Archive for the ‘Charm-i-days’ Category

Zen and the existence of vending machines

December 20, 2010

Wherein the happiness assembly line seems more like a vending machine & furthermore wherein that turns out to be OK because vending machines are so awesome.

Vending machine, metaphor or both?

So I constructed this metaphor a while back about happiness being an assembly line — it takes work to build the life you want. It takes making deliberate choices to embrace what’s good in the world, while not turning away from what’s not so good like an oblivious jerk. Still true.

But it also turns out that life can be all devastating and stuff. I know we all knew that already. But let’s say you find yourself in the most painful, raw experience of your life. The gears of the assembly line get stuck. Actually, the whole thing sort of breaks. You still have to show up for life every day. But your heart might be busy for a while as you reassemble yourself. You might have to settle for a vending machine instead of an assembly line.

Know what I mean? You do what you can, in small pieces. You kick the machine when the things you want get stuck in there. Then you take the other thing that falls out instead.

Or so I decided this weekend when I saw this Santa vending machine. What I love about this temporary change of metaphor is that I love vending machines anyway. I mean, I love the weird ones. I’m assuming you know about the canned bread vending machines, the hot ramen vending machines and the Hello Kitty popcorn vending machines, not to mention the vending machines for unmentionables, umbrellas, fine china and what have you. And I’m assuming you also know that in Japan, you can get, like, tons of varieties of Kit Kats. Which would be an entirely different story except that I decided a long time ago to just go ahead and assume that a Kit Kat-only vending machine also exists somewhere. I guess I don’t need to mention that it’s probably shaped like a cat.

Anyway, it’s not as if I’ve been sitting around the last months waiting for another metaphor. I’ve been doing my best to summon happiness and to deal with my situation by such old standbys as…

  • Sitting with the pain and identifying patterns I see in my life, sometimes while curled under a faux fur blanket.
  • Deciding to be compassionate at every turn, no matter how hard that is.
  • Distracting myself by making art and by watching entire seasons at a time of Veronica Mars and The Wire.
  • Forcing myself to fill my car with gas (um, most of the time) and to walk into grocery stores even though I feel like boycotting life’s details as a way to register my protest with the universe.
  • Letting go of the pain, then picking it up and letting go again. Accepting things as they are, then not and then accepting them again. Repeat.
  • Remembering to live in the moment and appreciate it.
  • Listening to old favorites like Green Day and Spoon when my usual funk-world-hip-hop soundtrack sounds a little too happy to bear.
  • Meditating when I can sit still (brain science!) and saying mantras to myself when I’m about to careen off-track (even if it feels cheesy to admit) (which it does).
  • Wandering outside while appreciating the trees or the night sky.

And I guess it turns out that even if you’re struggling in a way you hadn’t thought possible, you can usually find some change in your pocket for whatever vending machine is in front you — you can muster some interior currency, even if it’s just the choice to get lost in the night sky.

So this particular vending machine that showed up in my inbox is a Santa that walks around with holiday presents inside. And when nothing else all season quite could, this thing registered as nice amid my distress-induced holiday ennui.

I didn’t write a charm-i-days gift guide again this year, but I hereby give you instead a vending-machine-Santa. I think you’re in good hands. Yes, that thing has hands. You’ve been warned.

Two other neat things I’ve recently discovered:

  • Yoshitomo Nara, one of my favorite artists, has a smartphone app. See?
  • A Mary Queen of Scots-themed restaurant opened in New York. See?
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Charm-i-days: Beyond trinkets

December 19, 2009

Make like Santa without the aid of trimmings or trappings.

Cow-shaped happiness.

While the Charm-i-days gift guide mostly falls on the Things & Totems end of the spectrum, the intent with everything the Charm-o-Matic generates is meaningful celebration. Not the kind of glib obliviousness to the world’s suffering that gives happiness a bad name, but an intelligent way of finding what’s good in the world and making more of it.

Gift-giving also taps into the Activities & Techniques end of the spectrum; sharing is one of the most vital ways of experiencing the world. It’s fun to find little bursts of goodness that appeal directly to each person on your list. And attention, holiday shoppers: Those bursts need not be tangible. If buying presents this year comes from a sense of obligation or creates a sense of budget anxiety, give gifts that don’t cost a dime. Or even a nickel. And while you’re at it, use a few dimes and nickels to help someone who’s hurting.

