I love gift guides but, honestly, I find myself using them most often for the sources they draw from so please allow me to just go ahead and tell you about the spots I’m using for ideas this year:
Kickstarter at MoMA – That neat stuff that was on Kickstarter but you might have since lost track of? Here it is! Also see: the whole gifts section. (I’ve been eyeing that Bubble Necklace for a few years now. Not a hint. Ok, yes, it’s a hint.)
Good Gift Games at The Morning News – An annual curated list of tabletop games by Matthew Baldwin and one of those things I look forward to every year. I know the guy in person and can vouch that all these games have been well tested over rounds of beer with good people at good pubs. I’m going to throw my support on the Marrying Mr. Darcy: The Pride and Prejudice Card Game and also call up a past game that is a most-played in my house: Forbidden Island.
Cool Tools: Mark’s Picks and Under $10 – Have somebody on your list who is a Maker or very practical or just plain hard to shop for? Cool Tools will have a suggestion for that one thing that they might not already know about. Among the most well received gifts to family that I’ve given have come from past Cool Tools recommendations including a craft assistant setup for a model-making family member and guitar tuning devices for my part-time rock star husband. (If said giftee just likes knowing about neat things they might love the Cool Tools book, which I fully admit to becoming engrossed in myself, it’s huge like a coffee table book and packed with information like a catalog.)
Brit+Co Shop – Among the many awesome things in this shop I’m particularly in love with the Gold Leaf Valet Kit with Lovely Indeed, the customizable wood burnt Cheese Board with Design*Sponge and the wooden Pop-Out Ornament Cards. See also: the whole Tech (Bluetooth Camera Shutter Remote for an iPhone!) and Merrymaking Color Block Muddler!) selections. Full disclosure and blatant self promotion: this winter I have my own collaboration with Brit+Co for a set of mini gingerbread house mug topper cookie cutters which, as of me typing this,
should be back in stock to purchase on Friday 12/12/14. Update: The DIY Kits have sold out, thanks to everybody who purchased one!
What are your favorite sources for the difficult to shop for?
· comments  · 12-8-2014 · categories:christmas · shopping ·
Find a Nail Polish That Lasts – Consumer Reports News. Their most recommended is a $2 bottle of polish! It’s Sinful Colors brand, which I’ve been using for my toenails for a few years now. I’m stupidly thrilled to be validated for my frugality here. Via Super Punch.
Made in America: The Girls of a Certain Age. I had no idea some of these brands are made in the USA, this is a good list to keep in mind.
Rich People Gotta Upholster Too | dooce®. Sarah Brown on Restoration Hardware then and now. I second this.
I Have Been Waiting My Whole Life For This Butter Knife at The Frisky. That is indeed a very clever butter knife.
· comments  · 08-21-2014 · categories:links · shopping ·
These Captiva Strap boots from Merrell are waterproof and as comfortable as slippers. No really, the footbed is made of something slightly squishy so they feel really lovely. They are knee high, zip all the way up and the calf was more generously sized than a few other boots I compared it to. The soles are grippy rubber and there is plenty of support for my fussy feet. The shape of the toe box means there is lots of room for movement.
I brought these with me on a month long trip to England, Scotland and Ireland in November and I tempted fate by getting them at the last minute and not having a chance to break them in before we left. Yeah, a potentially stupid move on my part. But they were amazing, I didn’t get blisters or achey feet and I was warm and dry even after a few walks through very damp fields. The heel support did hit me a little higher than I would have liked and I was afraid they would rub but I was fine.
Here is the thing though, I wish they looked a little nicer. They are undeniably comfort boots, they will work with a cute outfit but these aren’t boots that can be dressed up. (Not that my own opinion on this point has stopped me from trying.) Still, there a few touches that bug me. There is a faux strap wrap around the ankle with a decorative buckle which I like but halfway up there is a rivet and a few inches over that there is a metal tag that says, very small, “waterproof”. Why thanks, but I don’t think I need to be reminded of that every time I put them on. There is an elastic panel at the top but it’s on the outsides of the boot, I’m sure it’s located just there for a reason but not knowing what that reason is I wonder if they couldn’t have tucked it away on the inside to hide it away a bit. There is a small logo embossed as well, just below the ankle. All these little things add up to make the boot look a little less tidy than it could.
