Friday, November 28, 2014

Small Business Is the New Black Friday

When I was 19, I worked a cushy gig as a cashier at a video store specializing in movies of the romantic, naked variety. I rented out flicks called Maliboobies and ate free bags of buttered popcorn all day (yes, we gave out free bags of buttered popcorn and, yes, Maliboobies is a real movie). Sadly, that shop went out of business and/or was run out of the suburbs by some nice ladies in long skirts.

It was 1995 and I was young, broke, and in need of a new baby-doll dress. Out of desperation, I swapped my crop top for a ribbed a turtleneck and headed to the mall, landing a job at The Gap just as our national obsession with khakis reached a fever pitch. Heady times.

Little did I know that I would spend 5 years in that store. And 5 years of working in a mall will do things to a woman, dark and irrevocable things. The lack of natural light. The steady diet of Sbarro pizza. The constant temptation of a new denim vest. But most damaging of all: Christmas. Each year, Christmas at the mall began the day after Halloween and was heralded in by the same 30-minute-long loop of holiday music. To this day, I have a Clockwork Orange-level response to "Jingle Bell Rock."

The only thing worse than the Christmas songs was EVERYTHING ELSE at the mall at Christmas: the shoppers, the parking, the desperation, the sequins and faux fur. I guess nothing says "a child is born" like a bedazzled animal pelt.

It's been almost 15 years since I last worked at the mall. Since then, I've done most of my holiday buying at local shops, farmers' markets, and small online retailers. In other words, I avoid the emotional devastation of the mall while supporting small businesses and reclaiming my holiday spirit. I'm pretty much Mother Theresa crossed with Martha Stewart crossed with a bald eagle crossed with dry winter skin.

Usually, I write essays about parenting or marriage or Tostitos. I don't feature ads on my site, and I don't do sponsored reviews (because earning money is overrated, or so I've heard). So today will be a departure. Today I'm writing a review of some of my favorite stuff, stuff you can buy for the holidays, stuff created by artists and craftspeople rather than by corporations. No one paid me. No one. Not even in a sly wink and a fistful of old Halloween candy, which would have been rad. I just like this stuff and think you should check it out. I have read, used, or eaten everything on this list. My hope is that this list helps you avoid the mall and support small businesses this holiday season. Your other option is to ignore this list and enjoy waiting in line for a pee-covered stall at JC Penney while supporting some CEO's yachting habit. Joy to the world! Okay, so here goes:

Sharp Shirter Tees ( $30 or less

Sharp Shirter specializes in tees for women and men. I bought my first (of many) Sharp Shirter tees at Baltimore's Artscape festival. It has since become a staple of my wardrobe, a comfy go-to top, and a guaranteed conversation starter. They call this beauty "The Haymaker":

Image courtesy of Sharp Shirter.

Why buy: So soft. 20% of the proceeds from certain shirts go toward charity (such as The African Wildlife Foundation). You need a shirt that features a lumberjack boxing a bear. You need a tee that depicts a sloth dirty dancing. Your wardrobe is really lacking a sense of humor.

Buy for: Teenagers, hipsters, geeks, dweebs, and suburban parents clinging to youth (<-- that's me!)

The Homemade Gin Kit ( $50 or less

Like any self-respecting parent of a toddler, my husband loves booze. But, being an engineer, he's not content to sit idly by while someone else pours him an icy cold pint of "let's just leave the macaroni on the wall until after we watch TV." No, my husband likes to make his hooch from scratch. Two Christmases ago, I bought him a Homemade Gin Kit. It was a huge hit. Each kit comes with bottles, strainers, funnels, juniper berries, and a botanical blend (you supply the cheap vodka).

Image courtesy of The Homemade Gin Kit.

Why buy: It's easy to use. It produces truly delicious gin in less than 2 days. The bottles, strainers, and funnels are reusable (you can buy tins of replacement berries and botanicals). Um, booze!

Buy for: Wannabe mixologists, foodies, and parents

Tasha McKelvey Clay Goods ( $20 and up

You know what makes everything better? Ceramics! I discovered Tasha McKelvey's beautiful, simple jewelry and crafts at a street fair in Richmond, VA, several years ago, and ever since, I've been addicted. I can't stop buying her charming little earrings. It's like I caught the hipster flu.

Image courtesy of Tasha McKelvey.

Why buy: Her ceramics are simple, lovely, and have an ageless appeal. She's also fond of adding little clay birds and hedgehogs to her pottery. Did you hear that? LITTLE HEDGEHOGS! (Somewhere, a hipster's heart explodes.)

Buy for: Mothers, daughters, aunts, nieces, and folks who dig mason jars and kale chips

Naughty & Nice Art ( $20 and up

One of the highlights of my trip to NYC was stumbling onto art vendor Naughty & Nice in Bryant Park. His prints are gloriously bizarre: childlike, macabre, and hilarious. Because they were only $20 apiece, we walked away with three prints that feature Washington, D.C. as a backdrop (hometown pride!). Check out the "Reflecting Pool of Shame" below and tell me that it isn't meant to be hung above a changing table? 

Image courtesy of Naughty & Nice.

