Gift: Book by Its Cover

My book editor friend, Louise, reassured me that the E-book trend isn’t making printed mater obsolete, but rather it’s inspiring a design revival in the publishing world. Phew! As a result, those who refuse to forsake the genuine article are, as Louise so aptly put it, “being wooed with more elaborate and extravagant design work.”

I’ve always considered a book a thoughtful gift for any occasion or age, so woo away please. And, in the following examples of classics book re-design, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to judge a book by its cover.

Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray are part of a clothbound series with covers detailed in climbing vines and peacock feathers (vain Dorian!) by Coralie Bickford-Smith. She is a senior cover designer at Penguin Books, and the prolific artist behind several Penguin series from F. Scott Fitzgerald to spooky good Gothic Horror novels.

Also from Penguin is the Threads Deluxe Classic Series. This three book collection is the glorious handiwork of illustrator, cartoonist and embroidery magician Jillian Tamaki. I had long dreamed of passing along my well-worn copy of The Secret Garden to my child, but how can I resist this edition?

Ok, this might be less gift (limited collections are available in the online store) and more inspiration, but I’m intrigued by the custom collections from Thatcher Wine of Juniper  Books.  I attribute this bit of book lust entirely to my husband who organized our modest library by color as glimpsed above. His designer-as-librarian work was undone completely by our toddler-as-wrecking-crew, but it was lovely while it lasted.

Cloth-bound covers, rich designs by commissioned illustrators and thick, satisfying paper are the hallmarks of White’s Books. Other titles in this keepsake collection include favorites like Sherlock Holmes: His Greatest Cases and Jane Eyre.


Create: A Fresh Start

Happy Year of the Dragon! Today kicks off 15 days of celebrations all over the world. If you weren’t quite ready to make resolutions, much less get out of bed and make coffee on January 1, here’s another chance. I’ve always liked the idea of marking the new year on your own timeline. The January 1 start date seems limiting, and it really sneaks up on you after the holidays. For many years a trip to Door County, Wisconsin, in March signaled my personal New Year. But I’m sure most people would take fireworks over a plate of Swedish pancakes to symbolically usher in the new.

Aside from fireworks and fire crackers, Lunar New Year traditions include forgiving past conflicts, gathering with friends and family, getting a fresh haircut and accenting with the color red for good luck. And my favorite––parades! The Chinese New Year coincided with my move to New York so I chose that as my re-start button for the year.  The parade, followed by a fortifying bowl of wonton soup at a nondescript, yet welcoming, 12 seat Chinatown diner made for an auspicious beginning to what’s proved to be a pretty interesting adventure so far.

The dragon is a powerful symbol said to bring success and happiness.  This year in particular is supposed to be one of high risks and high returns. So, Kung Hei Fat Choi––let’s do this thing.

Ps&Qs: Seat Assignments

I asked for the post-holiday scoop, and readers dished. Hopefully today’s Q&A will help others avoid seating scenarios gone wrong at their next party. Please send along your solutions too. 

Q: At Christmas dinner the hostess (my sister-in-law) requested a favor: that the other single adult guest and I sit at the kid’s table (age range 7-21).  I’m family (the other guest was not) so I obliged, but still felt very put off. Was I wrong to feel slighted?

A: There are several things wrong with this scenario, but your feeling of being snubbed is not one of them. Making people feel welcome is the heart of sharing your table and home. It’s unfortunate that your sister-in-law missed this basic, important detail. Especially since I’m sure she worked hard to shop, cook, clean, etc. for the dinner.

Not only did she assign seats, but rank as well.  Despite the fact that you and the other guest were nearly twice the age of the oldest ‘kid’, those without a plus one were considered lower in the adult table pecking order. That is the more disappointing reveal of your host’s character. We can’t remedy that, but this seating fiasco could easily have been avoided.

*Disrupt the decorative tablescape and squeeze in two more places. It’s possible. This Christmas we had 11 adults at a table that comfortably seats six. It was like one of those annoying story math problems, but I was determined that no one be farmed out to the couch (all of 5 feet away, but still). 10 proper chairs, one shoehorned in stool later and, elbow to elbow, we dined together.

*Forgo the kid vs. adult table and mix up the seating chart. I have a friend who likes to separate couples which is a nice change. But the cross generational set-up is usually a guarantee for interesting turns in conversation. Warning: grandma might get hip to Twitter and start following you.

*Serve buffet style. Set smaller tables and let people land where they will.

*Hosts take the hit. If committed to a sit down deal with a precise number at the table, then the hosts should accommodate their plan by sitting at the kid’s table.

Ps&Qs: Just relax, really.

Today’s topic is brought to you by my former colleague, friend and generous host, Audra. It was a very good reminder to me that a comfortable guest is the best one of all. Thank you A!

Q: Guests usually want to help with dishes after meals, but I really prefer that they relax and that I do dishes myself. I just think that guests shouldn’t have to “earn their keep” via chores. I know it’s a natural impulse for people to want to help (and I do offer when I am a guest, but I guess I don’t push it and just try to do small things like keep my room/space tidy, wash glasses as I use them, etc).

This weekend’s guest must have asked me 50 times in two days if she could help with something. I finally had her do little things like carry the dishes to the kitchen and assured her that she didn’t owe me anything. But I sensed a bit of awkwardness in our clash of philosophies. All the offering is gracious and I appreciate the gesture, but still I don’t give in. Is that ok?

