. That part of me also needs to put up a blog post every day, so here, without further ado, is what I recommend giving to my wonderful husband for his birthday.

tom dixon math tools

He wants this group of Tom Dixon mathematician tools badly. So much so that I would venture to say this is the #1 choice, despite it’s apparent lack of practicality. Josh is a big fan of beautiful things and this set is that, in spades.


Josh’s all time favorite food is the Maryland Blue Crab. Nothing makes him happier faster. Once upon a time one had to be in Maryland to experience them. But now Harbor House Crabs will Fed Ex them to you all ready to steam and eat. A gift certificate from this place would be a home run.

lumio lamp

I almost got this lumio book lamp for Josh at Christmas/Hanukkah last year… This would be the perfect thing for the little shed/office he has in the back yard.

everlane jacket

This lightweight jacket by Everlane would be perfect in a size medium. He has actually asked for it specifically, should there be any doubters among you as to whether or not he would approve…

money clip by Jill Platner

Josh already has one of these, but if you are shopping for anybody like Josh, and they don’t have a Jill Platner money clip, now is the time to get them one.

And then last, but certainly not least (in fact, this might be the best gift of all in this particular instance) there is always a plain old check. Fits perfectly, works in any season, always useful and appreciated.

Hopefully this has been a help, not only to the mother of my beloved, but for any of you out there who might be casting about trying to figure out what to give that certain someone for Father’s Day…

Summer kicks

restrepo shoes at Jumelle

Here is the pair of shoes I most want this summer, staring back at me from the always-tempting window of Jumelle on Bedford Ave in Brooklyn.

Not that any of you noticed, but I usually write about books on Tuesdays.

I am straying from that path today, however, because I was so completely distracted by the above pair of shoes (seen in the window of Jumelle, a neighborhood favorite in the style dept.) Suddenly, all I can think about is the fact that it is finally warm, Memorial Day is upon us, and I can finally trade in my wool Adidas hightops for some cute summer kicks.

And the above pictured Dieppa Restrepo loafers are on the top of my list. Because they’ve got a little color whilst remaining neutral… a little pattern but you can wear them with anything.

But, of course, there are other contenders.

robert clergerie loafer

Neutral airy platform… what’s not to love about these Clergerie loafers?

Like these Robert Clergerie espadrille/loafers I spotted at Bird. All easy breezy with a platform to make you feel like you have something special going on without the least bit of discomfort that a heel might serve up.

bensimon tennis sneakers

The shoe that every cool french girl wears whilst strolling along the shores of the Riviera…

And then there is the classic Bensimon tennis elastic sneaker, which, to be honest, I don’t think would be all that good for actual tennis playing. But they will do quite nicely between the farmer’s market and the beach…

IX Style sandals

These sandals, by IX Style, are handcrafted in Guatemala by female artisans.

Last but certainly not least, these Huarache sandals won’t break the bank ($89!) PLUS a portion of your cash goes to helping impoversihed kids get clean drinking water. What’s not to love about that?

(Oh and of course there’s the new pair of Tretorns I have yet to buy…)

Farm fresh flowers

Fox Fodder Farm williamsburg pop up

The inside of the Fox Fodder Farm pop up in Williamsburg is cheerful even on a rainy day.

This weekend, if you happen to be one of the twelve million people heading over to Williamsburg to eat, drink and be merry, you might consider heading slightly off the beaten path to North 8 between Berry and Wythe where (if you’re a guy) you can get your hair cut at Fellow Barber.

And while you’re there (or maybe while you’re waiting for your boyfriend/husband/cousin/bandmate) to get his new look on, stick your head into the Fox Fodder Farm pop-up shop next door and buy a bouquet of fresh, local and ultra seasonal blooms from this tiny jewel of a florist.

They will be around all summer, and longer if they can manage it. And they are serving up the kind of bouquets that look like you just came back from a meadow full of wildflowers– the perfect antidote to the crowds of springtime-in-the-insanity-that-Williamsburg-has-become. On the weekends, at least.

Good thing for those of us locals… the spot will be open Tuesday – Sunday, so we can shop for our blossoms in a slightly more civilized weekday manner. Oh and you can check out FFF’s Instagram for even more reasons why you need to go there ASAP.

Monday, Monday, or more links to potential Mother’s Day gifts

This isn’t strictly a gift guide, but I couldn’t help but notice that Mother’s Day is around the corner. 6 days away, to be exact. SO rather than share a bunch of links to various sites of interest, I decided that today’s links should all go toward potential gifts for your mom.

