I write a lot of gift guides throughout the year for my various outlets. Some are bylined, others are ghostwritten (ghost-curated?) for corporations, individuals, or even tourism boards. I cover favorite topics like Wonder Woman or pop culture obsessions like Outlander. An almost universal theme is the inclusion of products with affiliate links.* That’s been even more aggressive in the past year as media outlets sometimes struggle to find more ways to create income out of content, but that’s a longer conversation for another time (as well as an eBook I’m working on).
While I planned to do a gift guide including some of my fave things this season, I got swamped and didn’t get around to it. For that reason, here’s a gift guide that isn’t an actual gift guide. It’s just things I like or things that caught my eye that might make you happy over the cold months ahead. I’m not going to be including any affiliate links, since it’s less about me earning a percentage of sales and more about highlighting some brands or products you might not have heard about and really should. I also included some of my invaluable daily tech toys since I get asked about that a lot.
30 gift ideas for hard to please people:
In the spirit of giving, being entirely about the joy of making someone else happy with no ulterior motives or strings attached, I’ve compiled a short-ish list of things I love and think you will too. For the record, I might mention brands I’ve worked with peripherally, not as an ad for them, but because I love these products so much, it felt wrong to exclude them.
In no particular order:
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The first one is my mom’s new labor of love, Blankets and Hugs, but the rest really are in no particular order.
Blankets and Hugs: Offering comfort and beauty
Blankets and Hugs is a bespoke handmade blanket company for the Hamptons and Hollywood set that also creates blankets for seriously ill children or caregivers. The premise is that for every custom creation ordered, B&H creates and donates a handmade blanket.
A short history: My mom opened her first business, a crafts store, when I was a toddler. Over the years, she segued careers and designed luxury sweaters in the ’80s, including for top brands and designers. She also opened a boutique with clothing imported from Paris (the reason I spent so much time there in my teens). But she never stopped crafting or crocheting. She is the queen of blankets and makes exquisite blankets for all of us and her siblings, her nieces and nephews, and now grandnieces and grandnephews.
Fast forward to the coronavirus era, and my mother was mostly stuck at home and crocheting up a storm, only this time, her creations are different. If you know of someone in need, she won’t charge for her creations; she asks that people donate to the nonprofit founded by my sister and me, the RWR Network, which works with caregivers and Holocaust survivors.
Every single stitch is crafted with intent and a lot of love. (Blanket orders start at $250.00, the website will be up soon. Call for more details 718.218.3672).
Feather Eagle Sky Sun Face Mist:
A few years ago I was driving from Hungary to Austria on what ended up being an all-day drive…and then some. What was most memorable were the endless fields of sunflowers, mile after mile after mile. I thought of those fields of sunflowers when I read about the ingredients in this face mist. While there are loads of skin treatments made with sunflowers, this refreshing mist is made with sunflowers wild-harvested in Corsica and said to fight free radical damage and stimulate cellular regeneration. ($29.99, FeatherEagleSky.com)
Zojirushi Home Bakery Mini Breadmaker
Remember how at the beginning of the pandemic everyone smugly baked bread until everyone else started showing off? It was hard to keep up with all the sourdough loaves and intricate braiding. Meanwhile, even though I don’t usually eat wheat, I started playing around with my Zojirushi mini breadmaker and had a blast coming up with unusual loaf variations. This little beauty doesn’t come with much of a learning curve, but you should try to add the ingredients in exactly the order recommended. I’d also advise not getting creative or using alternate flours until you’ve baked several loaves or cakes and following directions exactly. In this way, you’ll understand exactly how to time ingredients. Having tried dozens of bread makers over the years, this is pretty much my favorite. It’s compact, fun to use, and dummy-proof allowing you to choose from different textures and settings and even a jam setting. Worth noting, since it mixes and bakes in the same pan, you’ll be left with a weird little divot in the bottom when you pull out the mixer part. ($229, Zojirushi.com). P.S. I’ll be sharing my Bourbon Zucchini Chocolate Chip Walnut bread made using my Zoji.
Ahava Dead Sea Mineral Hand Cream: Hand’s down the BEST hand cream I’ve ever tried
All that handwashing takes a toll, and for most of us, that means dry hands and cuticles. Having tried or tested pretty much every hand cream there is, I still swear by Ahava. It also smells like heaven. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny and is probably one of my desert island/use until its empty picks. $24., Ahava.com).
