Archive for December, 2008

Charm-i-days Idea #10: Retro sport love

December 15, 2008

Ebbets Field brings it home.

They’re nostalgic … they’re sporty … they’re cool.

Mixing sports and nostalgia is one of those fool-proof formulas – it can create several reactions in the gift-ee, but they’re all varieties of happiness. Retro shirts and baseball caps are popular right now because they work on several levels. If you’re a die-hard fan of any team, owning something with their logo from way-back provides indisputable proof that you’re a true fan to all who look upon you. (I feel nearly unstoppable in my retro Cubs baseball cap.) And the designs are so cool that they hold appeal for non-sports fans, too. Varieties of this happiness formula include sports fans who admire not only the team to which they pledge their current allegiance, but also the logos and built-in history of teams that no longer exist.

To wit, who wouldn’t love wearing a shirt for the Amarillo Gold Sox from 1958, the 1888 Shenandoah Hungarian Rioters or the San Francisco Missions formed in 1937? Ebbets Field carries just that kind of t-shirt and also makes throwback football and baseball jerseys.

For more modern teams, Retro Sport has shirts and hats with that vintage feel for quite a few pro and college teams.  You can find the Retro Sport brand at several department stores and on, too.

And even though their online store is down at time of this post,  I have to mention Blue Marlin. They were one of the first companies to jump on the replica hat and cap bandwagon; in fact, they did a lot to create the trend in the late ’90s. usually has a collection of their t-shirts on hand.

Even the MLB and NFL shops are getting in on the action – if you search carefully, you can find vintage-looking gear on their sites, too.

Prices vary as widely as the teams we love.

Charm-i-days Idea #9: Water bottled up

December 15, 2008
Drink water like it's 1883.

Drink water like it's 1883.

Everyone on your list drinks water. But are they drinking stylishly and with eco-flair?

We’ve been given plenty of reasons to give up bottled water over the last couple of years … full landfills, heavy carbon footprints and plastic toxicity concerns. Add another reason to list: pretty, shiny objects.

Experts can argue about the dire nature of all the other reasons to switch, but I haven’t found anyone yet who will deny the high charm quotient on these aluminum alternatives.

Perhaps the most spectacular aluminum water bottles of all are based on Arts & Crafts Movement patterns designed by William Morris in the late 1800s. The nature themes are typical of that style – the movement was a rejection of excesses of the Victorian age and the dehumanization and mass production of the Industrial Revolution. (These water bottles sound very important now, yes?)

Sigg bottles have been around for a while now, too, and they’re mighty fine as well, although I can’t claim any historical significance. But you know, they’re from Switzerland. Mountains, pure streams, timely trains and all that. I love my turquoise Maharadsha bottle, and REI is selling a holiday design.

I refill my bottles with my Brita filter pitcher, but when I’m a millionaire, I’m going to buy my own seltzer maker and drink bubbly water like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll be so far beyond plastic and aluminum at that point that I’ll likely use a sterling straw. But I digress. My point is: save the planet, get a friend or family member hydrated, make a historical/design statement and cross someone off your gift list in one fell swoop.

William Morris-inspired water bottles, $14.95
Sigg Maharadsha bottle, $24.99
Sigg holiday bottle, $24.99
Sigg, Sigg and more Sigg

Charm-i-days Idea # 8: Fun with biology

December 13, 2008
Sea monkey upgrade

Sea monkey upgrade

For the scientific Santa on your list: eco-systems for your viewing pleasure and a plant that responds to your touch.

My friend Andrea describes these ecospheres by Viva Terra simply by saying they’re “way cooler than sea monkeys,” and I think she sums it up quite charmingly. The hand-blown glass orb is pretty on its own but also contains a whole world of plants, shrimp, algae and microorganisms. The sphere-dwellers require some light, but other than that are pretty low-maintenance, which is more than we can say for other holiday pets.

I did love my sea monkeys as a little girl – I found myself completely transfixed by the happy-looking sea monkey family on the box. (I think I wanted to live inside that little bubble.) I never had much luck with the actual sea monkeys, though – I just looked at the package a lot. So now we have a sophisticated, grown-up version to entertain us and to look pretty on a shelf.