Why buy: Because art doesn't have to be stuffy. Because your office doesn't have to look like a museum. Because your kid's room doesn't have to look like a shrine to Disney.

Buy for: Weirdos, children

JD Wood Design ( $50 and up

The man behind JD Wood Design is a wood magician: handmade jewelry boxes, craftsman-style picture frames, candle holders, wooden pens, wine stoppers, and furniture. When the apocalypse comes, I'm staying close to this guy, because he'll be the one that builds a four-bedroom colonial out of radioactive twigs and moss. I'm an especially big fan of his deceptively simple keepsake boxes (perfect for storing cards, pictures, or a private stash of candy). And, yes, he does take special orders, though he cautions that his schedule is contingent upon a day job and the whims of his children. Ugh, children.

Image courtesy of JD Wood Design.

Why buy: Sturdy and beautiful. So skillfully made that you'll feel bad that you can't even cook ramen noodles (or maybe that just me).

Buy for: Men and women alike, anyone who appreciates the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, beavers

Berger Cookies ( $23 and under

Most of you know that I hail from Baltimore, also known as Charm City. Wanna know why they call it "Charm City"? Berger Cookies. These are the cookies that eat like a meal. One part pound-cakey cookie and one part fudge, these rich, delicious treats are best enjoyed with a glass of cold milk and an otherwise empty stomach. Berger Cookies have been around since the 1800's, but until recently, they were hard to find outside of Maryland. Praise the Lord for the Internet! Now you can order whole tins online. You can also order original cookie packs or single-serving packs — but why?

Image courtesy of Berger Cookies.

Why buy: Fudge. Cookies.

Buy for: Yourself. Oh, and anyone else with a sweet tooth and a blatant disregard for fat content.

Bird & Bow ( $10 or less 

The days when I could dress my little guy up in yellow ducky pajamas are behind me. He's strictly a dump trucks and dinosaurs man now. So you'll understand why I sometimes live vicariously through the moms of girls. After seeing a few neighborhood gals decked out in the world's cutest headbands, I fell head over heels for Bird & Bow. The headbands are handmade by a fellow mama working out of her home. She's got a great eye for what is both fun and functional. An ice cream cone-themed headband? Squeal! Delicate silver vines? Adorbs. A sassy slice of lemon to adorn her lovely locks? Oh, just stop it.

Image courtesy of Bird & Bow.

Why buy: Keeping the hair out of their eyes is a great excuse for decorating your kids.

Buy for: Lady babies, young misses, and other small folk with a penchant for hair accessories

Lil Fishy Kids Clothing and Accessories ( $20 and up

So, having made peace with the fact that Pork Chop just ain't down with wearing hair bows, I was thrilled to discover Lil Fishy clothing and accessories during a jaunt to D.C.'s Eastern Market. These kids' clothes are so, well, kid-like. They're not miniaturized adult wear. With tees featuring jungle animals, dinosaurs, and woodland creatures, I can still get my cute kid fix while also protecting my toddler's tough guy street cred. Lil Fishy sells onesies, tees, dresses, and bibs. Most items are gender-neutral; all are 100% cotton and made in the U.S. of A.

Image courtesy of Lil Fishy.

Why buy: Your kids may feel otherwise, but nudity isn't always an option. The clothes are handmade, all cotton, and washed twice to protect sensitive skin.

Buy for: The 5-and-under set who don't dig sparkles or corporate logos

Special Mention: Suburban Haiku and Science of Parenthood

Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence (

Check back here on Monday for a full review of this book by Peyton Price, the comedic genius/documentarian of the day-to-day behind Suburban Haiku. Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence is everything you've dreamed poetry could be: a good laugh in less than 17 syllables. Forget the crappy wine; this is a hostess gift worth giving. Check out this link for purchase info.

Image courtesy of Suburban Haiku.

Science of Parenthood (

On Wednesday, I sang the praises of SoP's Big Book of Parenting Tweets (check it out). I still maintain that the book is hysterically funny and a perfect gift for the parents in your life. What I didn't mention in my review, because I'm a literary purist, is that SoP also has a Zazzle shop where you can pick up sick parenting swag (which I think means "neat stuff"). Mugs, posters, cards, magnets — all with scientifically accurate and/or painfully accurate illustrations and commentary from the gals behind SoP. Stocking stuffers anyone?

Image courtesy of Science of Parenthood.


  1. Wow, thanks for including our book, Jessica! And I love that Naughty & Nice art - I'm going to check that out. While I was reading through your list I was thinking about DC/Baltimore and I thought of Haussner's. Oh how I miss that place. I was so sad when I heard that closed it down. I still have one of their menus. :-)

    1. Naughty & Nice is awesome. It makes me happy just to look at the prints we bought. And, OMG, Haussner's. I never got to go! But my dad used to speak of that place in hushed tones: so fancy, so artistic. It's like a mythical land to me.

  2. Thank God I didn't get you that faux fur vest I looked really hard at. Truly an instance of divine intervention.

    1. At 5'3", a faux fur vest might end up making me look an Ewok. As always, your gift-giving spidey sense was right again.