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Off the registry: My fave presents for foodies

3 Jul

I had a baby, so I went away for a while.  But I’m back … and so is wedding season!

Stephanie and monroe cancun wedding 5408 290

As invitations take over our fridge, I cannot bear to order another boring appliance off the registry. So I started to compile my favorite non-traditional gift ideas–and realized they are all related to food. I guess I like to eat!

Here are my non-traditional gift ideas for foodies (who probably own plenty of  kitchen stuff):

MOUTH: Treat them to high-quality artisan foods, from charcuterie to chocolate, coffee to cookies, jerky to jams. Overwhelmed by the choices? Go for a themed gift bundle (Meat Market, Brunch in a Bag, etc.); one’s even called The Happy Couple. Or get the bride and groom a recurring gift subscription so they can be reminded of your good taste month after month.

GOLDBELY: This still-in-beta site sells regional gourmet specialties from around the country—treats for which the region is known, like Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza from Chicago, Salt Lick BBQ from Texas, Pioneer Pecan Pies from Oklahoma City and 7-layer caramel cake from Caroline’s in South Carolina. Kind of kitschy, kind of cool.

WINE CLUBS. Your best bet is to pick a local winery you know and love, or else a small retailer near you (over a national club like Zagat or NYT). If you’re buying for beer snobs, try the craft brews of a monthly beer club. Spirit-of-the-month clubs are fun for mixologist couples.

I am also a big fan of experiential gifts:

CULINARY CLASSES. It’s convenient if the couple lives near an ICE or Le Cordon Bleu but you can also check out national chains like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma. Local restaurants may also offer cuisine-themed classes on slower nights.

DINNER AT A BRAND-NEW RESTAURANT. Research the latest hotspot and treat them to a night out. They’ll need it when newlywed life becomes… just life.

There’s a personal trainer in my living room!

19 Sep

Wello offers at-home, cost- and time-efficient workouts with a personal trainer.

Yesterday I learned about a new start-up that is so fantastic and innovative, I kind of want to invest in it. And not just because it was started by two female grads who met at business school at Stanford. Wello allows you to work out at home with a real, live personal trainer using two-way video. All you need is a laptop with a camera; 30-minute, tailored sessions start at $19. Here is why Wello is such a brilliant idea:

1. It’s a time-saver: No more wasted minutes schlepping to/from the gym, showering there, etc. Just throw on your workout clothes and unroll your mat in your living room.

2. It’s economical. Personal training sessions at the gym can cost anywhere from $50-$100 for an hour; Wello’s start at $19 for 30 minutes, depending on the trainer’s “tier” (cheaper if you buy a package).

3. You have choices! Male or female trainer. Encouraging, hardcore, fun, fast or motivational workout style. Goals can include get lean, get ripped, get flexible, get healthy and more.

4. You can still use the buddy system as motivation. Ask a friend to come over and join your workout; the cost doesn’t go up, but the two of you can split it. (This would also make a great girls-night-in activity—before breaking out the wine and chocolate.)

5. People who are overweight or self-conscious about going to the gym can do something positive and rewarding for themselves in their own comfort zones.

6. Timing is super flexible and convenient; hundreds of specially trained coaches are available whenever YOU have time to work out—even if that’s 3 a.m.

7. And the No. 1 reason Wello will be a huge success?? Last-minute scheduling. You can decide 10 minutes prior that you want to fit in a session. Yes, you can FINALLY take advantage of those (rare?) moments when you feel energetic and motivated—before the couch sucks you in. Put another way: If your plans for a run were thwarted by rain, you no longer have an excuse to be lazy. Sorry!

(Photo illustration by Wello.)

Art in a Box

11 Sep

This piece by David Fullarton is just one example of art that could arrive at your door.

Perhaps you have the taste, time and money to decorate your apartment with style and panache. Sadly, I do not. That’s why I’m intrigued by Art in a Box, a subscription-based art delivery service. For $50 a month you can receive random works by artists from the San Francisco Bay area. The website explains it like a CSA or wine club—but instead of getting veggies or vino, you get art.

