Monday, November 26, 2012

I'm Not Oprah But I Also Have Favorite Things

Every year, my big fat holiday issue of O Magazine arrives and I'm always curious to see what Oprah's picks will be for the year. I love me some Oprah Winfrey, please don't get me wrong. But listen. The woman is, what, the richest woman in the world? Let's allow her the fact that she has fallen unavoidably out of touch with reality. I'm certain I will never have to worry about having enough money to lose touch with reality, but in this year's Oprah's Favorite Things issue I saw an item she listed and officially found my gauge. If I ever start thinking, "Who doesn't need a pink scooter for schlepping around the winding roads of St. Tropez?" That's when I'll know I must be officially part of the 1%.

I hope you'll find some ideas on this list of something to get for your loved ones, and that I've provided a good balance of items in relation to cost. Some are things I buy just for me, and others are yearly go-to's for friends and family.

When compiling the list I realized that all the things I love have a connection to a part of my life, and thus, have their own wee stories. So feel free to skip right to the list if you don't want to read all my background blathering below.

I am a bit of a closet product junkie. As a little girl, I saved my allowance to buy candy (you will remember my candy obsession from the book, I bet!) and, of all things, makeup. So while I may only be 32 years old, please know that my recommendations are pretty legitimate: I have been learning about and experimenting with makeup since I was nine, so technically I have 23 years of experience with it. (I no longer apply lipstick to my forehead.) Living in New York City and working in publishing, you learn some good secrets to scrape by financially. If I ever had to go to an afterwork function, or when I was single, on a date after work, I would swoop into SEPHORA, spritz on perfume and redo my makeup there, all for f-r-e-e. I rationalized that since I bought all my cosmetics there anyway, they were still the true winners of the arrangement. Besides, they love when people come in to play. I now order from them online, since we don't have a store in Charleston. They offer free shipping on orders over $50, free returns, even if a product is used, (say, you break out from it, etc.) and with every order you get to pick from a selection of 3 samples.

It wasn't long after I moved to the city that I had to get a second job just to be able to afford rent and scrape by on credit card bills and groceries. I landed a part time position working at Sabon, an up-market Israeli bath product store that had just opened a block from my apartment. I'd always loved soaps and shower products. Sabon has now become a favorite gift of family and friends alike. (My mother is obsessed with their Grass scented glycerine soap, and we get it for her every year.) Sabon uses salt from the Dead Sea in many of their products, which is known for its healing properties. I got hooked on a few of their products while there, and wanted to share with you.

Prior to moving to New York, I had worked on the island of Nantucket for John Harding of Nantucket Natural Oils, a perfume maker for the stars with a "Nose," capital N. He is a true perfume master, and also was the person who first got me excited about aromatherapy and using essential oils in holistic medicine. While there, I developed my own scent as a gift for my sister. It's a delicate, green, floral and fresh scent. Because we share a love for the mountains, I crafted it to smell like you're standing in a field of wild flowers after a rain storm. I named it "KAIPEI" and KP we both still wear it. He still has my 'recipe' on file and if you like, you can order it too.** Note: You'll probably have to mention my name. The recipe is on my personal card file with him. He keeps track of what customers order on a file because when you buy 4 (whether it be over 1 year or 6 years time) you get 1 free. This way, if you create your own scent, as I did, he also has it on file so he can make it for you again when you run out.

John's perfumes are all in oil form, they don't contain alcohol. A $45 size, the smallest you can buy, will truly last you 1-2 years, and unlike department store perfumes, because there's no alcohol, the scent doesn't evaporate off your body in half an hour either (all the while nearly knocking people unconscious as you pass). It's a softer smell, and it lasts on your skin up to 8 hours. John also offers pretty much any designer scent you can imagine without the alcohol. Right now he's having a "buy 2 get 1 free" special. It's an amazing shop.

My love for single malt whiskey was developed in Scotland, and if you're just getting started, you can never go wrong with Macallan 12 or Glenlivet 12. Subtle notes of caramel in both=delicious. If you want to try something smokey, try Laphroaig. It's like drinking a campfire. (I personally don't enjoy it much. I like the smoother, less peaty single malts)

Lastly, my favorite gifts to give or receive can often be found or made things. My father was known for this. For one of my birthdays, my father gifted me a fossilized trilobite that he found on a gorge walk in Ithaca. In a letter when I was living in Cape Cod for a summer, he sent me a small stick that was naturally formed in the shape of a duck head. Another year he gave me a small piece of granite he'd found in the perfect shape of a heart. These things I treasure.

I'm Not Oprah But I Also Have Favorite Things Guide 

1. Sabon Bath & Body Products:  Sabon Shower Oil ($18) is a creamy shower gel that leaves you smelling like a slice of heaven. Sabon's Body Gel Polisher ($17) makes a great gift for sloughing away dry winter skin. It's a shower gel with beads of Dead Sea Salt so it cleans while it softens. I love both in Patchouli Lavender Vanilla. Not a fan of Patchouli? This scent has made a convert out of more than a few former Patchouli haters, including myself! But they do have bountiful other gorgeous scents. Mom's favorite product is the Glycerine Grass Soap and KP loves the Carrot Body Lotion.

2. Nantucket Natural Oil Perfumes: John Harding offers pretty much any designer scent you can think of, only without the yucky chemicals and alcohol. The scent I crafted is called "KAIPEI" (you'll have to request it and tell him the recipe is on my card, but he can make it) and I also love the Ralph Lauren Romance they offer. The quarter ounce size will truly last you about a year, and it's $45. I buy the .50 oz. size, and it lasts me 2 years. Great for people with allergies who can't wear regular perfumes. The carrier oil is Almond Oil.

