Fun Christmas Ideas

I absolutely *love* to give gifts, so Christmas shopping is one of the highlights of my year.

Carefully selecting the right gift for the right person, scoring a killer deal whenever possible and even wrapping are all part of the fun.

Here are some of the things I have my eye on this year:

For kids:

  • Science kits are a high priority item. Mindware  has several options that appeal to all kinds of kids, but my favorite was this Lip Balm Lab.

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There are also Perfume, Slime, Soap and Volcano labs available. Most of these are for kids 10 and up.

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  • A game the whole family can play. I already mentioned this in my Thanksgiving recap post, but a favorite new find (via my friend A.) is Not Parent Approved, a family-friendlier version of Cards Against Humanity.

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For college-aged young adults:

  • Home Tees. These would be particularly good for homesick college students.

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  • Snacks. Last year I stocked up one nephew’s dorm room with Costco-sized versions of trail mix, Twizzlers, M&Ms, animal crackers, popcorn and other assorted junk foods that would be uniquely appreciated at 3 A.M. An excessive snack supply also seems like a good way to quickly turn your room into the go-to place on your floor. Score one for popularity.
  • Individual coffee makers, like a Keurig, with at least six boxes of coffee pods. Here’s the important second part of this gift: send yourself a reminder to send more pods again in March and May. The last thing you want to do is give a kid a space-hogging appliance that he can’t afford to use. 

For adults:

  • A case of wine. I’ve given this gift again and again for a variety of occasions, and it’s always well-appreciated (and usually gone before the end of January).
  • A magnum of wine. Magnums are the oversized wine bottles that are the equivalent of two regular bottles. If you choose something spectacular, like this Veuve Clicquot, you’ve got one impressive gift. If you buy a $6.99 1.5-liter bottle of Yellowtail Chardonnay, you’re going to be disowned.
  • A wheel of parmesan cheese. Ok, this is basically a fantasy gift given its $2250 price tag, but it looks so incredible.

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  • Coffee or beer from a local roaster/brewery. Or kill two birds with one stone with a growler of coffee stout.

Fun things I just love:

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  • These. Can you detect a theme? (Sadly, these are sold out).

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  • Artist socks. These are also sold out, but immensely fun. They are from Signals.

 

 

Weekend At The Children’s Museum

We were lucky enough to spend all of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with our dear friends T., A. and their daughter K. at my mom’s lake house.

Overconsumption was definitely the first order of business, but we also managed to put together two 500 piece puzzles (an activity that the adults were surprisingly into; next time I’ll bring two more puzzles or ones with more pieces) and play a few rounds of Not Parent Approved, which is basically Cards Against Humanity for the entire family. Top tip: this is a great holiday gift if you have kids somewhere between 8 and 13.

[Don’t worry: once the kids were out of earshot, we got a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity in, too.]

My sister and her husband came over for post-Thanksgiving dessert and brought an ice cream maker, which was also kid-approved and kept them enthralled for long enough to mix the ingredients, watch the churning and make outrageous sundaes.

One of the most popular outings over the long weekend was to the local Children’s Museum, which featured a traveling exhibit about Japan.

There was a portion dedicated to Japanese street culture and all things kawaii (a.k.a. extremely cute).

They even had costume props to dress up:

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There was also a pretend sushi bar, which got a lot of attention from Trixie and K. but made me supremely hungry, since it was well past lunch time.

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What’ll you have?

My order:

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I loved the Shinto shrine. You could write a wish and hang it on the tree.

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K. graciously wished that everyone would have a home.

Trixie wished for toys. 

Some of the wishes were hilarious (“I want to get mared [married]”), and others heartbreaking (“I wish mom and dad would stop fighting”).

There was also an area where you could get a fortune for a penny.

Here’s mine:

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I vehemently disagree with that LOVE section.

To quote my friend A.:

I never thought I’d be disappointed for something that only cost a penny, but I am.

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By the end of the weekend, I think we were all slightly diabetic and exhausted, but even now, I’m ready to do it all again, and better.

Takeaway thoughts from spending a holiday vacation with another family:

  • I should have done a better job with meal planning. In the end, we had way too much food. Our friends brought a lot and so did we. They also very generously contributed a lot of cooking. In the future, I’d assign different meals to different people to avoid food duplication.
  • The games were a lot of fun. Many kudos to A. for bringing Not Parent Approved. We all thought this was hilarious, and it’s hard to find something that 3 kids and 4 adults agree on.
  • Puzzles were a hit. They could be set up and people could randomly work on them for a few minutes at a time. This is an especially perfect, quiet activity for kids who wake up early.
  • Get the kids to cook. I gave them a pass on this, but in the future I’d consider planning a taco bar or panini station where kids had to at least assemble part of their meal.
  • Find enough places to sleep. While my mom’s lake house is well-suited for entertaining and general vacationing, the kids had to share quarters, which prompted late night whispering, giggling, arguing and eventual separation. If possible, I’d keep all of the kids together during the day but apart at night, which maximizes quality sleep and pays dividends the next day.
  • Plan active outings. The weather wasn’t terrible, but obviously it was too cold to swim or go tubing, two activities that historically have burned off a lot of energy while we are at the lake house. Kids + Pent-up Energy = Meltdowns.
  • Booze. Self explanatory.

The best news? T. and A. have a beach condo and we’re going there next!

I am so grateful for good friends and the opportunity to spend time together.

 

 

J. Crew Chateau Parka

I think it’s safe to call the J. Crew Chateau parka a classic.

Year after year, this timeless winter coat looks right.

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Image via J Crew

About two years ago I bought a new lightweight Patagonia down jacket, but as far as dressier outerwear goes, I realized I’ve had the same boring black cloth coat from Banana Republic for nearly a decade.