While you can’t choose exactly what you want, you can indicate preferred mediums: painting, printmaking, photography, mixed media, watercolor, drawing, collage, ceramic or  sculpture. (Everything arrives in a  11″ x 17″ x 3″ box.) You can also describe your taste in three adjectives, which the company uses as a general guide to make your selections. Check out the gallery of artworks shipped in August.

Picasso this stuff is not, but it’s still a way to support local artists and make your friends jealous. And I LOVE that you never know what you’ll get. How many true surprises are left in life?

Success for the little guy

4 Sep

I like it when everyday people get to do things once reserved for the super well-connected/resourced/wealthy. Quirky is an open-source invention site that allows regular folks with great ideas to produce and sell their products. Each week, two brand-new innovations are brought to the market—which means you and I can buy some brilliant invention made by a college student that would have never seen the light of day.

Here’s how it works: Anyone with an idea can submit it for $10. Quirky users vote on their faves, then paid Quirky staffers further develop the concept, design and manufacturing process. In four to six months, the products appear on shelves at retailers like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond—and the inventors get up to 35% of the profits.

Check out some of the awesome things made by regular people. Some of my faves are a lemon spritzer, a collapsible, space-saving laundry basket and the ever-popular Pivot Power (actually utilize every outlet in a power strip)!

Have an idea of your own or just want to get involved? Participate.

Because you want your mum and dad to be happy

17 Aug

My Lovely Parent is a still-in-beta website where adult kids can help their single moms and dads meet new people. For dates. Or friendship. Or frolicking. (Ew—that’s my mom you’re talking about!)

While I know of sites where friends can vouch for their pals (and even write their profiles), this is the first I’ve heard of sons and daughters playing an active role in romantic connections. It’s terribly sweet, but also brilliant—especially when you consider that people in their 50s and 60s are probably not used to creating online profiles, boasting about their hobbies or, you know, assuring strangers that they are as comfortable dressing up for a night out as they are hanging out on the couch (zzzz).

Grown-up kids can sign up, browse the profiles of older singles and send recommendations to their parents. Then either “ask to be more involved” (maybe help mom/dad write a profile or compose an initial email?), or just sit back and watch sparks fly.

This is a UK company, so unless you’re a Brit, your folks probably have a few more months (of peace and quiet) before you get in there and start making things happen. But remember: You can’t play matchmaker and then throw a tantrum when a new “friend” comes to Thanksgiving.

Whether you need a car or have one to spare…

14 Aug

Car rental in NYC is obscenely expensive. Even short-term services like ZipCar or Hertz on Demand can cost $175 for 8 hours (totally negating your outlet-mall savings). But RelayRides lets you rent from regular people who happen to not be using their cars. It’s free to sign up—just submit your driver’s license to be fully screened—and then specify when you need a car. Once the owner approves you, pick up your ride and run your errands (aka make an appearance at your cousin’s baby shower in Poughkeepsie).

In NYC, cars average about $15/hour (some for as little as $10/hour, with larger SUVs and luxury cars going for $20+/hour). In Boston I see listings for as little as $8/hour. This is a national service in about 20 major cities.

RelayRides isn’t meant for super-far destinations or overnight trips. Some owners limit mileage (max of 200/day seems standard). But insurance is included in the cost; you just replace gas.

So, everybody wins: Owners make extra cash, the environment is happy and you get a great pair of shoes on sale.

Peer-to-peer sharing makes me love humanity—I wheelie mean it!

No more mommy guilt! Turn your kid’s artwork into a photo book.

28 Jun

You love your kid. You love his paintings/drawings/collages, but they take up space. Of course, you can’t bear to toss them.

Make your life easier by letting Plum Print turn your kid’s art into a coffee table book. Like this.

All you have to do is mail your little Picasso’s pieces to Plum Print. You’ll get a proof back to approve; the book comes six weeks later (along with the returned art—but you’re throwing that out, right?). Prices start at $85 for a 20-page book; cost varies according to dimensions, page count and hard/soft cover.

Cut clutter AND create something memorable. Your husband will thank you now and your kid will thank you later.

I didn’t draw this as a kid but if I did, my mom might have put it in a Plum Print book.