I also ran across these “TickleMe Plants,” which look fun. Mimosa pudica is the tropical plant’s scientific name, but what the plants do is more interesting than whatever you decide to call them. They bloom with pink flowers, and they curl up their leaves when you touch them.

Living ecosphere, $89
Sea monkeys, price varies
Tickle plants, $5.95 and up

Charm-i-days Idea #7: Origami sticky notes

December 10, 2008

Sticky-note origami makes an unexpected gift for the creative person (or the bored office worker) on your list.

origamiHow cute are these? Each of the sticky note origami pads has instructions for origami shapes from pigs and butterflies to squirrels and lilies. Recycling old post-it notes has never been quite so … shapely.

I think lots of people would be amused and surprised by this as a gift. Think of those office workers looking for something interesting to do with their post-it notes, not to mention creative types (and fidgety ones?).

I have to admit I’m not patient enough to try origami, but the company says their instructions are good for beginners and advanced origami lovers. So add “extremely dexterous people” to the list of appropriate gift recipients.

Since the sticky origami notes are only $5, you could pick up a packet for yourself, too. Who knows – start on the penguin this year and by next Christmas, you could be crafting paper reindeer in front of a roaring fire.

Origami sticky notes, $5

Charm-i-days Idea #6: Swaps and coupons

December 9, 2008

Swaps and coupons lower the stress and the cost of holiday merry-making.


Gourmet magazine's swap-ready cookies

More people are deciding this year to celebrate the holidays without pricey gifts – or even without traditional packages & bows altogether. Phrases such as “it’s the thought that counts” and “quality time” are in frequent use. The Charm-o-Matic approves.

Swap-o-Licious: Scientists have discovered two main types of swaps – one that results in more baked goods than Rudolph can shake his nose at and one that results in presents under your tree.

For the baked type, simply invite a group of friends over. A traditional cookie exchange means you and all of your friends have a variety of treats throughout the holidays. You can either do a swap with people you would have been exchanging gifts with, or you can divvy up the cookies later for gifts to neighbors, co-workers and such. (Or you can eat them all – I won’t tell.) If you’re fresh out of recipe ideas, take a look at Gourmet magazine’s beautiful cookie retrospective.

If you have a smaller group, everyone can bring enough casseroles for all swappers – for example, if four people are participating, Sally makes four lasagnas, Cindy Loo Who makes four classic tuna noodles, Mrs. Claus makes her corn and zucchini concoction and so on. All swappers go home with three casseroles (plus her own back at home) to stick in the fridge or freezer and whip out when she doesn’t feel like cooking.

For the gifting type, pick a theme such as sporting goods or kitchen gadgets or kid’s clothing and swap like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone brings a load of items they no longer need, and all of the friends get to pick what they want from the pile. Fun.

Coupon-o-Rama: Find the construction paper or card stock that must be sitting around somewhere and create a few holiday coupons. These won’t be like the ones you used to make for Father’s Day by hastily scribbling “one free hug” and “one free car wash.” Use whatever resources you have so they  reflect your personality – print them with graphics from your computer, dig up some fun stickers or work your own magic by drawing or showcasing that impressive penmanship of yours (don’t think I haven’t noticed). The more specific these coupons are to your relationship with the coupon-ee, the better.

Charm-i-days idea #5: Light it up

December 6, 2008

A match made ...

Four ways to light up a cold, dark winter.

Suggesting matches as a gift idea may seem like a tacit nod toward a bleak economy. It may even seem like a small step from that to lumps of coal. But think not such thoughts, fellow Americans. Instead, think of the flares of light your gift will offer far into the winter ahead.

Besides, these aren’t matchboxes as much as they are tiny masterpieces. And you’ve heard the one about good things in small packages, right?

You could tie these on top of a present, put them into a gift bag with other small presents or buy an inexpensive candle for someone on your list and make the gift stand out by including one of these matchboxes. Are you with me yet?


