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!

A Conversation with Ms. Linda

Thanks for the nice comments and well wishes after our exciting announcement! Today I have a quick link/shameless plug for your Friday reading pleasure.

choir director in action

I’ve mentioned Ms. Linda before. She’s like my honorary DC mom, and she has a great story. If you were ever to walk into Little Lights, chances are you’d get into a conversation with Ms. Linda, and chances are you’d stay a lot longer than you planned—she can talk! It’s her personality, but it’s also that she has a lot of wisdom and experience, and she’s willing to share.

Ms. Linda was one of the oldest of ten siblings growing up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in DC. (This was way before it had any sushi or cupcake places!) She was always surrounded by kids, telling stories and making up games. So as an adult when she found herself working in the same building where Little Lights rented space years ago, she couldn’t ignore the voice telling her to walk downstairs and get involved. She reprimanded two girls who were giving Ms. Mary a difficult time, and they straightened up for the rest of choir rehearsal—you better believe it.

Soon after, she became the director of the Gospel Choir, the Girls’ Night leader, the all around disciplinarian . . . she wears many hats, and has been at Little Lights ever since. She loves to sing and hates sprinkles. She loves jewelry, a great bargain, and her husband Mr. Thomas, who is my celebrity crush (don’t ask, because I don’t even remember).

Mr. Thomas and Ms. Linda

So, I had the privilege of writing up an interview with Ms. Linda for the latest Little Lights newsletter.

[The first part of our conversation was posted here for Mother’s Day. She gives advice and insight into the challenges faced by Little Lights parents, many of whom are single moms.]

I loved reading it again because it’s just like talking to her (except that you’ll actually move on to your next activity in a timely fashion. Haha, j/k j/k). A couple of my favorite nuggets:

On joy:

I don’t let things get to me. Like things that people normally worry about, I just give it to God.

By the time you get to 53, you’re supposed to learn a few things. Not just cry and freak out over things. You’re supposed to give it to God, and just say, OK there’s nothing I can do about it. Let me just pray and give it to Him.

On being grounded:

I think because I get to see the nitty gritty of families who don’t have, it keeps me grounded, and I think about that a lot in my personal life, the choices I make, even ways I spend money. I think about that there’s always somebody who doesn’t have. I’m thinking about the situation somebody has been through. I think about that.

And, Ms. Linda tells us how her marriage stays healthy. (“It keeps harmony and peace in a marriage.”) What’s her secret? I’ll end the same way I liked to finish my third grade book reports: you’ll have to read it to find out. 

She’s Still Got It.

Mama Rote burlington sock ad

Happy Mother’s Day to Mama Rote and the rest of you lovely ladies!

Last week I talked about parenting with one of my favorite honorary mamas, Linda Rice, of Little Lights. If you know Ms. Linda, you’ll be able to hear her voice in this short interview. If you don’t, you’ll feel like you know her.

And some other thoughts on motherhood I’ve enjoyed:

P.S. A bonus link, if you’re not a mama and all this gushy-ness is getting to you: Meg, my friend from high school, wrote this piece on why being single through your twenties is great. Yes to the hour long bath.

P.P.S. Mama Rote staying in the picture.

Wrapping in Style

LLUM Christmas Store

Last week Mary Tobin and I took a fun outing over to the Little Lights Christmas Store. (I help out at Little Lights Urban Ministries as much as I can now that the princesa is here—which, let’s be honest, has been far less than I expected. As Israel likes to point out, she’s a tough boss.)

The Christmas Store is a new tradition for Little Lights, replacing a big party, which in years past has been held at a church in Maryland with volunteers and donors providing food, gifts, etc. This year all those resources were channeled into smaller celebrations within LLUM’s after-school programs, and then—drumroll—the Family Center was transformed into the Christmas Store for four days.

The parents of Little Lights kids received an invitation to shop (and enjoy Christmas music, cookies, coffee, and hot chocolate) and select a gift for their child from 200+ toys. Video here.

Instead of kids each receiving a gift at our Christmas Party in early December, parents got to choose the gift and save it for Christmas morning, or whenever their family celebration is.

Although the kids always loved the party and went crazy for their gifts (video of the madness here: “A baby alive!!!!”), the Christmas store will return since it’s more empowering for parents and keeps the celebration within the neighborhood.

Parents wrapped their gifts and wrote cards or gift tags, and I got to help with wrapping a little bit, which I love.