(If your mother were me, by the way, any of these things would be a home run in the gift department)


If your mom is into gardening, upgrade her watering can with this blue watering can from gretel home.

red flower spice set

For mothers who love spices, Red Flower has put together a little kit of products sure to bring a bit of the exotic into your everyday via your sense of smell. And it’s on sale right now…


This beautiful wooden tape dispenser is so much nicer to look at than the plastic ones. Plus you can get her refils of all the cool tape for next year!

susan cianciolo cookbook

If your mom is kind of a hippie and loves to cook, the susan cianciolo cookbook is just the thing in all of it’s free spirited glory.

platner earrings

Giving jewelry is a classic gift that never fails and earrings from Jill Platner are as good as it gets.

loren tote bag

If your mom is my mother, she can never have enough tote bags. So you should consider getting her this denim one from Loren.

slow cooker

They say having a slow cooker will change your life. And what mother doesn’t want her life changed a little bit, right? Especially when the item in question is so nicely designed…

biorb fish tank

Now if your mom is me, and she has her daughter’s fish in a drab little aquarium that makes her sad every time she looks at it but it was the least offensive thing at PetCo and only cost $25, you should definitely buy her this waaaay cooler fish tank by BiOrb.

Bird at 15

mayle and Cornejo for Bird

Two pieces, designed by Jane Mayle and Maria Cornejo from the Bird 15th anniversary capsule collection.

Ok first of all, hats off to Jennifer Mankins for opening a little boutique in Brooklyn called Bird and sticking it out for 15 years. And she didn’t just stick it out, she thrived. She has built (with some help from her family and friends) a tiny but powerful empire of three stores, each one a jewel filled with colorful and life enhancing treats in the form of clothes, accessories and a bunch of other stuff like wallets and stationary and art by her friends.

It is a joy to visit, though very difficult to leave empty handed.

But, and here’s the kicker, she also had the foresight to cajole four of her favorite designers into creating special pieces just to celebrate her being around for so long. So there is now a special Bird 15th anniversary capsule collection with pieces by Maria Cornejo, Jane Mayle, Rachel Comey and Tsumori Chisato. The clothes are all amazing, which sucks for me because I want them all, which is totally unrealistic.

I also find this whole situation particularly exciting because not only have I admired Jane Mayle and Maria Cornejo’s work for, like, ever… but I have been lucky enough to count them amongst my friends for a good little while as well. I was heartbroken when the Mayle store shut down (and forced to drown my sorrows at the Zero Maria Cornejo sample sale) But now everybody is back, and right in my neighborhood in special limited edition glory. Beautiful colors and patterns and fabrics that are perfect for what looks to be the better-late-than-never arrival of spring we are experiencing today.

I suggest you all drop everything and go check out the goods if you are anywhere near a Bird store. Or, as it’s 2014 and who goes to brick and mortar stores anyway, you can always take a look online.

I myself am planning on doing both.

Shopping with your heart

The WILBy pop up shop at the Wythe Hotel

The WILBy pop up shop at the Wythe Hotel.

If your plans include a trip to Williamsburg this weekend (or if you already live here) you should all take a stroll over to the Wythe Hotel and check out the last weekend of the adorable WILBy pop up shop. It’s just past the check in desk on the main floor and it is really worth the visit.

WILBy stands for What I Live By and it’s all about shopping mindfully, with a full understanding of what goes into the things you are purchasing. At the core, they are a bag company, with a whole selection ranging from the $8 “Factory” bag made in Pakistan to the $120 “Local” bag, made to order at the Wythe, with fabric of your choosing. You can even bring in something that you want to recycle and your bag will be crafted from something that has personal meaning to you… how cool is that?

What makes this place different is its lack of preachy-ness about the whole thing. Any reusable bag is better than plastic, and while it might be nice to have a custom made especially-for-you carry-all, $120 might be more than you can spend on a vehicle for your groceries. They break down the whole process in this chart (below) so that you can see each step of production and thus gain a better understanding of the final cost of your bag.

WILBy production cost chart

And if you’re like me, and have way too many bags, there are all sorts of other ethically produced items to look at and potentially buy… from camera straps to tea towels to craft books for the kids. I know we’re supposed to be all about acquiring less, but at least at this shop we can feel really good about the people we are supporting when we buy their stuff!

The Shop at Wythe Hotel Presents WHAT I LIVE BY (WILBy)
March 10 – April 7 2014
10 am- 8pm daily
Wythe Hotel. 80 Wythe Ave. Brooklyn, NY

Yesterday, at some point…

jill planter jewelry

A shot taken in the hopes that the bright colors would drive the drab of winter away…

Through the magic of the internets, one day, I’m standing outside on E Houston St, shooting photographs of beautiful silver jewelry by my dear friend Jill Platner, and the next day the photo is up online, announcing her latest sale. In the olden days, we had lead times– sometimes of three months– before we ever saw the fruits of our labor published. And while sure, I’ve become accustomed to the speed of the turnover today, it still never ceases to amaze me.

But I digress.

The real piece of news is that Ms Jill Platner is actually having a sale. This is rare. And it’s because her whole crew is so sick of this never ending winter that they figured maybe if they had a “winter be gone” sale, the winter would, well, be gone.

SO go check it out on Crosby street (or online) and get yourself a little something while the getting’s good. Because the sale only lasts for a week. And hopefully winter will exit the stage right after.