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3: My WFH bae
I’m not sure that I can begin to describe to you the deep, abiding love affair I have with my Surface 15″ laptop, but I’ll try. It’s sleek and well designed. The battery life is the longest of any laptop I’ve tried in forever (it says 11.5 hours but I’ve gone for over 12 without recharging) and the touch screen isn’t twitchy or moody, it just works. The keyboard is comfortable and doesn’t make an irritating clacky noise, and the screen is wide enough for me to work on two documents simultaneously without having to head over to my multiscreen desktop setup. It’s also soooo fast and intuitive. I know that this isn’t a tech-specific recommendation or review, but I just love this thing. My friend Debbie asked me if I really did love the Microsoft Surfaces better than other computers and my answer was pretty simple- it’s the only laptop I’d use at this point. Life is so full of uncertainties right now; this is pretty much the one consistent thing in my workday. (Starting at $799, Microsoft.com)
A crafty kit:
Most of us are going to be stuck home for the next few months with lots of time to craft. One of my favorite quilt shops, Gotham Quilts in NYC has some sweet little quilt kits that not only remind you of a trip to the city, but also help support a small business impacted heavily by the pandemic. Check out My Small World Quilt Kit ($79.99, Gothamquilts.com). While you’re at it, Stitches by the Sea sells beautiful needlepoint canvases and Keepsake Quilting has wonderful block of the month kits if you prefer to start small.
Wonder Woman Gold Lasso Hoop Earrings
Okay, so I already did an entire gift guide of Wonder Woman inspired gifts but didn’t get to mention these. RockLove Jewelry has an entire fandom series of jewelry including Star Trek and pretty much anything Disney related. This is all very well and good, but check out the Wonder Woman collection. It’s beautifully rendered and pays homage to both fashion and everyone’s favorite Amazonian princess. One caveat, these earrings are heavy. ($145, rocklove.com)
A Loog Pro VI Acoustic guitar just for kids
Loog guitars are made of real wood and crafted for smaller frames, so kids never have to grow into their guitars. They also come with flashcards and Loog offers free live lessons via Zoom. (From $79, loogguitars.com).
Personalized makeup brushes:
My friend Alice created a niche gifting business with her personalized, vegan-friendly makeup brushes. I love the fact that you can order an entire set or just one brush with anyone’s name, a cute character, or favorite word. (Prices start at $24.99 for a single brush, shop.mymakeupbrushes.com).
Gerolata Baby Alpaca Shawl: Adds warmth and color
I’m a sucker for a great shawl, and Peruvian Connection rarely disappoints. This whisper-thin but super warm wrap is made with cruelty-free baby alpaca fiber and silk. I also love the fact that it comes in a variety of colors that break up my usual basic black wardrobe. Mine is in Wisteria which is a gorgeous pinky mauve that adds a pop of color to my pale December complexion. ($69, Peruvianconnection.com).
A spectacular hat from Genevieve Rose:
As a hat person, I can tell you that I am lusting after practically everything on the Genevieve Rose website, but I’d happily settle for Vanessa. This bronze felt cowboy fedora hat with tassels pretty much combines everything I love in a clever topper – hybrid style, attitude, and craft. ($363, genevieveroseatelier.com).
Drybar The Double Shot Blow-Dryer Brush:
I’ve been doing a new series on Parade.com called Deluxe or Dupe! where I compare a pricier version with a near-identical one. I tend to get a lot of feedback and one of the questions I’m asked most often lately is whether the Drybar version is really worth nearly three times as much as the comparable Revlon hairdryer. In a word- yes. I have baby-fine hair and was extremely cautious about trying either of these. I honestly am stunned at just how fantastic and professional the blow-out with the Drybar Double Shot is. Sleek, straight, and just the right amount of polish. And best yet it really does last for a few days. I’d also say to deep condition your hair (because indoor heat can really dry out your hair), use a heat styling spray, and even a tiny bit of smoothing cream just on the bottom of your hair after you style. I very highly recommend this one. ($150, thedrybar.com).
Methodical Coffee: for the coffee connoisseur
Unlike pretty much every person I’ve ever met in my life, I don’t drink coffee. If I did, though, I’d probably choose something that looked as beautiful as it tastes. I love the look of Methodical Coffee’s Blue Boy, which boasts “Chocolate, Graham and Brown Sugar” and is a blend of 70% Guatemala Ixlama and 30% Honduras El Rincon Del Sabor. ($17, for 12 oz, methodicalcoffee.com).
