Gift: Post-feast treats

Last year, a friend who had hosted a giant Thanksgiving dinner tipped me off to the most thoughtful hostess gift: breakfast for the next morning. As a host, what could be better following the days of cooking and hours of cleaning involved in these epic holiday feasts than having someone else plan a meal for you?

And as a guest, it’s pretty simple to pick up a dozen bagels, bake muffins, make a quiche, whip up a batch of Jane Lerner’s granola or, if staying overnight, wake the house up with a pan of Adam Miller’s chilaquiles. You will surely score yourself a return invite every holiday. And that’s certainly something to be grateful for. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Pass the stuffing… tip the turkey to me… and wishing heaping helpings of love and gratitude to all.

Gift: Something crafty

Good House Guest/ Paper SourceI had a goodbye-for-now lunch with a friend who was off to travel and write her way around the world for the next year. And, in an unexpected turn of events, she presented me with a parting gift. Ever-generous, it was in keeping with her nature, and it was something that I never knew I needed – a bag of decorative paper scraps.

There were bright gold sheets, crinkly tails, thick card card stock and wallpaper-worthy Japanese-style prints. Soren ripped right into it and we made kites and oddball collages, and I’ve found that the scraps make perfect gift cards. 

Gather up your own assortment of colorful scraps, or pick up one of the gorgeous grab bags from the Paper Source. It’s just the thing for paper lovers of all ages – especially crafty kids.

essay writing


Gift: Something Old

With the discerning eye of a museum curator, my dear friend Sarah surveys flea markets and antique stores to discover the most wild and wonderful treasures. Lucky for us, she can’t find a wall for every set of mounted deer antlers or a shelf for all the vintage glassware in her own lovely home in Montclair, New Jersey. So she’s set up an Etsy shop, Building Castles in the Air, to share her scores. I asked Sarah to tell me a little bit about the magic behind her thrifty and imaginative knack for finding just the right thing.

How did you develop your salvaging skills? Growing up, my parents were always hitting flea markets or antiquing. In fact, my mom still does. So when my husband and I bought our first home, we needed furniture and decor to fill it with and naturally, my first inclination was to start scouring all the markets in the tri-state area and beyond. We both have more modern tastes but love to mix in rustic, cozy and worn in accents. We ended up finding so many things we loved that I had a surplus, and that’s what motivated me to start my Etsy store.

What’s what’s your criteria or the key to a good find?
I’m a bit picky but generally, my criteria is a personal one. Would I want this in my house? Does this align with my tastes?  Also, how hard will this be to ship? Working full time and also having an Etsy store to maintain, keeps me away from larger pieces I might find. I would love to buy furniture because I come across so many great pieces but its hard to turnover unless I have a place to store them and then sell them.

What are some of your best scores? Four pieces come to mind and three of them sold instantly as soon as I posted them in the store: a set of small brass deer candle holders, a duck planter, an abstract needlepoint and a boy scout’s keepsake box (still available). All of them have this great vintage modern look that I just love.

How can you stand to give these treasures away? It’s an ongoing conversation at my house. My husband and I are constantly trying to convince each other which items to keep and which to put online. I love when I sell an item, but almost every time I do have small pangs of regret that I didn’t keep whatever it is that I am packaging up.

What’s your process for shining things up before you sell? My process is minimal. I always clean off all the items but I stay away from purchasing anything that is broken or in rough shape. Any flaws that an item has, I try to be as transparent as possible about in the posting. I would hate for any customer to be disappointed.

I like that vintage objects arrive with a story. Have you heard how the story continues with these pieces by any of the people who’ve purchased them? I haven’t but I would love to. Knowing that each item I hand picked is going to be part of someone else’s home and story is part of the fun.

Bonus: Sarah shared some of her favorite scouting resources, too. Be sure to check out her Etsy store and happy hunting!
The Golden Nugget
Lambertville, NJ
Mower’s Flea Market
Woodstock, NY
Garage Sale Rover App
Garage and estate sales are full of goodies. Download this app to locate sales in your neighborhood.



Gift: Prose


I’ve been under a small spell lately cast by the poet Billy Collins. He has me dangling on the briefest strands of words and bursting into the most unexpected, eye-crinkling smiles on the subway. He also has me dog-earring pages so I can flip back through or foist these finds upon others (true story: three co-workers read a poem I couldn’t shut-up about).