The graphic matchboxes above from HomArt feature horses, birds and hearts and have a vintage feel. For a more literary approach, Quotable matchboxes feature light-themed quotes from Alexander Pope (“Vital spark of heavenly flame!”), Ralph Waldo Emerson (“To the illumined mind, the whole world burns and sparkles with light”), William Blake (“Shine eternally”), Dante (“A great flame follows a little spark!”) and the like. These are larger than your average matches, so they’re both practical and poetic.


I’ve also found a couple of diminutive and interesting lamps recently.

The sun lamp looks like a basic jar, but it lights up at night after being stored in the sun all day, using LED and solar power. Sold by Charles and Marie and designed by Tobi Wong, the lamp’s sandblasted glass gives the light a soft, cozy glow.


This lantern from Eddie Bauer gets a mention because of its remote control. Even if you’re not a big camper, this gadget would be fun to have around – you can control the brightness, too. The company says that the LED light will operate up to 100 hours on 4 AAA batteries.  That’s a lot of reading time after the s’mores are eaten … even if the s’mores came from your microwave at home.

Sun lamp, $44
Remote-control lantern, $19.50
Graphic matchboxes, $4
Quotable matchboxes 4-pack, $11.95

Charm-i-days idea #4: Tokyo Milk lip balm

December 6, 2008

A Christmas debate topic: whether this goodie is the cutest stocking stuffer ever or the most sophisticated lip balm in the known universe.

Fred Flare does lip balm right.

Ms. Antoinette didn't really say that.

It’s a rare object indeed that’s equal parts beautiful and cute … simultaneously sophisticated and whimsical. In this case, the stars have aligned to meet those criteria in a form that’s portable and that softens your lips. Really, the universe has outdone itself this time.

Or at least the folks at Tokyo Milk have. The packaging on their perfumes is so fun and unusual (the first time I’ve even seen an Edgar Allan Poe reference worked into a perfume bottle) that I actually sprayed some on a few weeks ago. But over-the-moon as I am about their packaging, the fragrance was just too much for me.

So imagine my delight when I found their lip balms on Fred Flare. I have to admit it’s all about the packaging here – an intoxicating mix of old-fashioned fonts and sweet confections. The Marie Antoinette-inspired “Let Them Eat Cake” flavor (we all know by now that she never really said that, right?) tastes exactly like coconut cake, while the “Petits Fours Glaces” and “Cherry Bomb” flavors are on the fruity side.  A kissing quote is part of the packaging, too, along with an insert with kissing tips. (Not that I think you need any.)

My only wish is that the designers worked with tubes instead of tubs, so they had more surface area for images of Marie Antoinette or desserts on the balms and not just on the boxes. Because let’s face it – I’m never going to spend my hard-earned dollars on a Marie Antoinette action figure, but after reading a couple of biographies about her life and wardrobe, I think she deserves a place in my repertoire of accouterments.

Of course, $18 is a lot for lip balm, so be sure that the person you have in mind will truly appreciate the inspired packaging. (Otherwise, buy some retro Bonne Bell for $1.99 and call it a day.)

Tokyo Milk lip balm, $18 at Fred Flare

Charm-i-days idea #3: CB2 stemware

December 3, 2008

From CB2 to you

From CB2 to you

Create a festive mood with just-right champagne and cocktail glassware … and maybe something tasty to pour.

These handsome Valencia martini glasses and flutes are ostensibly Moroccan-influenced, but you can interpret the filigree however you’d like. The relatively new CB2, a younger sibling of Crate & Barrel, specializes in home and office furniture and accessories that are affordable, modern and fun. I’ll drink to that. The company’s Gigi stemware would also make sipping merry – the flutes and wine glasses stand out (and up) with outrageously elongated, slender stems.

CB2’s celebration-friendly glasses are unique-looking and budget-friendly, which is an entirely jolly combination. They’d make a great gift for newlyweds, new home owners, the consummate entertainer on your list or perhaps someone like me who loves the idea of entertaining but never got around to filling the cupboard with appropriate dishes.

If you’re making room in your own holiday entertainment budget for these pretties, you might want some holiday cocktail ideas, too – Martha Stewart has some tasty-looking ones.

CB2 Valencia and Gigi stemware, $4.95 each