All of that said, the other day I was waiting in line at an airport and I was admiring the pair of boots worn by a woman walking by. Turns out she was wearing these very same boots. Which I had on my feet at the time. So, maybe I’m being a little nitpicky about how I perceive that they appear.
Overall they get incredibly high marks for comfort and utility (like, Pry Them From My Cold Dead Feet high marks, or maybe just Get Another Pair In Brown high marks). They will work nicely for tromping around in muddy fields, looking cute with dresses and warm leggings as well as walking for many more hours than you anticipated in an unfamiliar city in an attempt to find that specialty beer shop you read about.
The Merrell Captiva Strap boots are available at Zappos and Amazon (affiliate link) in black and brown. I hover between a size 7 and 7.5 in shoes and I bought a size 7.5 in these, though the fit across the top of the foot has stretched and I occasionally wonder if the size 7 would have worked out as well.
(One quick note: I usually look for shoes over at Zappos and use the “You May Also Like” suggestions to browse out further, which can take a while and lead to scores of open tabs. Just now over at Amazon I typed Merrell Captiva into the search and it showed me 25 results for boots of various brands, many of them had been contenders in my search last Autumn. If I’d know Amazon was so good at laying down focused options like that it would have saved me a bunch of time. This is something I’ll have to remember and test out next time I’m looking for shoes.)
· comments  · 02-11-2014 · categories:shopping ·
Side sleepers: give your pillow reviews. | Ask MetaFilter. Recommendations for firm pillows that aren’t necessarily the too-warm memory foam sort.
Cool Tools – Trauma Shears. Strong enough to cut through a penny, these look great for crafters to have around.
I want the absolute best, most bombproof compact umbrella available. | Ask MetaFilter. This is a timely question for me, we managed to misplace all of our umbrellas this year.
The Best Pen | The Wirecutter. My favorite pen was given out as a freebie at a conference I attended earlier this year and I have no idea what sort it was other than it was branded Bic. None of the Wirecutter favorites are the one I love so my search goes on. This Wirecutter post shows that there are a surprising number websites dedicated to reviews of pens.
Haute High Tech: 20 Must-Have Pieces of 3D Printed Jewelry | Brit + Co..
· comments  · 01-23-2014 · categories:links · shopping ·
I read almost exclusively on the Kindle app on my iPhone these days which makes it much more difficult to insert the photograph of a stack of these books:
Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries
By Jon Ronson, obviously. I’m a fan of Ronson’s from hearing his stories on NPR but this is the first book of his that I’ve read, the sample chapter on Juggalos pulled me right in.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
By Mary Roach. This is a nonfiction book about the human digestive tract, it’s entertaining and so fascinating.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
By Allie Brosh. I read this one on my iPad because it’s full of her signature illustrations. Her stories about childhood and depression and things in general are hilarious and touching.
By Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant. It’s about a future where engineered parasites are used to keep us thin an healthy, what could possibly go wrong? I’m a fan of Seanan McGuire’s Feed trilogy (Feed, Deadline and Blackout) which is about bloggers and zombies and government conspiracy and I really love the novellas she’s released that are set in the same world (see: San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats and Apocalypse Scenario #683 among more). I’m also really enjoying her Indexing serial about fairy tales invading the modern world and her book about what superheros might really be like, Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots. Can you tell I’m a fan? I’m a fan.
Someday, Someday, Maybe
This was written by Lauren Graham, yes Loreli Gilmore, and it has the sparkling, funny, bumbling character that you would hope for. It’s about a struggling actress living in New York in the 90s when a show called Friends was just starting to air. Utterly enjoyed it.
The Cuckoo’s Calling
By Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling. I liked the first part so much I saved it for travel reading.