Typically, this is how my wrapping goes. I save all gift bags, ribbons, tissue paper, and salvageable gift wrap supplies from any event. I hoard them in my closet, which makes no sense given our place is tiny urban and hip. I also hold on to bags from local stores that could be used for gifts. (Y’all, not Victoria’s Secret bags, but brown ones or solid color ones. Lots of little shops or food places use generic bags without their logo.) I have a roll of brown butcher paper, which I must’ve grudgingly bought at some point. So, my favorite gifts are wrapped in brown paper or a brown bag, then have a bright fun ribbon.

Here are some inspiring images from a quick pinterest search:

Did you spot the awesome household items: newspaper, neon office supply stickers, cup cake wrappers!?

What are your wrapping tricks? Huge ribbon? Comics? Help us out with your wrapping wisdom.

P.S. The Washington Post Magazine ran this little piece a couple weeks ago, about a girl at a shelter who was just so happy she got a gift with her name on it, that didn’t say, “Girl, age 11.” Wow, that was killer. And it reinforced to me the wisdom of updating the Little Lights Christmas traditions. I don’t know what it will mean for you, but it challenges me to think about how our good deeds this Christmas can focus more on filling a real need, rather than fulfilling our own need to do a good deed. What are your thoughts?

OK, guys, sorry this post is schizophrenic. That’s two action items. You don’t have to do both. Wrapping technique? Thoughts about better/more empowering charitable giving?


I hope you’re feeling the love this Valentine’s Day week.  Don’t you love extending holidays?  I do.

Here are my movie recommendations for a romantic day/date/any old time:

  • Casablanca

  • The Philadelphia Story
  • Adventures in Babysitting (bit of a dark horse for this category, but I love it.)
  • Robin Hood— the Disney version where they’re foxes.

Other romantic ideas:

  • Some of the Little Lights kids on love. . . be still my heart.
  • I would’ve bought this chair for Israel for v-day if I had more cash on hand (that’s a campaign phrase leaking into my normal lexicon. . . DC’s getting to me, man).  Anyway, I think it’s very romantic and masculine.
  • Handwritten notes. . . no link, just write one.

THE RING I will not be going to Jared, you’re welcome.

Close second:

I CAN’T Time my airport pickup so you see me standing like an emo statue at the top of the escalator but I’ll be there, somewhere. Airports confuse me.

This one’s sweet:

WHEN IT’S COLD I’ll pump the gas, you can chill in the car.

Also, this is brilliant.  Might be my new marriage philosophy:

THE TV Joint decision, but we can throw each other bones every now and then.

Simple Joys

the Joy of stirrup leggings

All I want for Christmas:

  • These Brussels sprouts. . . holy moly.  I never really tried or liked the vegetable, but my friend Catharine (the genius behind Keen Guides, which is another story) introduced me to this recipe and it’s LOVE, my friends!
  • This as a gift for Israel, which is really a gift for me.  My phone is off for you. . . now that’s LOVE.

May you enjoy tasty veggies and face to face conversation this December!

the Christmas story at LLUM’s Homework Club

I could turn off my phone for this guy, possibly.

Reality TV

Today I watched my first episode of “Real Housewives of Atlanta”–a life-changing experience. It’s pretty awful.  I’d never claim to be above reality tv though.  This weekend at the Little Lights banquet, I was featured in a parody of MTV’s “Made.”  Check it out:

Little Lights – Ignite the Light Banquet 2010 (by PHOTORIA MEDIA).

The auctioneer in the video is the guy from Borat trying to explain NOT Jokes.


Check the resemblance:

Posting this may have huge ramifications for the racial reconciliation we’re trying to practice at Little Lights, but when our volunteer coordinator extraordinaire Mijin walked in the other day, Hattie McDaniel as Mammy is the first thing I saw.

One of Mijin’s life’s ambitions is to be a fashion icon, and I’ll be gol-darned if she isn’t well on her way.  Honestly,  I get dressed in the morning for you, Mij.  And for Jane.

Hattie McDaniel, by the way, was the first African-American woman to win an Academy Award (1939’s best supporting actress for Gone With The Wind)! She’s a great lady to emulate.

Goodbye forever.

I’m emerging from all banquet all the time– back into the land of the living!

Now I have to catch up on what’s been missed.  People have gotten engaged; things have happened in the news; Halloween evites have gone unanswered; apparently on Grey’s Anatomy there was a fire, and there are people running around in yellow scrubs. . . what’s that all about?

The event went well, though I’d rather not think about the details of it any more for about five hundred years.  I hope to be sleeping normally without dreams of auction items any day now.

I’ll say though, that as miserable as I felt at points in handling all this planning, it’s a privilege to work for a place like Little Lights.  My stress and frustration are nothing compared to some of the things that the LL kids deal with daily, and at such a young age.  A racing mind over a banquet is OK if it’ll help our kids have less stress and more smiles in their days.