9 Holiday Gift Ideas for People Who Need Inspiration

And now, for something new.

If you know me even a little bit, you know that the holidays are my favorite time of year. I am that person that people who don’t want the holidays to start until after Thanksgiving absolutely despises. I am a sucker for holiday lights, well-decorated trees (and Charlie Brown Christmas trees), cookies, 24/7 holiday music, and all of the holiday trappings. I love it all!

But, my absolute FAVORITE part of the holidays is finding THE perfect gift for those special people in my life. It always surprises me when I hear people say that they don’t know what to buy people – for me, it’s just a matter of identifying someone’s passions. So, this year, I thought I’d make a list of some of gift ideas for folks who need some inspiration AND support great individuals and companies at the same time.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone!

For the animal lover:
SarahCustom pet portraits are a great way to capture your pet’s unique personality – and they don’t have to break the bank. My extremely talented friend Sarah Flinn will do a one-of-a-kind painting of your pet on upcycled wood for anywhere from $50 for a tiny 4-inch round to $150 and up for larger sizes. In Atlanta? Check out Sarah’s artwork and pick up a pre-painted piece at Dupre’s Antique Market at 17 Whitlock Ave SW. Seen all you need to see? Contact Sarah at InLikeFlinnStudio@gmail.com.

For the sports fan:
FreakerSocks may be a tried and rather tired holiday gift, but I promise you if you pick up some sports socks from Freaker USA, you’ll be at the top of your gift recipient’s NICE list. I’m a big fan of the NFLPA socks that feature a caricature of leading NFL players, but this Wilmington, NC-based company also had a handful of college teams available, fun pop-culture socks, and unique koozies available for purchase. I’ve probably bought about 15 pairs of socks from them over the last three years…and I just love their fun packaging and personal touches! (Sorry, Eagles fans, Carson Wentz is sold out…but I’d keep checking back!)

For the art lover:
KarenLibecapAt Festival in the Park this year, I stumbled upon the cutest booth. Karen Libecap makes tiny, detailed paintings of just about everything – animals, objects, movies, music, you name it. These 5 x 5 prints pack a lot of punch into a tiny little space – the painting itself measures about 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch. It’s quirky and the perfect gift for the person who loves eclectic decorations in their home. She has a tiny painting to suit just about everyone.  For $35, these are a steal. Check out Karen’s Esty Shop or Instagram.

For the traveler:
HunkerBagCo_013_EIf your loved one loves to travel and look good doing it, look no further than Hunker Bag Company. Based in Nashville, Hunker Bag Company was started by Denton Hunker, a drummer in the band Green River Ordinance, and his wife, Alicia. They make an array of super-stylish leather and waxed canvas bags for men and women, ranging in price from $90 to $350+. Whether you’re looking for a wristlet for a night out, an every day purse or bag, a slick briefcase, or an overnight travel or duffel bag, you won’t be disappointed by what you find at Hunker Bag Company.

For the fashionista:
There’s nothing sharper than someone who knows how to accessorize well. And unique accessories can make or break an outfit. I’m a big fan of funky, unique jewelry, and I’ve got two custom jewelry makers that I adore:

LynneLynne and Lucille – I first found Kelly when I was looking for some recycled cymbal jewelry. I’ve purchased a number of pieces from her over the last few years (at right is my favorite, a dagger-like cymbal piece on a long chain). She uses lots of typically discarded materials to craft unique jewelry – everything from cymbals to bullet casings to leather scraps and old spoons. She’s branching out into stamped jewelry now, too. She fills orders really quickly and often includes discounts for additional purchases in her orders. Check out her Etsy shop.

JaclynBear on the Moon – For outdoor enthusiast fashionistas, I have to recommend my friend Jaclyn’s amazing handcrafted jewelry. Jaclyn is the free spirit I wish I could be, and she channels her love for nature into her jewelry making, mixing stones and gems with sterling silver. She is so incredibly talented. Pay a visit to her Etsy shop – but don’t wait too long on anything. She turns items over very quickly!

For the music lover:
LstnWherever you go these days, headphones are sort of ubiquitous. I’m an Apple fan, but those white headphones are obnoxious. Don’t subject your music lover to a life of tunes with ugly headphones. Check out the beautifully crafted headphones over at LSTN Sound Co. Whether you’re looking for full-sized headphones or earbuds, they’ve got you covered with both wired and wireless options. Bonus: a percentage of every purchase goes to the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help provide hearing aids to people in need around the world.