By Andrew Mayne. A YA novel about a secret society of battling teens between two high schools. Does love get in the way? Yes, of course. I also really liked Mayne’s two The Chronological Man novels (it’s steampunk Dr. Who, The Monster in the Mist and The Martian Emperor) and his spin on zombies called Public Enemy Zero. (His books are also nicely inexpensive.)
Daring Adventures of Lucy Smokeheart
By Andrea Phillips. This is a year-long monthly serial and each new addition contains a puzzle, the answer to which unlocks a page on the Lucy Smokeheart site. At the end of series there will be a real treasure hunt (!!!). I saved these for some serious puzzle solving time on trains while on our trip. Each part is available to download and she’s also collected parts 1-3 and parts 4-6. Here are links to each she’s published so far (and she’s not done yet!): Book of Secrets, The Mermaid’s Crown, Port St. Never, Lizards of Skull Island, Ice Storm, The Governor’s Ball. These are all short and very fun.
By Hugh Howey. This is a series of books about an apocalyptic society living inside a bunker for generations and the first set, Wool, kept me really engaged but I don’t find myself quite wanting to revisit the story in the follow up books called Shift and Dust. Still, I didn’t know how the original story ended and it was one of those times when I was glad to be free of spoilers, it was fun. Has anybody read Shift and Dust? Should I keep going?
By Peter Stenson. I feel like I’ve read my way through all the zombie novels and am quick to abandon any that don’t keep me. This one I read and enjoyed. It mixes drug addiction and zombies and, well, the end isn’t the happy sort.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
By Maria Semple. I don’t know if I’d have liked this book as much if it wasn’t set in Seattle and I didn’t recognize some of the character types. That said, it started in Seattle and ended up very far away and I liked the journey.
And Another Thing
By Eoin Colfer. I was a huge fan of Douglas Adams (I listened to the original Hitchhiker’s radio series on road trips over and over again) and I’m also a fan of Eoin Colfer but for some reason I cannot bring myself to read past the first few pages of this book that is an extension of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I feel like I am cheating on my celebrity crush with an imposter, even though I know that Adams’ widow chose Colfer to write this. Give me encouragement? Did you read it and love it? What am I so afraid of?
Your turn – what are you reading? What have you really enjoyed lately? Tell me because I’ve completely run out and my eyes need more words to consume!
· comments  · 01-21-2014 · categories:books · shopping ·
Years ago I received a Scanpan 8-inch frying pan as part of some conference* schwag**. Sometime after that our regular small nonstick frying pan finally went to the cookware grave and we pulled out the Scanpan. We were pretty darn impressed with it’s nonstickablility and how easy it made it to cook an over-easy egg just right every time so we continued to use it. For four years. I’m just now taking note of how awesome it is. The pan is easy to use, it’s easy to clean, nothing ever sticks, it holds up to my clumsy handling and stacking beneath dirty dishes and, despite four years of near daily egg cooking, you have to look really close to see any scratches. Thumbs up.
I have to say though, when I went to find our pan over at Amazon I was a little aghast at the price ($120, on sale for $90). And then I thought a little bit about the psychology of how we value things, or fail to value them if they’ve been handed to us. And then I thought about all the nonstick pans we’ve owned that came before it, inexpensive numbers that scratched easily and flaked horrifyingly after only a few years. Each of those was $10 to $20 and, had we been more responsible, we’d have replaced after a year of use. (And then I thought about the Great Toxic Teflon Freakout of 2008ish and did a bunch of reading which made me conclude that I am not qualified to defend nonstick but I am confident that I’m not poisoning myself.) Added up the Scanpan has nearly already been worth the price tag and I anticipate it going strong for another four years. So if you know you’re going to use it well and you have the cash, Scanpan is worth it.
* It was a hefty bag of free items that has since become the stuff of legend. I am pretty sure it was the first International Food Bloggers Conference, but not absolutely certain. I do know that I paid to attend said conference so this wasn’t a case of a blogger getting free stuff just because.
