Sunday, November 27, 2011

manly gift triumph

Portland General Store

There are certain people that drive me crazy when it comes to gift giving. Like Mr. H. Are dudes just generally more difficult to buy for than women? I certainly think so. Throw blankets, pottery, intriguingly scented soy candles, Etsy jewellery...entire categories are not even on the list of possibilities. Mr H. is a Major Clotheshorse. He is Felix Unger fussy when it comes to labels, fit and provenance. He has a tailor named Luigi to whom he brings a bottle of Grappa at Christmas. Mr. H has never willingly wielded a tool. Or a chef's knife. Or a camera. The lady categories are out. The usual manly gift categories are out. He doesn't really want anything. So it is up to me at every gift giving occasion to Surprise Him. It drives me crazy. Every year.

I am feeling, understandably, a little chuffed to have sorted out his gift before December 24th. No flop sweat. Here's what I came up with: a gorgeous loden green alpaca tie from Alicia Adams:

Alicia Adams Ties

And a sampler of bespoke colognes made with recipes from the 1920s. I chose Professor, for this irresistible description: "– Reminding of tweed jackets, leather, and cherry pipe tobacco. Starts off rich and dark, and eventually melds with your skin and wears like vintage wool. A perfect fall scent." I know I can't wait to smell it.

Vintage Cigar Box of Goodies by Portland General Store.

I am bookmarking this site, Schoolhouse Electric, for future gifts. Love this desk lamp:

Friday, November 25, 2011

White Christmas

I don't have a mantle, but if I did I'd like it to look like this. If you have a minute to take an inspiration break, Dottie Angel's well organized photo stream is worth a peek.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the cure for fall is winter

Despite the calendar and the best efforts of the retail-industrial complex I have not felt the slightest interest in things Christmas - until today. There is nothing like a good old Canadian north wind gusting 50 kilometres an hour to shake the last of the leaves from the trees and give me a reason to wear my new fur-trimmed mittens (rabbit fur. is that awful?). Thanks to the wind making the now-naked branches of the trees shiver and my cozy if impolitic handwarmers, it is on. A little Liberace Christmas music on the iPod, a cup of London Fog at my side and I am (mostly) ready to say toodle-loo to autumn.

And so I spent the afternoon working on this festive red graphic for the shop's main page and putting together a holiday-themed newsletter, which will go out tonight. Do you subscribe to the newsletter? If not, you are missing out on a tricky 15% off code. Tricky because in the newsletter it says it's only on personalized stationery, but in fact it is on everything in the shop. The database I use is kind of a blunt instrument when it comes to promotional codes and it's either discount each product individually (in which case my hands would need supportive braces and not fur-trimmed mittens) or discount the whole shebang. I'm going for the whole shebang. So if everything sells out and my shelves are empty by November 22nd you will find me in the Cayman Islands. Because one day of winter is about all I can stand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

my chemical romance

I got my driver's license in 1987, behind the wheel of my mother's flesh-toned Pontiac Phoenix. Lame ride aside, I was so enthralled with my new-found freedom that I volunteered to do any and every household errand no matter how short the distance or tedious the task. When my mother finally let me drive to the grocery store unaccompanied I was ecstatic.

I struck off for the local Food City and, as per driving school code, I began to apply the brakes three telephone poles ahead of any stop sign or signal light. As you might imagine, the flow of traffic began to slowly coagulate behind me and within minutes I was at the head of a kilometre-long traffic jam on Keele Street. I have never before or since been so glad to pull into a parking lot. But this inaugural drive was memorable for another reason: it was on this day that I discovered the cleaning products aisle. Up until this point my experience with cleaning products was limited to Pine Sol for floors, Windex for glass, Endust for polishing and Ajax for everything else. My mother was a price conscious creature of habit when it came to shopping and she stuck with what she knew. The medley of those four smells utterly defines my early childhood memories of home. I don't know why the cleaning aisle was so enticing that day. But the array of products was revelatory. I ignored most of the grocery list and filled the cart with the stuff we really needed: Brasso to polish the living room lamps, 409 spray for the bathroom (no more Ajax grit underfoot!), Drano to finally deal with that slow drain, and an expensive bottle of orange oil for the wood. Having spent a good portion of the weekly budget on non-food items, my mother was peeved. But I was hooked.

Am I alone in my fascination? I am all ears when a cleaning product commercial airs. I am that person at the CNE peppering the microfibre mop demonstrator with questions. I own a Steam Shark. I have colour-coded toothbrushes for the bathroom (grout) and kitchen (behind the oven knobs). When we make a trip to Target all I ask is for 15 minutes of alone time so that I might browse the cleaning aisle in peace. At home I clean with wild abandon. I spray and spritz and fill the air with chlorine-scented vapour. I have Talked Dirty With The Clean Of Queen. I watch You Tube videos on how to clean baseboards. I polish and wipe, disinfect and deodorize even as my lungs ache and eyes water. Sure I've tried "green" cleaning products. I do like some Method products (they make a good toilet bowl cleaner and the almond-scented wood polish is dreamy) but I've never met an eco counter-top spray or bathroom cleaner that was up to the task.

Is this all sounding impossibly housewife-y and perhaps just a little obsessive? I feel like it might be. Last week I stood in the laundry aisle comparison smelling Downy Sage and Jasmine Thrill and my standby, Fleecy, and I felt...bad. My nose hurt. Nothing smelled fresh or lovely, just obnoxiously synthetic. But unscented laundry detergent? Ugh. What's the point? Just the same, I found myself at the library checking out books on natural house cleaning. It's time I end this chemical romance.

I spent some time on the weekend testing different home-made cleaning products. As improbable as it sounds, I scrubbed the tub with half a lemon dipped in borax. Fishing lemon seeds out of the drain, I wondered if it was worth it. But it smelled wonderful and, more importantly, it did a pretty good job even if it felt strangely wasteful using a lemon for a non-food purpose. What happens when the price of citrus doubles over winter?

The basics of vinegar, baking soda and borax now mastered, I am hankering for more advanced cleaning recipes. Preferably something that incorporates essential oils. I miss aromatic cleaning. But not the sinus-clearing chemical kind. I can't say that I won't occasionally blast the grout with Scrubbing Bubbles, but for now I'm on the straight and narrow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holiday Card Display Ideas

Our little bungalow does not have a mantel so I've never had a logical place to display Christmas or birthday cards. I usually string them along a temporary "clothesline" that spans the dining room window. It works especially well for flat photo cards that don't readily stand on their own. But this year I feel like trying something new. I came across some crackerjack non-mantel ideas:

Glass cannister from Better Homes & Gardens. I like this idea a lot. So tidy and compact.

A variation on the clothesline - check out the decorated clothespins - with gorgeous fresh garland.

Miniature clothes pins glued to an embroidery hoop by Martha. Folksy.

This dowel and ribbon idea from Country Living sounds a bit dubious to me: will a glue gun really hold the dowels in place? Will bulldog clips work? Will the whole thing be relentlessly wonky and tilted? I don't know the answers, but I like the way this looks. And I'm all for decorating the back of the front door.

At first blush, a silly notion that barely qualifies as an idea. But dropping cards into a basket (or on a lovely tray?) as they're received is appealingly simple. My kids enjoy looking at our cards and this way they're in easy reach for everyone to leaf through. Maybe this one?

So pretty! A found branch, a simple vessel. I love that candy cane card too. This won't hold a volume of cards, but a few prized cards would be lovely. Detailed instructions, if you need, over here.