27 Shopping Ideas

Christmas gifts

What’s your gift giving philosophy? Do you have a budget? Do you draw names for a present exchange with the fam? Did I tell you about the time my brother Ben got punched in the face by the trunk of a wooden elephant statue during our family’s Dirty Santa gift exchange?

For kids, I like the idea of three gifts for Christmas (since that’s what JC got). Or four gifts: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”

If you’re one of those people who has all her holiday shopping finished before Thanksgiving, I salute you. If you grow cotton in the backyard and weave sweaters for all your extended family members and mailman, I salute you. And if you stick to a budget, I heartily salute you.

These days, if I buy gifts from an Etsy shop or another handmade seller, I feel like I’m not spending anything. And if it’s from someone I know (or let’s be honest, kind of know), I feel like I’m making money. Amiright?!

So in the spirit of shopping small and local, I’ve compiled a list of small and not-so-small shops whose proprietors I know, or have met once, or are a friend of a friend. I like the idea of supporting a real person. [Although, corporations are people. True or false? Sound off in the comments.]

Check these folks out if you’re stuck for gift ideas!

For babes and kiddos:
Sweet P Embroidery: Custom monograms and appliqué (AKA preciousness overload).
NOLA Onesie: Festive baby clothes.
Rain for Roots: My girls love these Nashville songwriters’ album “Big Stories for Little Ones” (plus it’s not obnoxious for parents!).
storieChild: Create an easy baby book or a story book featuring your kid.

Tasty treats (or, How to be the Office Hero):
Sweet LaLa’s Bakery
 partners with a juvenile intervention program in Memphis to bake de-lish cookies for pickup or delivery.
Whimsy Cookie Company: We get these for pretty much every birthday and special occasion. Impressive designs, and so tasty.
A Signature Welcome: Gourmet food boxes (+ other great gifts like turkish towels!)
District Doughnut (DC): Because they support Little Lights!

For the art lover:
Maltby Rote: Commission something wonderful, like this.
Hillary Butler Fine Art, as seen on Nashville, and here.
Steve Keene: Fun!
Saw & Mitre Frame Co.: Print your pics, frame your story.
St. Frank: “Home luxury for the modern bohemian.” Love that. (I posted about Saw & Mitre and St. Frank here.)
Joanna Hope Art: Beauty. Watch her amazing process videos.

For a lovely lady:
Stella & Dot: Katherine is selling jewelry (and tons of other great gifts) to underwrite her pro bono counseling.
Lydali and Umba both support handmade artists and small batch producers. Beautiful stuff.
Tara Montgomery Jewelry and Erin McDermott Jewelry: ::swooning::
LaLa Land NYC, because stationery = life.
BeautyCounter: safe skincare and makeup.
FashionABLE: Gorgeous products made by “women who have overcome.”

For a dashing dude:
(Some of these could be girl things, but I’m trying to round out my categories.)
Tucker Blair: Needlepoint belts, flasks, and preppiness galore. “When in doubt, prep out.” -Israel Ortega
Nashville Fit Factory: My cousin Zach coaches here, where they’re known for a community/family feel. The first class is free.
Bring It Food Hub (Memphis): Share some CSA love! They’ve also got coffee and other local goodies.
Pork Barrel BBQ: Lots of good pork-centric options, including cologne—“an intoxicating bouquet of spices, smoke, meat, and sweet summer sweat.”
Bonobos: So his rear will look good.

For Fido:
Haha, just kidding. I don’t have any animal suggestions.

Please comment if you have any friends’ shops we might want to patronize!

Update with new additions:
Lebelle Soaps: Artisan tallow shaving soap and aftershave = perfect guy stocking stuffer.
Maggie Russell: another great Memphis artist. Don’t miss her funny, quirky greeting cards.

None of the above are sponsored links. But if you’re into supporting one another, here’s your [pre-Black Friday/Cyber Monday] reminder that I’m an Amazon affiliate. So if you click over there from one of my links then order something—anything, not only whatever I linked—I’ll receive a teensy commission, no change in price for you. Thanks in advance for helping a sister out!

Valentine’s Changes (or, Colin Firth forever and ever, amen.)


Looking through the archives, I see that Valentine’s Day has been one of my consistent occasions for posting something here, for some reason. The feast day to remember a saint who loved God and loved others, enough to die for that love, now serves as the calendar notch on which we hang our ever-changing notions and expectations about love.

In past years I’ve posted about:

This year, my love for MT, and her little friends at school, has manifested itself through Pinterest-inspired activities: heart braid, heart crayons, the best oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies.

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So the holiday has evolved quite a bit. In six words,

2007: Went line dancing, found latin lover.
2015: Heidi braids. Heart, please don’t explode.