3. Maps: Maps as art make an amazing gift. They are also in general one of my favorite things. I framed a 1960's topographic map of Ithaca that I found in my father's desk and it now hangs above our bed. They not only look great, they remind us of all the special places we've been, or places we'd like to go. and local bookstores are great places to look.

4. Single Malt Scotch: A great gift any time of the year. A good single malt will cost between $40 and $50 or more, but you can often find smaller bottles of certain brands and gift them together, too. In fact, why has no one in my family yet thought to make me a "Single Malt Medley"?!

5. Found Things: The price? Free. The value? Priceless. The trilobite my father gifted me was wrapped in this tiny box he'd once received a gift in from one of his students at Cornell. Beautiful shells, stones, or even pressed leaves can make truly special presents. Just remember to "ask permission" before you take something from its place in nature.

6. Made Things: I make mobiles out of painted sticks, fishing wire and shells I find with natural holes. It's a beautiful way to bring the outside indoors. My sister-law Cameron has one of my creations on her screened porch, we have three in our house, and I think I've promised one to my writer friend Mary Alice Monroe so I'd better get cracking! Note: These don't travel well. 

7. My Favorite Cosmetics:  Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream ($39) is a sunscreen, tinted moisturizer, primer and anti-aging treatment in one. It can be layered to create the look of a dewey foundation, and it is spectacular. Oh, and did I mention it also controls oil? I don't go anywhere without it. One tube lasts me about 6 months. Too Faced Shadow Insurance (Candelight $18) is what I wear instead of eye-shadow most days. It has a light golden sheen that can be worn alone or under another shadow, helps your eye makeup stay put all day. For blush, I'm infatuated with NARS. The shade is... oh please forgive me, but it's called Orgasm ($28). It's been a cult favorite among makeup gurus for a few years now because the shade looks good on nearly every woman's skin tone. After trying several blushes, this one is the only one I'll use. I absolutely love it. For zit coverage, I swear by Body Shop's Tea Tree Concealer ($9). It treats the blemish while covering, and helps it heal up in no time flat.

8. Uggs: They're big, they're fluffy, they're warm, they're made well, and they last forever. These are made to be a big, clunky, sasquatch of a boot and I love them for it. They're great for winter airport travel because they're easy on/off, and look great with leggings, yoga pants, jeans and even some knee-length casual dresses. Eric convinced me to relinquish my very old smelly pair, and I just got these beauties from him for early Christmas. I would sleep in them if I could. This pair is the Ugg Bailey Bomber Boot (Tall, Chocolate Natural $240). They're admittedly pricey, but if they're your thing, they're worth every penny. Especially if you travel often to chilly places or live in cold climates.

You can find both scrap book paper for wrapping and little charms
at Michael's or Hobby Lobby
9. Handmade Soaps: I'm learning how to craft my own from scratch, but you don't need to be experienced or deal with any chemicals like lye to create these beauties. All you need is an organic soap base (which you melt down easily via stove or microwave), a soap mold, your favorite essential oils (I get mine at Whole Foods) and any natural colorant you might want. I process and mix in my own herbs from the garden (rosemary is a nice one to include, chopped) and Ta-da! Beautiful soaps. Easy. You can order it all on my favorite website Bramble Berry is based in Washington state, and they are an incredible company. They offer many different melt and pour bases, from organic goat milk to aloe. You can buy a book of scrap book paper to wrap them, and yarn or raffia makes lovely bows. I made these for a recent baby shower and they were a huge hit!

I hope this sparks some ideas for you this holiday season, and I'd love to hear about your favorite things too!

With Warmest Holiday Wishes,


  1. Hi Signe,

    Great list of gift ideas for the holiday, or any time of year! Maps are also one of my favorite things. There was a shop in Aberdeen I was drawn to, like a kid looking in a candy shop window, checking out all the antique maps. They were so beautiful. Even the old maps of NH towns pull me in.

    Recently at a local Farm Fare there was a bee farmer who had candles, beeswax-based creams and lotions, and of course so many different jars of honey products! There was also a local artisan with hand carved figurines and ornaments. Beautiful, and great gift ideas.

    And I can’t seem to go to the farmer’s market or crafts fair without buying home-made soap. I think they see me coming and dig the patchouli bars out of hiding, where they won’t contaminate every other milder-scented bar!

    I also love perfumes and essential oils, but don’t do well with many of them. Weird chemistry I guess. Aromasanctum in Salem, MA is fantastic. I believe the blends are all made in-house, and you can get a ready-made blend or have them develop one for you. Their web site will give you a good idea of their products, but a visit to the shop is a must until you know what scents you like. Just don’t go in October! I'm headed there in December for a refill of a favorite oil blend and to find a new one. I have a new hand-blown, NH made glass perfume bottle I have to fill!

    No matter how I try, I can't seem to find a taste for Whisky (and I call myself a Scot!). I keep trying though! One of my favorite things is honey mead. It’s so rich and warming. A good one is hard to find though, so if you come across one please share the name.

    Thanks for sharing your favorites with us. Warm holiday wishes to you too!

    Kathy Brooks

  2. Thanks so much for your reply, Kathy! I can never get out of the crafts section of the farmer's market without buying something, it's so true!
    I'm going to have to check out that Salem, MA oils store. It sounds absolutely gorgeous.