Finding hope and authentic joy while remaining realistic about the many problems in our world is a challenge. One way to bridge this gap every day is to do small, delightful things purposefully. I hope these trinket-free ideas take you in that direction.

One: Go bauble-free. Last year, the Charm-o-Matic recommended cookie exchanges and homemade coupons to celebrate. You can make those seemingly old chestnuts fresh every year. Consider devising some kind of Friendly Lift of the Month Club. Maybe one month you can cook dinner for someone and another month you can plan an outdoorsy hike for a group of your mutual friends. Gifts that promise togetherness throughout the year highlight (and strengthen) the distinct bond you have with each person on your list.

Two: Go world-wide. Give not only to people you know but also to others who share our pretty little planet.

Heifer International helps families in developing countries. For $20, you can give a flock of chicks, which will add protein-rich eggs to a family’s diet and leave plenty of eggs for them to share or sell as well. For $120, you can give a goat, which supplies milk. Cow-shaped happiness costs $500. If you want to give in the name of someone on your list, you can also send that person a Heifer e-card when you make the donation, which is a sneaky way of giving a last-minute gift. Not that I’m suggesting you would need such an idea. I’m sure you’ve thought everything through, you master planner, you.

Another personal favorite, Care.org has a holiday shop of calendars and T-shirts you can buy to support their work helping women and girls around the world get educated and escape poverty. Dozens of fancy studies show that empowering women and girls creates ripples of positive change around the world.

Finding someone in your community who needs help is also frightfully easy these days. Maybe someone in your neighborhood would appreciate a bag of groceries. In The Hope, Andrew Harvey recommends finding the cause that breaks your heart and dedicating yourself to it.

So baubles or not, happy, merry, sparkly wishes to you … and, you know, the world.

Give animal-gifts from Heifer.org
Give goods from Care.org
Find another cause at Network for Good

Charm-i-days: Two smart, engaging memoirs

December 13, 2009

Dreaming in a new language and dating a transcendent entity: A couple of memoirs for the non-fiction fans on your gift list.

Pretty covers, smart pages.

The general consensus on this year’s best books lists suggests that Lit by Mary Karr is a stand-out memoir, so that one’s going on my personal wish list for the holidays. Two other memoirs of note this year, Dreaming in Hindi and Dating Jesus are also worthy gifts to give.

In Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language, former magazine editor Katherine Russell Rich travels to India after overcoming cancer and then settles into the northwestern part of the country for a year to learn Hindi. She chronicles her experiences – first verbally stumbling at every turn and eventually making jokes and even dreaming in her new language – with a subtle humor and a poetic spirit. Rich also became an expert along the way in linguistics and neuroscience, and she skillfully weaves the latest research about how adults learn second languages into the narrative.

That book won't carry itself.

Rich describes the experiential shock that goes along with the words she’s learning – and the ones she’s missing. “Privacy,” for example, is nonexistent, both in Hindi and in her everyday experience of living in Udaipur. She writes about how geography shapes the psyche as well, and how her senses themselves began to change: “My skin continues to absorb the smell of heat. My ears fill with color…”

Later, she mentions to a linguist, “It was as if in Hindi, I became a different person.” Rich analyzes the research about how language affects thought, but in the end, she’s all about the poetry.

For an extra flourish, pair the book with an exotic-looking fair-trade bag from Ten Thousand Villages.

Another memoir that combines endearing humor and impressive scholarship, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl preaches the gospel of independence. Journalist Susan Campbell writes thoughtfully about her church-heavy girlhood in Missouri. An irrepressible tomboy, Campbell asked questions sitting in her pew from the start and seemed to always know something wasn’t quite right when she was told that women were expected to remain silent in church. Although she didn’t stick with church, her questions eventually led her to seminary, and she merges her story with the work of philosophers, historians and feminist theologians.

“Fundamentalism broke off in us, didn’t it?” Campbell’s brother once asks her as they attend a church service together as adults. She agrees – it broke off in her like a sword, she muses, and much of Dating Jesus is about Campbell healing that wound.

Balm, not of Gilead.

Recalling her early years, Campbell writes about witnessing door-to-door, playing baseball, taking her fashion cues from The Brady Bunch and singing hymns in four-part harmony. She writes about loving seminary classes many years later, especially when one of her professors says that many of the early Biblical texts subvert the hierarchy. And yes, she writes about dating (and not dating) and dancing (and not dancing) and loving the real Jesus – the egalitarian one – despite what religion has to say about him.