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This week Kitty’s post (How To Host a Simple Gal-entine’s Party) reminded me of a couple instances when Captain Papa came through in grand style for his baby girl (i.e. me) before marriage and kids. In particular, one year in high school he joined me down in our basement playroom as I watched the six-hour BBC Pride and Prejudice on Valentine’s Day. (FYI, he’s not necessarily a big Austen fan.)

Funnier was the year when he sent me flowers in college. I put the two sweet planters of mini-roses on the window ledge in our sorority house kitchen. The note with the delivery read something like “Love Forever” and it sparked a srat house mystery. Because, although it wasn’t surprising that Dad would send flowers, he didn’t put his name on the note, and when I talked with Mom that day she hadn’t received her flowers yet and told me Dad didn’t send them. The romantic mystery bloomed like the delicate pink roses . . . my friends and I spent many minutes (at least) wondering who my secret admirer was. We even called the flower company to see if they could release the sender’s information. They could not! [Drama!] I can only imagine how pathetic that operator thought we were, especially since she could see that the sender and recipient shared a last name.

Whatever Valentine’s Day looks like on a given year, the bottom line question we want answered is . . . Am I loved? Am I worth it? Is there someone willing to sacrifice for me, willing to watch six-hour Pride and Prejudice with me—whether it’s my dad, my boyfriend, my girlfriends, my cat (not to mention my infant who has no choice). Watching Pride and Prejudice may or may not be a big sacrifice depending on the person who makes it, but it points to sacrifices even greater. Is there someone willing to give up everything, for me? I think the answer is Yes. And when those affectionate husbands, or cats, fail us—maybe you saw it coming—we can go back to the Love who inspired the original Valentine.

Whatever’s going on with you, I wish you much Colin Firth (or maybe Stanley Tucci) this Valentine’s Day.

P.S. To be fair, it’s also about considering whether I’ll give up my sense of taste to watch something I consider ridiculous. What’s the male equivalent of P&P?

P.P.S. I do like the new Keira Knightley P&P, but I officially endorse the 1995 BBC version. My only contention with the BBC P&P is that Lizzy is prettier than Jane, which is inaccurate.

P.P.P.S. Who wore it better?

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Princesses eat mac and cheese.

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This weekend we celebrated Mary Tobin’s third birthday with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a firstborn princesa. Up until now, I’d hardly given her gifts for birthdays and Christmas since she didn’t really care either way (well, we gave small gifts mainly to keep up appearances—so that we wouldn’t look like terrible parents), plus the grandparents and tias always have gifts covered more than adequately. However, by this birthday, the developmental threshold has been crossed at which a kid knows that it’s all about her. Mary Tobin was preening and asking, “Is that a surprise for my birthday?” about any bag or package in the house. So obnoxious, yet so winsome. Fellas, watch out for those eyelashes.

Still, her needs are simple: her only specific requests were cupcakes and balloons. (Thank you, Angelina Ballerina. Seriously.) Done and done. After a day of fun activities on Saturday— ballet, bounce place (a big indoor overpriced trampoline place), nap, bunny house, baking; all buh buh B words! (school is going to kill me)—we had a little birthday party at our house Sunday afternoon.

 photo 1652CD71-A352-4649-AAC6-260CAA2E8827_zpsb8g0rjk5.jpgFootball game on in the background, to teach her that it’s not all about her. It’s not all about me either. At her first birthday party, I refused to let Israel and my dad turn the game on. I’m totally mellow now. 
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Again this year the gathering was more about the grown-ups, with plenty of beverages to accompany the decadent MAC AND CHEESE BAR. I totally recommend this option as a fail-safe adult- and kid-pleaser. I also totally recommend hiring Mama Rote as your scullery maid to prepare the scrumptious macaroni and all the toppings. Here’s the recipe from my family cookbook (h/t Aunt Reba!):

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Our toppings included: bacon bits, smoked sausage (small slices, coated in BBQ sauce, broiled), peas, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, hot sauce, salsa, salt and pepper.

Of course, the birthday girl took hers plain. Happy birthday, MT!

One Thing To MAKE Your Summer

This ice cream scoop by Cutco is billed as the last one you’ll ever need. My parents have one at their house and I blame it for my nightly scoops of Talenti Double Dark Chocolate Gelato.

cutco ice cream scoop

Your dessert prep transforms into pure art as you deftly slice through the ice cream like a German engineer or a beret-clad mid-century sculptor. You’ve got the touch, thanks to the “chrome-plated zinc castings” and the “thermoplastic elastomer.” I don’t know what that means. Mom told me there’s something in the handle that melts the ice cream as you scoop. This prevents any unseemly battles with rock hard ice cream that cause you to slip quickly from perfect hostess into Chris Farley screaming “Lay off me, I’m starving!”


