The chill is settling back in, albeit slowly, the trees have mostly shaken off their leaves for their poetic yearly run as the living dead, and thousands of little lightbulbs are starting to light up around town. It could only mean one thing; Christmas is near. Like a candy cane stripped boulder blocking out the sun, its hard to ignore. I had written a long few paragraphs about the way I have seen this holiday evolve through my life but it ended up feeling a bit too dark so I’m going to keep my musing short and to the point.
Don’t feel burdened by this time of year, life is way to short for that. If all you are going to buy for some distant relative is a random Sharper Image disposable novelty then maybe just consider a card instead. Expectations and obligation should not enter into the equation. Maybe listen to the words of the endless holiday songs you will inevitably hear and remember that this time of year can be truly joyful if we focus on the love and happiness of family and those close to us rather than the pressure to buy anything and everything that’s cheap or on sale because you think you have to. Balance.
Rhetoric out of the way, I have made a few gift idea posts in the past and people have always seemed to enjoy them so let me take a moment and point you back to my previous entries here, here, and here, because as far as I know many of the things on those lists still exist and they are still great ideas in my book.
I took some time to add to that growing collection again this year. Not an extensive list and some items may seem old hat, but there are a number of things I have considered writing whole posts about here so this has been a good excuse to share some cool stuff I use every day and think others could find handy as well. Anyways, I do hope everyone is entering the season in good spirits, have fun out there! Follow the link to see the list.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator
Lets start with these fun little stripped down synthesizers. While they do take a little time to learn how to sequence your own music with such a simplified interface, they are a lot of fun to toy around with and perfectly capable of making some great jams. They seem to be pushing these all over the place right now so, not really hard to find, even locally if you ask around. My only real criticism is that there is no lock functionality so if you have one tossed into your bag with other things they tend to turn on easily when the buttons get pressed.
For anyone wanting something really special for that musically inclined friend I would highly suggest one of the flagship OP-1 Synthesizers that they also make. It has one of the most unique and enjoyable interfaces ever created for making and recording creative music, worth every penny. Don’t let its toy like appearance fool you, these things will easily go down in music making history.
I came across this charming little set while getting a link for something else on the list but I love modest gifts and objects such as this. Subtle ways to add a little story or charm to a forgotten corner of your desk or a humble distraction to a stressed out mind.
For a while I really enjoyed looking for great pocket knives. Little did I know just how trendy it had gotten to carry one around from day to day. While my personal favorite is still the Spyderco Dragonfly(w/green G10 handle), the past year or more I have been carrying around one of these handy little knives from ESSE, a company known for their “survival” camping knives. While this is indeed a fixed blade, it is quite small so I don’t mind having it on my belt with a sheath at all. I like it because I don’t have to worry about it when I use it, the steel is rock solid and reliable. It has handled anything I have thrown at it without fault and I find I am particularly hard on tools. I bought the optional handle as well which does add a more comfortable grip but its completely optional. Speaking of knives, if you give the gift of a blade, don’t forget to also include a nice sharpener, a sharp knife is a safe and happy knife. I suggest a nice stone or diamond sharpener, I don’t really trust the V style ones you drag the knife through.
Have a camp lover in your life? Then I highly suggest a Japanese style hatchet. I bought a modest one imported by Best Made Co. a few years ago and I love it. The longer blade makes prepping firewood from found sticks or logs a breeze by batoning through them. While I don’t think they still sell the one I bought from them long ago they have a great new line of them available of which I suggest the Sayanta (pictured above) or its smaller sibling the Mascot. They come with a handy canvas roll to keep you and the hatchet safe between sites.
Continuing on the useful gear kick I have going here, I have suggested Four Sevens lights in the past and I can’t help but mention them again this time around. I have had an old Quark Tactile flashlight for years now. It has survived way more than I figured it would and it still provides me with a trustworthy source of light for work and life in general. Pictured here is their newest version of a pen light, the Preon P2 which I love because of its easily stowed form factor and the fact that AAA batteries are easy to come by. I can just as easily suggest any of their products though, they offer a number of options for different needs and personalities so have a look around, you can’t of wrong.