** Let’s discuss swag vs. schwag. I have a personal preference to use the word schwag because one of my theater professors in college was known to have occasional emotional outbursts over off-topic irrational things while teaching class and one of those that I had the privilege of being present for was a rant over the use of the word swag. He said: swag is used to describe the way that one drapes a curtain, schwag is the free stuff you get at a conference. The end. And so, because I believe he can still see into my very thoughts, I use the word schwag.
· comments  · 01-15-2014 · categories:food · shopping ·
The very first time I wore these sandals Scott and I played hookey on a weekday, took a long bike ride, pushed our bicycles three blocks up an impressively steep hill to get barbecue and beer (worth it!) and biked all the way back home. Never once did I notice my sandals, they worked like I’d spent a summer breaking them in. I have fussy old lady feet and annoyingly tender skin so this lack of a breaking in period was amazing.
I bought these to work as a comfortable, functional sandal that doesn’t look too sporty. (At least not here in Seattle where we tend to look like we’re just coming back from a Class 2 hike and/or a shopping spree at REI.) I’ve been surprised at the number of times women stop to ask me where I got them.
The straps on top look decorative but offer distributed support so none of the areas rub or pinch. The sole of these shoes is all business with lightweight and very flexible rubber, you can bend your foot all the way to stand on tippy toe without the shoe giving any trouble. The straps around the ankle aren’t so high that they hit underneath my ankle and they are adjustable with velcro, this is a rare exception to my zero-Velcro tolerance.
There are a few versions of the Kayenta. I have the Kayenta Suede and the Kaytenta Studded. The suede version will probably stand up to getting wet but not soaked. It’s a nice black all over look and the logo is subtle, the sole is lined in suede. The studded version has dark gray rubber soles and the pattern in the straps is actually metallic gold, something that doesn’t come across in the pictures online. The Kayenta and Kaytenta Studded have fabric straps lined with leather. Both the Suede and Studded versions are equally comfortable to me, though I did buy one pair at size 7 and the other at size 7.5 so it’s worth trying a few sizes to be sure. As you can tell I’m really really happy with these and recommend them if you’re looking for an everyday summer sandal that you can walk (and bike) miles in.
· comments  · 06-6-2013 · categories:shopping ·
I’d had a crush on Scarfshop scarves for a while. They are on blogs a lot but it wasn’t until I got to see Ugly Green Chair‘s growing collection that I ordered my first one. Very shortly followed by two more. They are a crinkly cotton that manages to be soft and lofty and warm all at the same time. They are hand dyed in small batches and in addition to the 20 regular colors there is monthly special color. I have Fog, Eggplant and Teal in the Giant size which is long enough to wrap around my neck twice, or once if I want it to drape dramatically. I love them more than seems entirely reasonable.
· comments  · 05-22-2013 · categories:shopping ·
Lucy Knisley is a comic book artist who writes about her food, travel and her life. I’ve been a fan for a number of years so I was extra excited for her newest book, Relish to come out. (And I was excited to meet her when she came to Seattle on her book tour which is now, sadly, over.)
Relish is a memoir of how food has shaped her life as she was growing up and she tells funny and touching stories, ending each chapter with an illustrated recipe. I love this and now find myself wishing I could get illustrated versions of all recipes. I especially like the way she laid out the Huevos Rancheros, shown above. I made her Spaghetti Carbonara and it was the best I’ve ever tasted.
She’s got a bunch of other books as well as a collection of what anthologies she’s done work for. I really must check out her book French Milk, and I have been meaning to get myself her Cheeses Is Love poster for a while now. Relish, by the way, is the perfect thing to have to read on that electronics-less period of time during airplane take off and landing. I have to admit even when I could pull out my iPhone I kept reading the book. I’m looking forward to seeing what she is up to next.
· comments  · 05-6-2013 · categories:books ·
After out Reidel O wine tumblers finally all cracked I set out to find wine glasses that were perfect and landed on these Reidel Vivant Pinot Noir glasses sold at Target. We live near pinot growing country and find ourselves drinking that most often but I think this shape works just fine for all varietals, we don’t get too fussy around here. I looked at all the fancy brands at various kitchen stores but kept coming back to surreptitiously open a box of these in the aisle at Target to hold them.