A: Perfectly ok. Whether staying for dinner or overnight, guests should follow their host’s lead. As you mentioned, it’s really the gesture that is most appreciated. So your guest is right to ask how they can help (and always should), but yes, after the 49th time, they need to take you at your word.

This question is a very necessary reminder for me, because I think I’m this guest––the one who feels unappreciative if I’m not elbows deep in a sink of dishes. My brother-in-law is the same way. Now it’s practically a game between the two of us as to who can sneak in a speed dish washing round after a dinner.

However, I am also a host like you in that I’d prefer guests to linger in the glow of the dinner aftermath and help by, say, finishing that bottle of wine we just opened. Moments around the table with our favorite people are always fleeting, so hosts and guests alike should both relax and enjoy. The dishes can wait.




Gift: Gratitude

I know it’s a dying formality, but I have deep respect for the thank you note. Not because I expect them from other people (although it’s always a nice surprise), but I actually enjoy writing them. I love hunting for beautiful note cards and taking a few minutes to express gratitude to those who have extended kindness towards me. People should know that they are appreciated.

My mom impressed this practice upon me (along with probably 75% of the things covered on this site). My sisters and I fought writing them, being banished to our bedrooms left to procrastinate and complain, but not to be allowed out until we’d written all of our thank you notes. And you know what, we all still write and send them today without anyone needing to ground us.

The start of the new year is a good time to acknowledge thanks––for Christmas gifts, to clients for keeping us employed, to family and friends or just because.

Here’s some incentive:

A little something for the dreamers, fine stationery with a unicorn motif from Sesame Letterpress.

Greenwich Letterpress can help with all your special shout outs.

I do love a monogram. Paper Source has updated takes on the classics.

If you’re feeling pressed for time you can always dash off a quick note on Ideachic‘s vintage inspired bicycle postcards.

Say it with flowers––Gold Flower thank you cads from Rifle Paper Co.



Wander: Off-Season

I know that right about now I should be booking a trip to Mexico like most reasonable people in northern climates, but I’d prefer a blustery walk on a nearly-vacant beach in, say, Maine. I’m not opposed to sunny, tropical spots, but the off-season is one of my favorite times to explore a place. Sure, you need a few more layers, but the perks include expanded vistas through bare trees, prime tables at restaurants (the ones that stay open anyway), and, usually, good deals on lodging.

We visited Nantucket just before Thanksgiving where we had our pick of seats on the ferry ride over. We were able to snag coveted stools at the island’s outstanding brewery/distillery/winery, Cisco Brewers, otherwise mobbed in summer.We shopped (crowd-free) for the fresh Nantucket bay scallops at Sayle’s Seafood and local greens at Bartlett’s Farm market for dinner one night. And there was zero wait for lunch by the fire at The Brotherhood of Thieves. We even got in on a local happening––the Nantucket Whalers vs. Martha Vineyard Vineyarders homecoming football game. And really, who couldn’t use more whale themed floats and parades in their life?


Ps&Qs: Pitch In

If you expect hotel service, stay in one.

A friend of mine had a long-term guest crashing with her. It should be obvious when relying on the kindness of others that said guest (no matter the length of stay)  should offer to pitch in around the house. Pick up groceries. Grab a bottle of wine. Do some dishes. Or, at the very least, make the overture to contribute.

Not this three-weeks-and-counting roomie. Instead, one morning as he hunted and pecked for dates online his host tidied up around him (as he sat at her computer). “Oh, this guy loves dogs too. Perfect, right?” he called out. “Um, excuse me, but can you move your leg so I vacuum under that table,” she replied. This went on and on until her house was clean and her patience cleaned out.

Ps&Qs takeaway: if you demand room service, pay for a hotel. The cost of a friendship is worth more than what you’ll ever spend on a room. And hosts, you’re not running a hotel (if it starts to feel that way, put a limit on a stay) it’s ok to make some requests of your guests too.

Ok, the holidays are over. Anyone need to vent about guest-visits-gone-wrong? GHG is listening, spill it.



Gift: Calendar

One of my favorite things about the new year is the package that my best pal sends with the latest calendar from Nikki McClure. Yes, I’m aware that this is the electronic age, but I’ll take my address book, hand scribbled to-do lists and Moleskine date book over any electronic devise designed to keep me organized.

More than just a way to mark the days, McClure’s meticulous papercut images and sincere thoughts help shape intentions for the month, or just the moment. Not too long ago we measured, counted out days and consulted charts in the hopes of a baby. McClure’s graceful calendar that year helped ease the disappointments and mark the tiny victories that are inevitably part of the journey to pregnancy. And, when I was successfully pregnant after many a flip of the page, this image appeared:

You just never know what the next month will bring. So, in defiance of the Mayans and their gloomy predictions, I encourage all to pick up something lovely to mark the coming days as a gift to yourself or others.

A few more ideas….

Screen printed desk calendar fromCurious Doodles.

Linda & Harriet‘s sublime letterpress calendar doubles as postcards.

Find a place on the wall for this retro print poster from yumalum.

Discover an intriguing new Polaroid a every day with the Poladarium tear-off calendar.