For fans of Charlotte:
704ShopI might be a Jersey Girl, but I love my adopted home of Charlotte. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life, and I love everything about the Queen City. 704 Shop has an array of funky Charlotte-themed shirts, hats, socks, and more to help you show off your love of our Crown Town, including fun collabs with teams, sports stars, neighborhoods, and more.

For the impossible to buy for person:

NikkiWe all have one – the most impossible person in the world for whom to buy gifts. You get stuck every year. Well, what about a custom map of a special place in their life? A college campus, a first home address, a restaurant or park where someone got engaged… My super talented friend Nikki makes these intricate, hand-cut maps that are simply perfect for the person who has everything. All she needs is an address to get started! Contact Nikki through her Etsy shop or pay a visit to her Instagram.

2017 > 2016

Let’s face it, 2016 has been a big, festering wound of a year.

My personal stuff is well-covered territory: My mom died. My job changed dramatically. Really, when you think about it, those are really hefty things and the fact that I am sitting here at 12:15 am on December 27 in my sister’s living room and not a complete puddle of tears is an accomplishment in its own right.

Beyond the personal dramas, there’s a whole slew of collective world stuff that has been weighing on all of us. Syria. Brexit. Small-scale terrorist attacks that maimed and killed hundreds and threaten our daily routines. North Korea. A divisive and horrid U.S. election cycle. Donald Trump being elected. More celebrity deaths than any of us want to count (David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and just yesterday, George Michael – are you kidding me?). Zika virus. It’s A LOT to handle.

But here we are, December 27, on the verge of a new year. Like everyone, I’ve got my goals for the year. Among them:

  • Train for and run my first half marathon in five years
  • Lose weight
  • Travel to Australia to see Shelia and Wales to visit Caroline and Lee
  • Go to Denver and see Red Rocks
  • My first Montana trip to see Libby
  • Send a letter or card a week
  • Write at least one blog post a week
  • Conduct a massive, soul-cleansing closet purge (trust me, this one is LONG overdue – there are clothes and shoes in there that just shouldn’t be)
  • Maybe go on date or two
  • Reduce the amount of Sugar Free Red Bull and Coke that I drink
  • Go to 125 concerts in a year
  • Get back into taking real photos

My list is probably too long and someone, somewhere will tell me that I should pick one or two of them and focus on small goals. But that’s not the way I want to do it. I either want to win big and revel in glory or fail just as spectacularly and learn from my mistakes. That’s a bit out of character for me, but something in me broke in 2016 (and it’s a good thing), and it’s time for me to stop living on the sidelines of my own life.

People say to me all the time, “You have the best life.” They say that because they see the world through the lens of my Facebook and Instagram pages. Pictures of concerts and cocktails and me out with friends, posts about bands that I love, and my adorable nephew, and things that bring smiles and happiness. And I do love all those parts of my life.

But I think that for a lot of people – including me – only show the world the highlight reel on social media. You see all the good stuff, and none of the bad stuff. Most of those people that tell me I have “the best life” don’t realize that I probably go to 75% of those shows by myself. That I see the staff and the bartenders at my favorite venues more than I see my friends. What most people don’t realize is that I am scared to death 99.9% of the time about what other people think of me. People don’t see that when I’m at home, I curl up in the corner of my couch wearing leggings and sweatshirts and eat salt and vinegar potato chips and watch endless reruns of The Big Bang Theory. I’m lonely, but I have built freaking fortresses around myself to keep from getting hurt (and that, my friends, keeps people out). Half the time, I’m sitting there berating myself that I should be doing something … running or cleaning my closet or reading or writing something. But I haven’t done ANY OF IT. Because I’m so frightened of winning or failing or anything other than things that keep me on an even keel.

And I’m tired of it. So, in 2017, I’m going to change it, and it starts with that great big list of things I want to do. Writing it down and putting it out there in the world is my version of Andy Dufresne’s “Get busy living or get busy dying.” It’s here now. For everyone to see. So there’s no turning back (because now you all know that I worry about what you think of me).

Maybe it’s hopeless optimism, stupidity, or perhaps even that Liz Gilbert book I’m reading, but I feel like even if that checklist above has zero checkmarks on December 31, 2017, 2017 is still going to be a good year. I feel it in my gut.