That, my friends, is a true fashion commitment.

Like the J. Crew coat, my BR coat’s classic cut still feels stylish. The fit is good. It’s not worn out in the slightest, so in the end, I can’t think of a reason to get something new.

Except that this season’s fun windowpane check version from J. Crew caught my eye:

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Image via J Crew

The red is so awesome!

There is much argument to be made for having a bright winter coat, since it’s a major statement maker when you’re otherwise bundled from head to toe and it gets dark at 4 PM.

If you stick to safer colors like black or navy, you’ve got to much more creative in the hats, scarves and mittens arena. Which I am.

This year I also love how J. Crew styled the chateau parka with a jean jacket as another layer. This image is from their catalog:

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Wearing a jean jacket as a sweater-like layer is a look I’ve seen quite a bit this fall. It’s inspiring me to dig out my own classic J. Crew jean jacket and give it a shot.

One consistent thing I’ve noticed: if you decide you are in the market for a J. Crew winter coat, wait until they go on sale in the late winter/early spring. They are usually deeply discounted, even for classics like this that will again be full price in a few months for the next winter season. If you miss the window of opportunity, try again next year. This style will (more than likely) be back.

For an even better deal, check the in-store sale racks in traditionally warm weather places. Stylish warm coats on sale go quickly around here in February, so you might be left with slim pickings. In contrast, I found a gray Chateau parka in my size for less than $100 at a Scottsdale, AZ, J. Crew store last spring. I am kicking myself now that I didn’t snap it up.

But there’s always next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hammitt VIP Clutch Review

Hammitt bags popped up on my radar screen a few months ago.

By “radar screen,” I mean my Facebook ad feed, which totally has my number.

They know me so well.

I resisted the urge to buy one online but when I spied Hammitt bags in the window of a store near my house, I made a beeline inside.

Wow. They were nice.

I loved the high quality leather and the contrasting hardware and zippers on some of the designs. Hammitt is based out of Los Angeles and claims that every bag is made to order.

The VIP clutch became the object of my desire.

This gorgeous bag comes in 20 styles and can be worn as a cross body or a clutch. It retails for $250, and so far I haven’t been able to find any deals to get it for less.

I had a hard time deciding which of these picks was my favorite:

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In the end, the top one with the red zipper won my heart.

The local business I mentioned ordered it for me. I could have easily done it online, but I decided it was important to support small local businesses instead.

In my head, this was the perfect bag to bring on my upcoming trip to Las Vegas, since I could convert it from day to night.

With more than two weeks to go before the trip, I also thought it would be easy to have the bag in time.

And so I waited.

And waited.

After 10 days, I stopped by the store and oh-so-casually inquired about the bag’s whereabouts. 

Answer: unknown.

Sixteen days. No bag.

As someone spoiled by Amazon Prime, I was getting quite nervous.

Finally, it was the day before the trip. The store would be closing in a few hours. I decided to check one more time.

When I walked in, the clerk was friendly and checked the “special orders” book, which indicated that my order was, in fact, special, and was still open.

Meaning that the bag was not there yet.

I thanked her and turned to go.

A few steps from the door, she called me back.

Wait! A box just came in a few minutes ago. Let me check it!

And voila. There was my beautiful new bag.

I was so happy.

So, how did it perform?

Answer: like a champ.

As I mentioned above, the leather is extremely high quality and I love the bag’s features, which include a red suede interior, heavy magnetic closures on the front flap and a cell phone pocket on the back. The hardware is solid.

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Frankly, this bag is worth more than $250.

On my trip, I wore it almost everywhere, for both day and night. Here is a picture for scale:

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It was perfect. 

I am definitely buying more Hammitt bags. This would also be a tremendous gift for yourself or your best friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over-The-Top Treat Yourself! Holiday Accessories

Granted, all of these items were from the “Treat Yourself!” section of Neiman Marcus’ website, but their combined over-the-top-ness is almost too much.

And what if they were combined into one outrageously awesome outfit?

Let’s start with eyewear.

These Anna-Karin Karlsson butterfly glasses retail for $865.

picture2Check out the 3D details:

picture1This Alexander McQueen clutch also fits the over-the-top bill:

picture3A close-up:

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It’s $3695 and completely fabulous, in case you are wondering.

And finally, footwear. These Gucci mules feel almost tame in comparison. They come in silver or gold, retailing for a mere $795.

picture4 picture5Seriously, I could totally channel a Christmas tree if I put these all together. I think I can pull it off.

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

This cracked me up:

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How are you celebrating the holiday?

We’re heading out of town to my mom’s lake house, and our dear friends are joining us for the weekend.

Hopefully we’ll wake up to views like this:

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Except possibly with snow.

Since I can’t cook and hate all domestic chores, I’m mostly phoning it in for the meal, which I pre-ordered from a local grocery store and just need to re-heat.

I’ll contribute a few things (quinoa and squash gluten-free stuffing, pumpkin pasta), but mostly I’ll stick to my usual strategy, which is to get the adult guests intoxicated enough to forget about the quality of the food.

Kids are generally more forgiving, so it’s sugar sugar sugar for them.

For my part, I hope to be able to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and check out “Turkey Confidential” on NPR, which is always a fun listen.

For the rest of the weekend, I’ve planned a trip to see holiday lights and have hot chocolate at an old-fashioned sweet shop, a private dinner in a boutique hotel, completion of a 500 piece puzzle and a potato chip taste test, wherein we try exotic chip flavors (example: biscuits and gravy) to decide what works and what is gross.

Have a great weekend!

P.S. The crazy bummer is that my mom’s lake place is a fully furnished house, yet it’s completely off the grid, internet-wise. Given that it’s Black Friday, this is probably a fiscally favorable thing for me.