These glasses have everything I like: a dramatic bowl, a nice thin lip, and they are easy to replace. They are a nice height too, the stem isn’t too long (I tend to knock over taller wine glasses) or so short you cannot get your fingers around it when you’re feeling like holding the glass properly. We bought ours in a set of 8 and all but one has held up to hand washing for well over a year now. And most pleasingly, they made a beautiful ringing noise when clinked. For how much these get used in our house the price is worth it, and they were even more affordable because we used a few Target gift cards for the purchase.
· comments  · 03-12-2013 · categories:shopping ·
Muji touchscreen knit striped gloves, tragically they are sold out. Via Girls of a Certain Age.
all buttoned up.: Printz. Three online photo printing services compared, with one clear winner.
Thermoworks Thermapen and Oven Thermometer – Cooking For Engineers. This links to a giveaway, and I wanted to note that this is their favorite.
GABIFRESH: Totally InStyle. Congrats on Gabifresh who announced her plus-sized fashion column in InStyle!
Baguette Bag | The Urban Grocer. It’s perfect! A zip up bag to keep your fresh baguette warm on the way home from the bakery.
Links from the Food Universe, delicious:days. I’m looking right at her recommendation for the GIR Spatula here. I love spatulas that don’t need to be taken apart to be cleaned, and this one comes in so many great colors.
Not too serious, not too silly board games | Ask MetaFilter. I like the cooperative games like Pandemic, it’s the players against the game itself.
· comments  · 01-25-2013 · categories:links · shopping ·
We bought a microwave! I’ve often said that we didn’t have room in our tiny kitchen but this one is a microwave that fits into a corner (queue triumphant music). The back is rounded (shown below) and since it’s as tall as it is wide it doesn’t take up too much countertop space. It’s cute right? It looks like those big tvs some of us grew up watching. When we were surveying the kitchen trying to figure out where we could put a microwave we decided the corner was really the only option and I was shocked to find out that somebody actually makes one.
This little number goes by the sexy name of the Whirlpool WMC20005YW which is white. There are also black and brushed silver options.
Showing the rounded back of the microwave, cute huh?
The back of the inside of the microwave is also rounded, there is a turntable inside. The microwave is tiny but it does fit an 11-inch dinner place. In the picture above I showed some plates from Ikea (the Ikea 365 brand) that feel like really large plates but fit just fine inside. It’s got buttons for Defrost, Reheat and Popcorn and you can choose your power level.
Note: This is what I originally said, see the next paragraph for why the microwave is awesome and I’m dumb. It’s not all perfect though. The inside of the microwave is only six inches high from the surface of the turntable to the top of the inside and it looks like it might be a bit cramped. That said, the orange mixing bowls shown above are pretty tall and fit inside with plenty of clearance. When I am taking a soup bowl out of the microwave it does take a little more care since I have to grab it from both sides to ease it out. The microwave lacks a keypad so you cannot just type in “2-0-0″ to zap something for two minutes, you have to hold down the time button. It doesn’t take long for it to count up to the 2:00 mark (it counts by five second increments for the first minute, 15 second increments for the second minute and then thirty seconds after that) but it’s not quite as convenient as being able to hit a few buttons. There is an “add 30 seconds” option for when things area already heating and I’ve already started taking the lazy girls option of hitting the heating button just once, hitting start and then pressing the “add 30″ button a few times once it’s already going. These are all compromises I was happy to make for something that doesn’t take up all my countertop space.
Update: Martha mentioned in the comments that you can put food inside, close the door and hit the start button to get 30 seconds going, then you can just hit the start button again for 30 second increments. Which is perfect! Huge thanks to Martha for pointing out the lazy shortcut I was apparently too lazy to find on my own. I will note that this is in the manual, I just didn’t actually read it.
It’s the first time in years and years that we’ve had a microwave. We decided to get one because we’ve pretty much cut bread out of our diets and the toaster wasn’t getting much use. Up until now we’ve reheated leftovers by steaming them on the stovetop, a process which works out nicely but does take a wee bit more time than a microwave. Aaaand since our schedules mean we don’t end up home together for dinner most nights having the option to zap leftovers was sounding better and better. Since we got it I’ve been making excuses to heat things up and I stand there watching them turn around and around like I’m six years old again.