We’re all due for one, don’t you think?

Shake, Don’t Shatter

Quiet Hounds new record, Shake, Don't Shatter, is a conversation between musical brothers that you can't stop listening to.

Quiet Hounds new record, Shake, Don’t Shatter, is a conversation between musical brothers that I can’t stop listening to.

Every once in awhile, life throws you a huge curve ball. Yesterday, I found out that the company where I have worked for 17 years – the better part of my adult life – is being sold. The future, for right now, is up in the air. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared and apprehensive about what comes next.

So it seems almost cosmically divined that one of my favorite bands, Quiet Hounds, released their new record, Shake, Don’t Shatter, on the day all of this craziness in my life went down. Hollywood couldn’t have scored a soundtrack better. Why? Because this album is a journey of self-discovery. A collection of songs about realizing what those unbreakable threads are that tether you to the people you love most. It’s a record about learning the strength you have to keep it together when everything around you seems to be crumbling.

There’s no doubt that this record is personal. For the first time in the band’s four-year history, the relatively mysterious quartet has given listeners a peek behind the literal masks. For a month leading up to the album release, they teased the story behind these songs. When life circumstances relocated the band’s lead singer to California in 2013, leaving behind the rest of the band in Atlanta, the future of Quiet Hounds was uncertain. But, they persevered, recording melodies and vocals and sending them back and forth via Dropbox to one another, finding creative solutions for problems that might stymie other bands (like recording vocals in a Toyota Prius when no other alternatives were available). In a series of emotional videos and blog posts, individual band members told their pieces of the story, sharing their thoughts behind the separation, intimate glimpses into their songwriting process, and more.

“These songs mean more to me than any others we’ve created. They’re about us. About struggling in the dirt and the mud. About being afraid, but never doubting. About what it means to be an artist, one that can’t live without the songs and the people that you create them with,” M Hound says in one of the videos, a simple yet intensely powerful statement about the deep bonds of friendship and camaraderie that develop in making music together.

That sentiment is at the very heart of this record. The separation, which continues today, resulted in six songs that, through metaphor and analogy, are a conversation among friends, a catalog of a musical brotherhood. In reading their preambles to the album, it’s clear that there’s an incredible amount of respect not just for the craft of making music, but for what each of them bring to the table in the band.

In my imagination, I see the band working out songs, sans lyrics, and sending these blank canvases of music across cyberspace, waiting for them to come back with vocal paint, messages from their friend 3,000 miles away. It’s an incredible frame for these gorgeous songs, but it should be noted that it is my singular interpretation of the album, and in no way do I know the actual meanings behind these songs.

“Gentlemen, believe we’ll do what we must, we hunt at all costs. So my friends, take heed, my hunter we trust, my hunter we trust. Don’t don’t don’t don’t stop stop stop stop stop, every time you fall, I pick you up.”

The chorus of the album’s opening track, “Hunter Gatherer,” is what lead singer E Hound called “a letter to my friends back home” to express his homesickness, expressed through the imagery of earlier times and the struggle for survival. The melancholy is palpable.  It is a call to be heard, even across the miles. It is from here that the album takes off, and we watch the Hounds struggle with their new reality.

We hear E Hound roaming the California countryside, looking at estates and sprawling hills, but mocking the overindulgence in the Beatles-esque “Mansions.” He beckons his friends to “come and join me here someday, in artificial structures we can play.”

On the first single, “Magnolia,” the Hounds are truly at their best, with an almost orchestral number that illustrates their musical prowess that oscillates between gauzy, questioning verses and an upbeat, percussion-punctuated choruses that answer back, before closing with a bevy of strings that will make you swoon.

By now, you’re fully immersed in the Hounds story, and if you aren’t prepared, “Tidal Wave” will knock you off your feet. There’s an underlying current (pun intended) of complete defiance from E Hound, wrapped in the picturesque scene of California surf, as he seems to address the very real possibility that the band might not weather the distance between them. “You keep on talking bout the end…/These things I can’t even pretend…”

And then we come to my two favorite tracks of the record. The dreamy “Bright Matter” is the source of the album name, a celestial-themed number full of buzzy melody and animated drumming that uses the stars as a metaphor for connection. Given the way that these songs came to fruition, zipping across the miles through routers and servers and wires, it’s a particularly apt one, and as E Hound sings, “Hey, bright matter, you keep me safe, you keep me moving along/Shake, don’t shatter,” you get the feeling that the foundation that this band is built on is unbreakable.