For a little extra flourish, pair the book with a tube of Looking Good for Jesus lip balm and get more “subvert the hierarchy” bang for your buck.

Dreaming in Hindi, $17.16
Hindi-inspired bag, prices vary
Dating Jesus, $10.80
Jesus-inspired lip balm, $5.99

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Two memoirs for the non-fiction fans on your holiday gift list. Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language and Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl.

The general consensus on this year’s best books lists suggests that Lit by Mary Karr is a stand-out memoir, so that one’s going on my personal wish list for the holidays. Two other memoirs of note this year, Dreaming in Hindi and Dating Jesus are also worthy gifts to give. http://www.amazon.com/Lit-Memoir-Mary-Karr/dp/0060596988/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260499510&sr=1-1

In Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language, former magazine editor Katherine Russell Rich travels to India after overcoming cancer and then settles into the northwestern part of the country for a year to learn Hindi. She chronicles her experiences – first verbally stumbling at every turn and eventually making jokes and even dreaming in her new language – with a subtle humor and a poetic spirit. Rich also became an expert along the way in linguistics and neuroscience, and she skillfully weaves the latest research about how adults learn second languages into the narrative.

Rich describes the experiential shock that goes along with the words she’s learning – and the ones she’s missing. “Privacy,” for example, is nonexistent, both in Hindi and in her everyday experience of living in Udaipur. She writes about how geography shapes the psyche as well, and how her senses themselves began to change: “My skin continues to absorb the smell of heat. My ears fill with color…”

Later, she mentions to a linguist, “It was as if in Hindi, I became a different person.” Rich analyzes the research about how language affects thought, but in the end, she’s all about the poetry.

For an extra flourish, pair the book with an exotic-looking fair-trade bag from Ten Thousand Villages.

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/bags-and-totes

Another memoir that combines endearing humor and impressive scholarship, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl preaches the gospel of independence. Journalist Susan Campbell writes thoughtfully about her church-heavy girlhood in Missouri. An irrepressible tomboy, Campbell asked questions sitting in her pew from the start and seemed to always know something wasn’t quite right when she was told that women were expected to remain silent in church. Those questions eventually led her to seminary, and she merges her story with the work of philosophers, historians and feminist theologians.

“Fundamentalism broke off in us, didn’t it?” Campbell’s brother once asks her as they attend a church service together as adults. She agrees – it broke off in her like a sword, she muses, and much of Dating Jesus is about Campbell healing that wound.

Recalling her early years, Campbell writes about witnessing door-to-door, playing baseball, taking her fashion cues from The Brady Bunch and singing hymns in four-part harmony. She writes about loving seminary classes many years later, especially when one of her professors says that many of the early Biblical texts subvert the hierarchy. And yes, she writes about dating (and not dating) and dancing (and not dancing) and loving the real Jesus – the egalitarian one – despite what religion has to say about him.

For a little extra flourish, pair the book with a tube of Looking Good for Jesus lip balm and get more “subvert the hierarchy” bang for your buck.

http://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-Hindi-Katherine-Russell-Rich/dp/0618155457/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260540760&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Dating-Jesus-Fundamentalism-Feminism-American/dp/0807010723/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260498462&sr=8-1

Dreaming in Hindi, $17.16

Hindi-inspired bag, prices vary

Dating Jesus, $10.80

Jesus-inspired lip balm, $5.99

http://www.blueq.com/shop/114-catId.117440633_114-productId.0.html

Charm-i-days: Uncle Envelope

December 11, 2009

Not your father's uncle. Not your uncle, either.

More likely to send you mail every month than any actual uncle on your holiday gift list.

Sure, you can give someone bacon of the month club or the rare olive oil club from Zingerman’s or even the spectacular-sounding lunar chocolate of the month club from Vosges Haut Chocolate. But Uncle Envelope has another idea for you altogether. Uncle Envelope delivers paper-based goodies each month for those of us in this digital age who still love the feel of paper in our hands.

As reported on Pop Candy, Kristin Lindner created the service and recruits artists to participate, so subscribers receive some kind of print object each month – maybe a craft, a comic, a map or a game. You can see examples of previous work on the Uncle Envelope site.

It’s sort of like adopting someone’s mailbox, making sure something delightful arrives once in a while. Just think: You’ll be giving someone on your list the gift of looking forward to peering into that mailbox and seeing something more rewarding than a 20-percent-off coupon.

Go ahead – befriend (be-uncle?) someone’s mailbox.