My notebook collecting has slowed considerably this past year, mostly because I started to realize I was buying them a lot faster than I could burn through them and it was getting frivolous. For work I have started to always carry along a spiral bound Maruman notebook for day to day work notes. A good notebook will surely always be faster than fiddling with a cell phone or laptop. These use a truly stunning paper stock that is a real joy to work on and the spiral binding is really wonderful to work with because it folds around backwards or simply lays flat. No gimmicks here, just a great, trustworthy notebook. Perfectly pared with my current pen of choice, the Pilot Maica Gel Pen.
Antennae Life Compass Journal
But lets say you want something more personal and classic. Since my last visit to Seoul I discovered what quickly became my favorite journal, and I have used a million or so over the years. Being a Korean company, trends shift with the passing seasons so this exact model may or may not stick around for a long time but I sure hope they do. They are a modest size, roughly the same as a moleskin but with 150 or so pages. The cover is a soft but robust feeling faux leather that is a joy to hold and carry and there is a nice page marker ribbon to help keep track of your progress. Better yet is a lovely system for bookmarking stories and pages via a few DIY table of contents pages in the beginning of the book. The paper is smooth and thin and works well with most any pen I threw at it with only modest bleeding for those of you back and front writers out there. Unfortunately, as with many Korean products, they aren’t easy to come by in the US. I discovered that the company that designed and manufactured them does have a web shop with them for sale at a modest price but you may want to order quick for Christmas delivery. The link above also has a number of photos and explanation of the book in detail. An alternative is to use this web shop that specializes in imported goods but you will pay a bit more for them. (Still worth it in my opinion).
Trusco Storage Box
Back to gifts of utility. Nothing more basic than a hard shell metal storage box. A commonplace sort of item but a rare breed in the American market these days, I bought one of these Japanese made boxes in Korea and quickly put it to use as a place to store cables, USB sticks, and other little things that commonly get lost in pockets of my bag. interestingly, storing these sorts of things in a box leaves cables getting less tangled than having them in a pouch where cables bunch up and tangle together. While it may not appeal to the more OCD of us out there I really love these metal boxes and highly recommend them for every day use. They will likely last a lifetime. After a little digging I discovered an importer is selling them on Amazon for less than most of the boutique companies I see them for sale for elsewhere.
Now for something fun. This is another music instrument but one just about anyone could enjoy. Not only is it a great thumb piano (Kalimba) but it also has a handy mic and recorder built into the inside of the box with a knob to adjust the speed of a recordings playback. You can make loops of your playing and have fun speeding them up and down. This company has a number of great, hands on boxes for playing with sound in a simple way.
Porlex Coffee Grinder
What about coffee lovers? Well, everyone knows all about the million or so different ways you can filter hot water through coffee by now but what about getting a nice pile of fresh grinds to use with those makers? One of YoungDoos friends gifted this grinder to us when she visited last year and I will be forever in her debt because I adore this grinder. Not just because it can pack up easily for a road trip but its really handy for use around the house as well. Adjusting the size of the grind is a breeze and the beans stay nice and self contained because of the nature of its design. Easy, obvious choice for anyone you know in the need.
This list is looking a bit too utilitarian so lets toss in something cozy for good measure. Fluffmonger is a shop that sells beautifully unique plush animals and other creations using hand dyed, organic fabrics. The designs are charming, unique and made to last. The shop is owned and operated by one artist, Jenny Maj who both designs and creates each toy herself. She is based in NC close to us so I have had the pleasure of meeting her and seeing her products first hand and they truly are as special in person as they are in the product photos. My personal favorite is one of her latest designs, Grump Nugget the Holiday Cat! In my opinion, they are well worth the asking prices as these are sure to bring with them years of enjoyment. For more intimation on the products have a look at the about page on her official site here.