· comments  · 01-23-2013 · categories:shopping ·
Which post-Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories are worth reading? | Ask MetaFilter.
The First Canon Lenses You Should Buy | The Wirecutter.
ThinkGeek :: Static Electricity Eliminator. A small battery-less gadget that attaches to your keychain and helps you dispel (or know when to) static electricity. I need this because during dry conditions I grow fearful of the pain that I associate with touching my car door. Via Ask Metafilter in a question regarding dry winter air and getting continuously shocked by pushing a cart at Costco.
outgrow.me, a marketplace for the successfully funded and produced Kickstarter campaigns. Via Swiss Miss.
MAKR. A shop full of simple leather, canvas and metal goods. I like all the bags and wallets but what I’m really drooling over is those hooks! Via Freshly Picked.
· comments  · 01-8-2013 · categories:links · shopping ·
My friends Freshly Picked and The Alison Show got together as The Craft Pack and made a book full of delightful and easy (really, seriously) DIY holiday gifts. The book is called A Hip Handmade Holiday: Gifts For Everyone On You List For $10 Or Less and I super duper love it. It’s a PDF download and includes nine how-to videos, pro tips and lots and lots of printables.
Susan and Alison gave a presentation at Camp Mighty last month and Alison said (to applause) that if your idea of crafting is printing something onto sticker paper and slapping it on a jar, then this book is for you. There are also project with great instructions that teach you a technique and give some room to improvise if you’d like.
There are projects for women, men, pets, the house, things to treasure for years and those gifts for last minute print-and-glue moments. Susan and Alison have curated their offerings incredibly well so the book offers just a few projects for each category but every single one is gorgeous, clever and well explained. If you want to follow each project by the numbers they’re great, but there is also room to use the technique as a starting point. There are pro tips and how-to videos scattered throughout the book. The printables include every holiday card you could wish for, all the stencils you need and stickers to cover treats served in jars, paint cans and bottles.
I’m highly impressed with the balance they’ve struck here and if this is the type of quality that can come through non-traditional forms of publishing I clearly need to be paying closer attention. Susan and Alison have labeled this book “No. 1″ and I hope there are many more to come.
I’m a little obsessed with the Ho Ho Ho pillows.
Just so you know: If you buy the book through the link here I get a percentage. That percentage goes right back into hosting costs for this here website which are doubling due to higher traffic. This isn’t something I’m complaining about. Just, you know, noting. So thanks.
As a way of saying hello The Craft Pack is offering a $50 Michael’s gift card to Not Martha readers. Yay, thank you The Craft Pack!
If you’d like to enter just leave a message with this post, and if you want answer this question: Have you ever sent a DIY gift to a family member? What was the most successful or the least? (My answer: a trio of candied nuts were beloved, but the hand knit scarves mostly got a polite thank you.) You’ve got until next Tuesday, Dec. 18th at 12 noon Pacific (my) time to enter, at that point I’ll close comments. The fine print applies. Good luck! Closed, thanks to everybody for entering!
· comments  · 12-13-2012 · categories:books · christmas ·
Earlier this year I accidentally donated our pepper grinder to Goodwill. Don’t worry, it was clean. We’d been decluttering the kitchen and my just washed and reassembled clear lucite pepper grinder went into the donate box. I replaced it with this OXO Good Grips Pepper Grinder which isn’t as pretty but I love it. The part you grab to turn is rubberized so it’s easy to grind. But most importantly for me, the actual grinding bits are at the top. You have to flip it over to grind over food but this means that when I retrieve it from it’s little kitchen shelf any loose pepper doesn’t fall out. Which is great because in my awkward and tiny kitchen I store the pepper grinder on a spot over my head. It’s easy to set the grind, and the other end unscrews so there is a nice wide opening for refilling. Two kitchen gadget thumbs up.
· comments  · 12-4-2012 · categories:food · shopping ·