Roborock H6 Cordless Stick Vacuum
Some people spend their lives in pursuit of the ideal martini, for me, it’s a vacuum cleaner that eats up all the dust that regularly invades my Brooklyn apartment from the constant neighborhood construction. I love the Roborock because it’s pretty slick looking and weighs just under 3 lbs. It also has a long battery life (Well over an hour!) and HEPA filter. There’s also an extremely easy to read screen display letting you know how much battery time you have left or whether maintenance is needed. (About $449 at Target).
Dune Jewelry: A memory/a promise of better days
Remember travel, that magical experience where you were transported to a different place and became immersed in the culture, art, or breathtaking vistas? While most of us are stuck home for the next few months, Dune reminds us of sandy beaches and beautiful places. Choose a piece from their collection and even sand from the beach of your choice (They literally have a Sandbank, where you can choose sand from beaches you love or bark, granite, stones, and leaves), or send your own natural element to be incorporated into your design of choice. Check out this spectacular Neptune Toggle Bracelet with a Larimar gemstone that looks just like the ocean. ($294, dunejewelry.com).
Ramy Emergency Brow Kit: Because pandemic brows are never a thing
Brow whiz Ramy has groomed Taylor Swift’s perfect arches, and now you can use some of his best tools at home. His emergency brow kit includes a Ramy Tweezer by Tweezerman, his patented eyebrow stencil, a scissor, and a brush. ($49.99, ramy.com)
Bokksu: Japanese snack boxes
Most of us aren’t traveling right now, but every month Bokksu delivers a selection of Japan’s best snacks, teas, or candy to your door. And for those of us with food allergies and sensitivities, it’s worth noting that every box also comes with not only a booklet describing each gift but also an ingredient list, so you don’t eat anything sketchy. I had a blast opening my Bokksu and reading about all the yummies. (About $39.95 monthly for a classic gift, Bokksu.com).
Keyper: Keep track of everything
I don’t know about you, but lately, the last thing I want to do is keep track of every little thing I schlep around. Keyper is a chic little modular system that allows you to keep your keys on a cute wristlet or add another piece so that you have a wristlet or pouch in your handbag. (Prices start at $25, mykeyper.com). UPDATED: I recently checked out the four-piece gold leather set and it is absolutely exquisite and so fun. The leather is buttery soft and it’s a warm gold and not an overpowering color or texture. I’m debating whether I should be a good sister/daughter and split it with my sister and mom or just keep all four pieces for myself.
Nourished stacked vegan gummy vitamins:
Female-owned Nourished offers the world’s first-ever customizable 3D printed vegan gummy vitamin. They’re also individually wrapped and labeled and include 7 different vitamins and nutrients in one sugar-free delicious “stack.” Much as I am absolutely obsessed with these if like me you’re allergic to sugar alcohols or processed sweeteners though, these aren’t for you. Choose a 30 or 90-day box delivered in sustainable and compostable packaging. (Prices vary based on your choice, but new customers receive 50% off of their first customized 30-day box with code LAUNCH50, us.get-nourished.com).
Relay: The easy communication device
In the spirit of full disclosure, Relay is a client’s client, so I was familiar with the brand. That said, I only started testing one out a few months ago, and it’s one of my top finds of 2020. When Relay launched originally, it was more for kids who weren’t quite old enough for cell phones to have a way to stay in touch with their parents. Relay has evolved from being easy to use no-frills cell phone substitute to a device used everywhere, from hotels to food production to hospitals and schools. But that’s not why I loved it; It’s a lightweight walkie-talkie type device that, with the push of a button, allows you to communicate with anyone in your private network. That means if I’m creeped out while walking home at night, I don’t have to fiddle for my phone, then swipe, then dial my passcode; I just press a button. It also operates on a cellular network, so connectivity isn’t an issue. My one gripe (and it’s a big one) is battery time, I have to recharge frequently, or the dreaded circle of red lights kicks in. (About $100 per year per user, and that’s for the business version, which I highly recommend even for family use, though there are cute kid-friendly versions at Target, relaygo.com).
The Good Witch’s Ball: Almost magically helps with maskne
Here’s one that’s great for anyone obsessed with Hallmark’s The Good Witch and anyone plagued with maskne. This little roll-on works on dark spots and acne scars and is made with 100% 0rganic, natural ingredients, including witch hazel and tea tree oil. ($49, edenbeautyskin.com)
Cabinet Caddy: Because not everyone is into the KonMari method
I’ve noticed that most home chefs I know tend to hoard spices instead of paring down to the basics. Cabinet Caddy is a nifty pull and rotate organizer, which means you can easily organize your 17 varieties of vanilla and all the paprika you schlepped home from Hungary.