I remember when Altec Lansing introduced what I know of as the first portable iPod speaker system, a dock with two small speakers on either side. Boy has that market exploded since then. While I have had my eye on one of the Logitech Boom speakers for a while because of their undeniable king of the hill status in the market, my personal favorite bluetooth speaker would have to be the understated little mini jambox. They have a far nicer fit and finish than any of the other speakers Jawbone made up to this one and they are truly portable. While you can’t expect them to rock a party, they certainly offer a great personal listening experience, absolutely perfect for travel because of how small they are and how the battery just keeps on kicking. Perfect for a picnic, hotel room, or day on a kayak, I have really loved having one around. I also recommend these because considering the quality of the product, you can easily find them for well under $ 100 with minimal digging around.
Pre-Loaded iPod Shuffle
Surely I’m not the only one who lets music guide them through life? This idea may sound simple but it can be so much fun. Apple’s iPod Shuffle is modest and fairly cheap and makes a perfect conduit for a thoughtful customized personal radio station for a loved one. Like a random mix of your favorite music both new and old. Its simple to setup with voiceover activated as a reference for what track is playing and even setup a few playlists to suit the mood of any given use. This idea may be lost on some receivers but I know there are people out there who would love the gift of music in a personalized and surprising way.
More fun with music, how about a Melodica? These are charming and simple instruments that anyone musically inclined (or not) could enjoy.
I bought one of their mugs a while back for YoungDoo and we really love it. The company offers some of the most simplistic, thoughtful designs for plates, mugs, and serving dishes that I have ever seen. As comforting as they are smart as most of the product lines are designed to nestle into each other for ease of use and storage. The minimal aesthetic fits right in anywhere and everywhere. Highly recommended. A couple places that carry some of their products for sale in the US here, here, or via a little digging around on Google.
Those with somewhat deep pockets or a penchant for things that could last for years and years, if not a lifetime, would do well to browse the beautiful pages of Kaufman Mercantile. I would suggest a few things but really it’s too much fun to dig around for yourself. Actually, on second thought, just LOOK at this beautifully cozy blanket. How could you not want to have one of these around for the colder seasons.
Maple Landmark Building Blocks
When it comes to toys for children, I look around and wonder whats going on in a world where poking and staring blankly at a screen is a passable form of distraction and entertainment. What about the classics, like this beautifully simple set of wooden blocks hand made and designed to work together to encourage building and exploration available in a few different collections. I remember loving blocks. Imagination times infinity.
Furoshiki cloth by The Link Collective. These are gorgeous Japanese made fabric squares are designed to be used in many ways, toss it around your neck as a scarf, tie down corners and turn it into a bag, or fold things inside by knotting the corners into an old school sack. No matter how they are end up used there is no denying how beautiful the fabric and designs are.
Twemco AL-30 Alarm Flip Clock
Wow, just look at this flip clock. Just look at it. We all need a little flipping time on our desk or bedside do we not? Check out their whole line, so many beautiful utilitarian clocks. Not the easiest things to find for sale as far as my small amount of digging could find but I did find one spot in Portland linked to above that had a reasonable price for this model. Tick Tock.
Or, I don’t know, how about a book? I don’t have as much time as I used to to read but I could easily recommend any book by Haruki Murakami for a fiction lover in your life. Hard to pin down a favorite, Im partial to his toned down stories such as Sputnik Sweetheart but can whole heartedly recommend one of his books that digs deeper into metaphysical territory such as A Wild Sheep Chase and its quasi sequel, Dance Dance Dance. Maybe something a little more colorful like the simple on the surface yet menacing and hilarious book of comics, Poorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories or the wonderful graphic novel Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scot Pilgrim fame.
I think that just about does it for this year, plenty of other guides out there for more clever ideas and its time I move on to other posts right? Thanks for stopping by!