Uncle Envelope subscription, $36

Charm-i-days: Penguin classics (books, not birds)

December 7, 2009

Pretty, cloth-covered books to gaze at, give away and even read.

Delightfully bookish.

As one of my most discriminating and zeitgeist-attuned readers, you’ve probably seen or read about these new Penguin editions of several classics somewhere by now. Nonetheless, I put them before you here and suggest that they’re a most suitable answer to many a gift-giving situation. Why the commotion? Sure, they’re beautiful. And sure, they’re classics: Mr. Willoughby and Miss Havisham and social conventions and moral dilemmas and all that. But I admire the books for a couple of other reasons as well.

1. The designer, Coralie Bickford-Smith, took the book’s themes into account when she created the covers. As she explained on Design*Sponge, “The peacock feather on Dorian Grey, for example, plays on the book’s themes of vanity and the superficial, whereas the leaf motif on Jane Eyre refers directly to the lightning-blasted chestnut tree, a concrete element in the text that serves as a potent symbol of the book’s central relationship.” Smart and pretty – we like that.

2. The pages feel as sumptuous as the covers look. You know how the pages on some classics feel cheap or sometimes a little gritty? Not so here. The pages are smooth and heavy and thick with importance.

So in this case, judge the book and the cover and the personality of those on your gift list all at once.

Classic books, $13.60 on Amazon

Charm-i-days: Felt bowls and vases

December 7, 2009

Handmade bowls of wooly goodness.

Deeply felt gifts.

Innovative use of textile? Check.

Stylish shapes and vibrant colors? Check.

Thoughtful application of renewable resource? Check.

Unmistakable desire to have some sitting around my house? Check.

Designed and handmade by Patty Benson, these felt bowls and vases provide an unexpected pop of color and texture. Benson combines the techniques of crocheting and wet felting and fashions bowls and vases out of wool instead of the more expected ceramic or wood. The small bowls are ideal for keeping your keys or favorite jewelry handy, while the larger ones make stunning centerpieces.

For a fun hostess gift over the holidays, consider filling the small felted plant cozy with a rosemary plant or a Tickle-Me plant, which was one of last year’s most popular Charm-i-days ideas.

Felted bowls and vases, $36 and up at Rare Device
Tickle-Me plant party favor, $5.95

Charm-i-days: Goodies for the eggnog lover in you

December 6, 2009

Here’s to putting eggnog in all the right places, from your bathtub to your purse.

Eggnog innovations and sensations.

Innovations in the world of eggnog have been gaining momentum since the most recent turn of the century – maybe this newfound love for the old-fashioned treat started with the eggnog latte. What matters is that you’re now free to enjoy eggnog not only at parties but also in the shower. Observe the enfoldment of eggnog euphoria.

Eggnog bubblegum. Ideal to give as stocking stuffers or to make a point while standing in line for the eggnog. Keep in purse or pocket for eggnog emergencies.

Eggnog shower gel and shampoo. Smells like eggnog, looks like eggnog, labeled as eggnog. Isn’t eggnog – rather, is ingenious three-in-one shower gel, shampoo and bubble bath. Perhaps you’ve never really wanted to bathe in eggnog, in which case this product isn’t for you. But you could still feel awfully clever giving it to someone on your Christmas list.

Eggnog taffy. Tastes like eggnog and comes in a twist-tie box as appealing as any eggnog carton. Nine out of ten shoppers prefer twist-tie boxes.

Eggnog bubblegum from Archie McPhee, $3.50
Philosophy eggnog shower gel from Sephora.com, $16
Sweets eggnog taffy from Drugstore.com, $3

Charm-i-days: Plan + man = can

December 4, 2009

The can lives on, as inspiration for us all.

The Man Can can’t, but you can.

Proof at long last that idea of a man with a can has staying power (or is it the subconscious idea of a man in a can?), the Man Can at Delight.com is sold out. We grieve and move on. This doesn’t mean the guy on your list has to go can-free. Make your own man can plan by picking up a galvanized metal pail at a hardware store and filling it with manly goods from Kiehl’s, the Body Shop, Sephora, Burt’s Bees or Small Flower (maybe it sounds girly, but they have a solid selection of  gentlemanly, natural skin products). If you’re feeling ambitious or especially merry, create a Man Can-like label of your own for the pail.

For more container-related ideas for guys, consider the Christmas tree in a can from Fred Flare or the moon jar lamp from Elsewares (after featuring the sun jar lamp last year, it only seems right to give the moon its due).