Gretchen: A Zoom-worthy necklace
I don’t know about you, but while I initially kvetched about all the zooming, it’s now become really fun for me. As the quintessential girly-girl, I relish the opportunity to get all dolled up – and that includes accessorizing. And I’ll be honest; I get all dressed for every meeting – even if it’s for a quick check-in with a colleague who may or may not be wearing pants. I’m a little bit in love with this bold crystal heart Gretchen necklace from Amy Delson Jewelry. ($125.00, amydelsonjewelry.com).
Shoes for the stylish WFH guy: Speaking of all that zooming, my extremely stylish from the waist up/Zooms-without-pants colleague Xander informs me that he would wear pants on every call if he had these amazing looking kilim loafers. And yes, they have women’s mules as well. ($199, ocelotmarket.com).
Exo Scuf: For the gamer (or crafter or laptop user)
When I first heard about Exo Scuf, an inflatable lap pillow, I wasn’t particularly interested since it’s designed to keep gamers from slouching during extended play. I discovered while testing one out that it’s fantastic for crafting (needlepoint slouch no more!) and even better for using when taking notes during a Zoom call. It’s slightly annoying that you have to keep blowing it up every few uses, but other than that, it’s fast become one of my fave WFH must-haves during long calls. ($39, scufgaming.com).
Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G: The only upgrade I want
A few years back I made a giant announcement that I was through upgrading my phone and I’d be sticking with my good old Samsung forever. That was before I tested the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G out for an upcoming Deluxe or Dupe! column. If you base your phone choices on design alone, this one’s for you. But in addition to the stunning design and great big screen, there’s hyperfast speed, incredible video power, and an all-day battery. If you have smallish hands though, I’d advise investing in a good case that more easily allows you to hold it for a while. ($1,299 unlocked, Samsung.com)
The Lavender Sachet: Soaps inspired by minerals
These beautifully designed soaps handmade and cut in Cincinnati and inspired by naturally occurring gemstones such as amethyst, turquoise, lapis lazuli, moonstone, opal, rose quartz, and more. And if you’re tired of washing your hands all the time, you’ll at least be able to enjoy the scents of ylang-ylang, bergamot, sandalwood, grapefruit, and more. (Prices start at $5 per soap, The Lavender Sachet).
BLACK+DECKER 6-Slice Crisp n Bake Air Fry Toaster Oven: Cookies for one.
I tend to have a lot of kitchen gadgets, and while I’m a sucker for the really fancy ones, I’m frequently surprised at how well some of the affordable products perform. I’ll be doing a full review of this one, but I am extremely impressed with the way it bakes without burning, air fries without any fuss and just how much room there is (The interior is large enough to fit up to six slices of bread or a 12″ pizza) and how easy it is to use. (About $80 at Walmart).
Honorary mentions: These are two companies I sometimes work with and I love both their missions and products. I generally avoid featuring products from companies I currently work with in my other outlets but since this is my blog, I made the executive decision to share the love with two brands I think you should know about.
POLYWOOD Long Island 18″ Side Table: Brings the outside in
Not all of us have drool-worthy backyard spaces, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t dream about them, or at least something that allows you the feeling of not being so cooped up during the winter. I love the Long Island 18″ Side Table which may serve others as a space to hold their cocktails while lounging at the pool. For me, it’s a cute caddy for plants and because it’s made of recycled plastic materials, it doesn’t get ruined when I water my plants. Meanwhile, want to feel good about your purchase? POLYWOOD recycles an average of 400,000 milk jugs per day, so you’re not just buying something decorative, you’re supporting a company committed to cleaning up our waste streams. ($79.00, polywood.com).
A Fracture glass print: Enduring memories
I have a confession to make. I have been a little obsessed with this company for months, so much so that when I received a code to test out a print I kind of froze wondering which of my travel pics to print. The idea behind Fracture is extremely cool- your fave photos printed on glass, but it’s the company’s commitment to sustainability and their teeny tiny carbon footprint that’s even more impressive. Next up, choosing my first Fracture. (starting at $17, for a 5″x5″ print, fracture.me).
*If you buy something through my links, I may earn a commission. This isn’t one of those times!
Please also note that Microsoft sent me a laptop to use. I have several from different manufacturers that I’ve either bought or tested but love the Surface line best of all.