I don’t know enough about poetry. I sometimes find it to be intimidating and dense (or, maybe I’m the dense one). But, this slim Sailing Alone Around the Room collection has me completely smitten. And wishing I could sit at the end of the dock or in front of fireplace with Mr. Collins and discuss language, or smoking, or the chronicling of a day or learning how to drink a proper whiskey. I don’t drink whiskey either, but I think it would pair nicely with this prose, and Mr. Collins would be just the one to charm me into that warm joy too.

So, this summer I propose that poetry collections become the new coffee table book. Gift them to friends you visit. Leave them on nightstands for guests who bunk with you. It’s rich entertainment for stays both brief and lingering. With that, here’s is a short list of what to pick up according to two poetry authorities:

Mary Oliver
Richard Wilbur
Lisel Mueller
Sharon Olds
Linda Pastan
Wesley McNair
Mark Doty


Gift: Make it Personal

Table display at Shutterfly Home for the Holidays event. Photos by Trey Hill.

Growing up I wore many a sweater embroidered with my initials, as a result the latent preppy in me is still drawn to monograms. A soft baby blanket with the initials of a brand new little one. Lovely stationery all your own. And jewelry, like the timeless art-deco charm my parents gave me in high school or this silhouette charm that I currently covet  from Love&Victory. My mom ordered monogrammed shortalls for my son and nephew for Christmas, and I can’t wait to dress the boys up in their matching outfits just like my sisters and I were dressed. It appears that I’ve become sentimental (or just plain regressed) as a parent.

So I was intrigued when invited to a Shutterfly event in New York about personalizing spaces for the holidays. In a light-filled loft they staged a whole home experience from nursery to kitchen with a range of ways to incorporate photos, cards and photos displays into every room.

My thought is that photos and personalized items should be sprinkled about with restraint, so choose a few meaningful photos or personalized things for your home. There’s no need to be plastering initials on everything to mark it as if it were going off to camp. As with most things, a little goes a long way.  So, with that in mind following are a few thoughtful customized gift-giving ideas sparked by the event.

Another surprising thing happened when I became a parent: the urge to start an ornament collection for Soren like I had growing up. Who knew? My tree tells the story of hobbies, family vacations, favorite characters (I have two Annie ornaments) and yes, there are engraved and hand-painted ornaments with my name too. I’m a nostalgist when it comes to these things, which is why I think this classic ceramic photo ornament would make the perfect gift for grandparents or as a keepsake for your child.

Another more useful idea for those who still put pen to paper, is stationery or a notepad. Having it personalized is an extra thoughtful touch. I really liked this idea of custom cards doubling as elegant place cards and a sweet gift too. And it’s something that could work for so many occasions from showers to a milestone birthday party. In this instance, it’s ok to make it personal.


Gift: Back to School

The summer-trailing-off-school-ramping-up transition feels less like a calendar event and more like a micro-season. The sun is slowing after its August sprint, the breeze seems wistful and there is a faint trace of pencil dust and assignment-notebook newness in the air. Can you smell it?

We’re not on a school schedule at our house yet, but I feel its pull to get organized, sit up straighter, pay attention and re-stock supplies. As a list maker, that means notebooks. It’s always a thoughtful, useful gift.  So here’s a round up of interesting notebooks for the scribblers, doodlers and list makers in your life.

These trim, glam (and sometimes cheeky) Smythson Wafer Notebooks are a total splurge. As a happy recipient of two of these beauties, I can assure that they make an excellent gift.

Mix and match these perfectly pocket sized journals made by hand from Paper Jayne.

Forget decorating a Trapper Keeper––graduate to making your own notebook. This Japanese Shashiko inspired notebook is one of four DIY Embroidery Pocket Notebook designs from Curious Doodles.

This pretty letterpress spiral notebook from 1canoe2 Letterpress remind me of patterns for grade school friendship bracelets.

You can never have enough classic, versatile Moleskine notebooks. And they’re so reasonable you can pick one up in every bright new color. 

Gift: Host/Hostess

I’ve just contributed a guest post for Spliced, a blog by Appy Couple (a smart wedding planning app) covering host and hostess gift ideas for upcoming engagement parties and showers. While the audience for this piece was the newly engaged, the gift ideas aren’t wedding specific. So if you need a little host/hostess gifting inspiration, check out the round-up from classic finds to DIY ideas on their Pinterest board.