As Ferris Bueller says, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. Could be a nice goody for Father’s Day, a housewarming, or a wedding, combined with a couple cute bowls . . .

(I’m an Amazon affiliate, so if you click this link and buy something, I’ll get some pennies . . . thanks if you do! Or just get in touch with your favorite Cutco rep.)

UPDATE! Mama Rote confirms that their scoop was, in fact, a Father’s Day gift from my brother about five years ago. Still going strong, and it gets quite a workout. She says, “If we ever lose this ice cream scoop, Kyle’s going to have to move out. He loves it so much.”

Civil War Reading: The Killer Angels

You may have heard that last week (July 1-3) marked the 150th (sesquicentennial!) anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. I don’t normally plan my reading this well, but earlier this summer I enjoyed Michael Shaara’s classic civil war novel The Killer Angels.

Full disclosure: I read it because it’s been sitting on our shelf since two Christmases ago when I bought it for my husband Israel, who hardly ever reads fiction, but loves Civil War history. I thought this could be the book that would entice him over to The Lightside. (More disclosure: I just googled “opposite of dark side” and found the answer.)

[There’s a lesson here. If I wasn’t last minute Christmas shopping and had thought for more than one minute, I would’ve realized this is the worst type of gift. Don’t buy someone a gift that you actually want, or use it as a chance to subtly suggest that the recipient do some self improvement. No exercise equipment, ok guys? The best gifts are something that the person wants but would never buy for him- or herself.]

So, I haven’t given up hope that Israel will love this book, but I went ahead and broke it in for him. Shaara follows the points of view of generals from the Union and Confederate armies in the days leading up to and through the battle of Gettysburg. The tone and style of the chapters vary depending on the general: some stream of consciousness, others much more disciplined and regimented in their self-talk. I was caught up in the characters, and to put it plainly, found the book very readable.

We get to know best General Longstreet, of the Confederacy, a military genius who can foresee the battle’s tragedy but whose loyalty trumps his pragmatism; and General Chamberlain from the Union Army, a mere college professor from Maine, whose unexpected bravery and leadership at Gettysburg earns him great renown. General Lee was portrayed as highly respected and deeply devout, but aging and tired. After seeing the battle from multiple points of view, the reader is left wondering whether the great losses at Gettysburg were inevitable.

I got the feeling that Shaara treated the Confederacy more sympathetically than the Union. That may have been a device for effective storytelling (mid-way through, I had to confirm with Israel: the South lost at Gettysburg, right?), or maybe I brought my own background to the interpretation. If you read it you’ll have to let me know what you think. But for both sides, the fictional format was effective for exploring the men’s motives and beliefs about the war.

I was struck by the strong emotions of classmates from West Point who never expected to face off opposite one another; soldiers sipping coffee in the early morning on the day of the fight, too charged up to sleep any more, like a modern day football rivalry; men drinking and singing around a campfire late into the night, not thinking too hard, because they know, if they survive, they’ll never find camaraderie like this once the war ends.

Not your basic chick lit summer read . . . I was never averse to war as the subject of a story, but still, I didn’t expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. If you’d like to feel smarter about the Civil War, but you’re more of a fiction fan, this is a great choice.

Good American Reading

Keep your patriotic fervor going as you come down from your Independence Day celebrations! I love this book:

Letters of a Nation is the compilation of letters to and from figures throughout U.S. history that Mrs. Hughes introduced to us in 11th grade English! You’ve got love letters between Abigail and John Adams; the epistles of Founding Fathers, politicians, generals and soldiers; one from a housewife to Ms. Magazine on her husband’s chauvinism; and an inquiry from Mark Twain to the Gas Company (in the section titled “Letters of Humor and Personal Contempt”–surely my brother Will’s favorite chapter).

Israel’s favorite is Sullivan Ballou’s final letter to his wife before the Battle of Bull Run, where his life would be lost the next day:

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

It’s fascinating and wide-ranging stuff. A great book in that it’s so easy to pick up and peruse, read a letter or two, and come away with a genuine, personal snapshot of a moment in our history, as well as some food for thought to chew on for awhile.

Since Israel loves U.S. history, I ordered Letters of a Nation and gave it to him as a fun out-of-the-blue gift during the first year we were dating. He gushed over the book and told me it was the best and most thoughtful present he’d ever received. He loved exploring all the letters.

Flash forward to last weekend. This book came up in conversation and I reminded him of his sentiment that it was the BEST GIFT EVER. He responded, “No, I gave that book to you!”

It’s what I get for being ornery lately and trying to cash in points from nice gestures three- and four-years old!

Even so, you should read this book or give it to the history lover in your life, who is sure to appreciate it!