The closing track, “Still Phantoms,” is like “Weathervane,” the final track on this album’s predecessor, both a message of resilience and a portending of what’s yet to come. Although sparse, it is arguably the richest track on the album, showcasing each of the band members individual musicianship in a way none of the other tracks do. (Don’t think I missed the double entendre in some of those lyrics, either.) As the song reaches a crescendo, layered vocals overlap and bleed into one another, and the four individual voices of the band come together as one.

Selfishly, I want this record to be longer than six songs. I want it to go on forever. But even in its brevity, Shake, Don’t Shatter is perfect because of the connection it inspires between the listener and the artist. If we are lucky, we’ve all felt these things: loss, homesickness, strong bonds with our friends, a “never-give-in” moment where we know for certain what it is we want to do.  In the end, that is what it is all about, isn’t it? Music – and all art, for that matter – is a reflection of what it is to be human. It can be a celebration of our hopes and dreams, a conduit for our sadness and grief, a confessional for our fears and guilt, a way for us to express our love and gratitude for others, and a vehicle for finding our strength to hold on when the ground we know seems to be falling out from under us.

As for me… I’m more uncertain than I’ve been in a long time about my future. My job, my company, are so much a part of who I am that the idea of losing them makes me feel like I’m going to be left with a big black hole in my center. I don’t know what’s coming around the corner, and probably won’t for a little while. That’s really scary for me. So I’m going to need you all to remind me – and need to remind myself – that it’s okay to be lost for a little while, because I’m strong enough to find a new path back to solid ground.

Shake, don’t shatter.

More Quiet Hounds:  Web | Facebook | Twitter | Buy Shake, Don’t Shatter direct from the band

More Matt McCloskey

I’m kind of obsessed with Matt McCloskey‘s music right now.  Some fella was nice enough to post a series of videos on YouTube that he shot last week at Matt’s show in Austin.  I just love the way he talks about his music – it’s so honest its painful.  “I thought I’d get better at being alive.”  Jesus – don’t we all?

Not Tonight/The Hard Rains

50 Cent Heart

Thanks to Lenny Sharp for posting the videos.

More Matt McCloskey:  Web | Facebook | Twitter | The Hard Rains on iTunes

What’s on Your Workout Playlist? Volume 3

After a long hiatus in which my weight grew almost as fast as my music collection, I’m back to working out regularly again. We’re less than six months away from The Rock Boat, and I am determined to love myself in the pictures from this cruise! Thanks are due to my roommate and general partner in crime, Shelia, for giving me a swift kick in the ass and making a workout chart that keeps me accountable to me. And, since I’ve lost 5 pounds in my first two weeks, I’m feeling mightily inspired.  Which, of course, has led to the need for a new heart-thumping, booty-moving workout playlist.

My music buys as of late have been leaning toward the mellower side – not exactly what one needs when doing the impressive overhead press weight of 10 lbs (hey, don’t judge!).  So I’m turning to my loyal readers to help me bulk up (get it?) my rad new workout playlist. I’ll share mine if you share yours – what gets you fired up to get your work out on?

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons (iTunes | Amazon)
Won’t Stop – Midnight Youth (iTunes | Amazon)
Anybody (Featuring Zeale) – The Soldier Thread (iTunes | Amazon)
One More – Jimmy Cliff (iTunes | Amazon)
Kids – Saints of Valory (iTunes | Amazon)
Anarchy Fire – Lovedrug (Bandcamp)
Howl – The Gaslight Anthem (iTunes | Amazon)
We Are What You Say – Dead Sara (iTunes | Amazon)
Turntable – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (iTunes | Amazon)
Tightrope – Walk the Moon (iTunes | Amazon)
Let’s Go – Calvin Harris (featuring Ne-Yo) (iTunes | Amazon)
Tattoo Girl – The Hundred Days (iTunes | Amazon)
Six Shooter – The Rouge (iTunes | Amazon)
The World Is Over – Red Wanting Blue (iTunes | Amazon)

Here’s to whipping my butt (and yours) back into shape!