Gift: Life’s a Picnic

Outdoor concerts, impromptu dinners in the park and cocktails on the beach––it’s picnic season. An alfresco-ready basket, bag or box makes a thoughtful, useful gift for the hosts you’ll drop in on this summer.

As the lucky recipient of a colorful melamine bento box like this I can say, with confidence, that this is the perfect gift for friends who dine outdoors. The dividers in the top tray are just right for olives or other nibbles, and the impressive presentation makes everything taste just a little more interesting.

Timeless picnic hampers remind me of packing into the sticky Oldsmobile and piling out into the cool grass at a local park or taking a windows-down mini road-trip from the Chicago suburbs to someplace more exotic…like Milwaukee. Etsy hosts a feast of vintage baskets and hampers in beautiful condition.

Loaded with all the compostable gear you’ll need––from napkins to serving trays––the portable picnic packs from Boxsal are eco-friendly chic. Half the fun is choosing a theme: Office Escape (in a sneaky briefcase), Today’s Date (icebreakers included to combat awkward lulls in conversation) and Urban Picnic Box (disguised as a boom box).

I like this smart, compact insulated Metro Basket. It appears easy to tote, and it would fit nicely into a bike basket. And, if you really want to get fancy it can be monogrammed too.

This lightweight Picnic Pack is always prepared for cocktails on the go. It fits two bottles of wine, sturdy glasses and a cheeseboard––hello happy hour. 



Gift: The Mothering Kind

At a recent launch event for a parenting website I made what I thought was casual conversation with another guest and asked if she had children. Her lovely smile dropped and she answered that no, she did not, and it was one of her life’s greatest regrets.

I apologized for bringing up such a sensitive subject, and shared that while I couldn’t fully understand what she had experienced, I don’t consider being a literal parent the only way to nurture, support, care for and ‘parent’ a child. Despite being a part time tutor, she hadn’t thought of it in those terms. But, what she did think about were her students (often), and the joy and hilarious stories working with them brought to her life. Which, after all, are a few perks for those who mother in any sense of the word.

So, to all who mother, teach, instruct and help us grow in their own way: thank you and happy Mother’s Day.

My sister-in-law gifted me with one of these eggs from Rae Dunn Clay stamped affectionately with one word:  ‘Adore’.  Perfect for a sunny window sill or night stand.

This is a splurge, but I absolutely covet my friend Jessie’s custom silhouette charm from Love & Victory. It’s just one of the many tender custom gifts they create. 

Gift blooms that will last all year round with a membership to a local botanic garden, or make a donation to a conservatory.

Any and all work by Maira Kalman, a true source of creativity and wonder. This edition of Michael Pollan’s wise food guide was re-issued last year with additional rules and enhanced with Kalman’s sublime illustrations.

Gift: Apron Strings

If you are in need of something for the host or hostess with the mostest (really, as in the person who has everything and you’ve run out of ideas) a short, chic or multi-purpose apron might be just the thing. The demure apron may have been made popular by June Cleaver, but with pockets and updated patterns it’s ready for a comeback. Not just all flounce either, a more rugged waist apron is handy for the garden or tool-shed tinkerer. In skulking around the web looking for aprons I discovered that there is even an apron museum in Ioka, Mississippi. Road trip anyone?

I have to give credit for this idea where it is due to Emily, the clever, generous maid-of-honor to my dear friend Sarah. In a nod to the the-bride-to-be, a charming hostess herself, Emily gifted kicky cocktail aprons to guests at Sarah’s bachelorette dinner. Not only is it a sweet reminder of the bride, but it’s so useful too.

Emily found many of the aprons from Lorraine Mahoney’s vintage collection. This classic gingham number makes me want not not only bake a pie, but even attempt a crust from scratch.

A trim demi style apron with a damask print and roomy pockets from The Hip Hostess qualifies as kitchen evening wear.

And, for a less frilly host or hostess, this hard-working cotton duck Carhartt apron has pockets for tucking away tools for any trade––from grilling implements to paint brushes.

Or, keep it short and simple with a restaurant quality cotton blend bartender style apron from Sur La Table.