If cans aren’t classy enough for you, Delight’s brother site, the Gent Supply Co., also has non-can-related gifts for guys, starting with a page of Sterling Cooper-inspired ideas for “Mad Men” fans. Hubris not included.

Man Can, in your hands
Christmas tree can, $12
Moon jar lamp, $40
Gent Supply Co., prices vary

Charm-i-days: Saints in your pocket and a drug-free high

December 3, 2009

Illuminate someone on your holiday gift list by pairing a righteous book or two with just the right accessory.

Saintliness, now found in pockets and boxes.

Jason Boyett’s Pocket Guide to Sainthood: A Field Manual for the Super-Virtuous Life captures the glory, the shame and the silliness of saints throughout history. Starting with St. Ambrose and ending with St. Vincent de Paul (surprisingly, not the only saint who was captured by pirates), Boyett irreverently chronicles the miracles and trivia surrounding everyone’s favorite saints – and also the ugliest one. Boyett includes the saints’ miracles but also tidbits he generously labels “what not to venerate,” such as, you know, mass slaughters and the like.

Boyett’s consistently entertaining tone and unexpected asides create an amusing backdrop for what’s actually a highly informative book. The section about Mother Mary, for example, will clear up her status once and for all for any confused non-Catholic. The book lists a glossary of saintly terms as well which saints to call upon for any occasion from watching television to paratrooping.

Flaunting the holy.

So what to pair with this “witty, weird and sometimes even wise” – as reviewer Daniel Radosh declared – book? A plastic tribute to St. Clare, patron saint of television, of course. I personally have had this beatific statue from Archie McPhee unobtrusively positioned near my television for several months, and I’ve never felt more enriched by my small-screen viewing. Alternately, pair the book with a saints bracelet from Signals.

175 ways to transcend.

For a book with fewer religious trappings but more spirituality than you can shake an incense stick at, give someone on your list Get High Now (Without Drugs) by James Nestor. I mentioned the Get High Now website earlier this year, but you can’t very well wrap up a website and put it under the tree. (Not that I’m saying you aren’t clever. You are – I know you are. I’m just saying it’s easier to wrap a book.) Actually, the book isn’t about spirituality per se or New Age-style meditation: It details the science behind drug-free highs and which techniques – meditative and otherwise – are proven to work.

Nestor advocates against trying every technique he mentions (avoid the bee sting approach, he stubbornly insists) and includes surprising hallucinogens such as giraffe liver. Some of the techniques, though, are as simple as breathing, which is the first of the suggestions that Nestor himself tried years ago as he uncovered research that an eccentric uncle left behind when he died. His uncle’s notes eventually became this book, which is fascinating and funny and gives you more than 175 ways to alter your consciousness.

2 transcendence aids.

You’d think giving a person 175 ways to change his or her life would provide enough holiday cheer, but go one more step and throw in some Buddha mints, a tin of Badger meditation balm that smells like sandalwood or my favorite incense – the desert pinion sticks really do smell like you’re having a mountaintop experience with a fire crackling nearby (no cloying aroma, I promise).

So many convenient ways to reach enlightenment these days.

Pocket Guide to Sainthood, $11
St. Clare statue, $5
Saints bracelet, $30
Get High Now (Without Drugs), $10
Buddha mints, $2.50
Badger meditation balm, $8
Juniper Ridge incense, $8

Also of note …
Christmas post on Jason Boyett’s blog
Get High Now site

Charm-i-days: Cake card holder

December 1, 2009

In a word, yum.

If you like it, then you shoulda put a cake on it.

The Charm-o-Matic is declaring this cake card holder from The Curiosity Shoppe 2009’s cutest stocking stuffer. This illustrious honor went last year to Tokyo Milk lip balm, and this year’s winner is equally pastel-ish in overtones with a slice of realism and old-fashioned goodness.

I’m endlessly fascinated by depictions of food from bygone eras, whether they’re gorgeous, elaborate Cavallini reproductions or the more unfortunate remembrances of the Gallery of Regrettable Food. So when it comes to a nostalgic-looking, food-related item that I can carry around with me, I’m utterly powerless to resist.

The pink-frosted, yellow layer cake featured here looks like the delicious birthday sweet your grandmother may have made for you once a long time ago. Except, you know, you can put this one in your pocket.

The card holder can accommodate business cards or IDs and is handmade in Los Angeles.

Cake card holder, $12