Monday, November 30, 2009

A Community Artist

The Heights has a lot of unassuming heroes--like the graffiti buster who helps restore the neighborhood or the woman who selflessly tends to the roses on Heights Blvd.

There's another unassuming hero at the corner of Euclid and Norhill, diligently piecing together a beautiful and intricate community bench in her front yard.

Elena C. Wortham, an artist from Mexico City who has been living in The Heights for more than 15 years, decided to create a community bench in her front yard to encourage folks from the neighborhood to stop by and enjoy the view of the park.

In Mexico City, Elena explained, many of the homes have large walls around them. However, once you enter through the gate, you are welcomed wholeheartedly. In the U.S., by contrast, many of the homes don't have any walls out front. However, there's like an "invisible barrier" that keeps neighbors from visiting each other.

The bench is her way to build community. All are welcome to use it for comfort, rest, and connection. In the time I spent talking with Elena, I found exactly that. I learned about the history of her home, her grandchildren, and other public art projects she's undertaken throughout Houston. I even got a tour of her home and studio--two stories of natural light, bookshelves, and a studio nestled in the backyard garden.

The bench mosaic is made from leftover pieces from Elena's previous projects. She uses cookie cutters to obtain the circle shape, and her grandchildren have contributed specific animals.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heights Holiday Shop-o-rama, Part 3

Kids. I believe in the end people who are buying for kids- their own or someone else's- are the busiest shoppers during the holidays. My brother wants to go to Toys R Us Friday and get the boys' presents before he heads back to D.C. Ummmmm. No. The parking, the pushing, the crying, the assaults. The last thing I want is to be at a toy store on Black Friday. Well, unless it's one in The Heights. I have several Heights businesses tell me "We don't have a Black Friday" which is both good and bad. I, personally, will be able to enjoy shopping without the insanity of the mall but our wonderful local merchants won't have an onslaught of new business either. So, I will direct my brother to one of these great stores and we'll certainly find something for both of my kids and some of the others we need to buy for.
I have 2 kids, both boys. In the past I have been forced out of the neighborhood due to a conspicuous lack of boyish toy options. However, I definitely did not have this issue on my recent shop trek.
Jubilee is probably one of the girliest stores ever, but there is a certain kind of kitsch that belongs to the boys: ROBOTS. From this fun, fun, fun robot hat to wind up toys for stocking stuffers (and I know some grown men who would love these as well), Jubilee had lots of offer the Puppydog Tails pack.

Shamelessly getting to show off my Wee One again. In robot knit hat. Too cute!

Wind up robots, assorted sizes and styles from $22

$5 wind up toys are perfect stocking stuffers

Olive Anne and The Pink Pokka Dot. Yup, full on girlie, but I guess they have also realized that there are a lot of boys around. While many boys might not be having a birthday party in the Pokka Dot room anytime soon, there are certainly some great gifts that most boys would love. (Gasp- I forgot to take notes on prices for Olive Anne. Sorry!)

Cars and blocks that make noise = boy heaven.

Finger puppets make another great stocking stuffer

If you have an expectant mom or newborn on your list, Olive Anne has some great baby keepsake gifts

For a new little boy. Similar offerings, plus some, in pink.

And I wouldn't want you to think they still didn't offer all-things-sugar-and-spice!

In addition to my own boys, I have 2 nephews and 4 nieces to buy for. Two nieces live in Austin and they are 12, both to turn 13 within the next 2 months. You know how "tween" girls are- they like stuff. Context on 19th is a great option for such stuff. While it looks like a "boutique" it's actually pretty affordable. I must disclose, Context is not "local" as defined by The 3/50 Project. They are owned by a local company who specializes in "boutiques" though, so money does stay in our local economy.

Costume jewelry selection to rival Forever 21 start at $5.00

Scarves and more scarves

Cute jackets like this are in the $60-70 range. Not Walmart prices, but less than you would expect at a boutique. Cute as a splurge item for my tween nieces.

And we can't forget the other kind of children that live in The Heights: Our four legged ones! Teresa at Urban Dog has treats and deals for your furry tail wagger. In addition to all the great toys and treats, Teresa offers 5% off first time bag-food purchases.

For the Foodie Pooch, homemade snacks for their doggy stockings.

A fun variety of beds, bowls, and balls

The Best Seller: Sam's YamsSweet Potato Dog Chews are all natural, human food grade and highly nutritious.

Happy shopping, friends and neighbors.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Heights Holiday Shop-o-rama, Part 2

Could we really buy everyone on our gift lists with out leaving The Heights? I am working on it. I covered some friends in the last post. Now my mind has turned the people I find the most difficult to buy for: family.

Oh, my inlaws. People might think that the great Holiday shopping conundrum is "What do you get for the person who has everything?" I think it's much harder to buy for that modest person who doesn't want much. My father-in-law would be happy with a Home Depot gift card and my mother-in-law would be happy if that gift card would get something checked off her "Honey Do" list. What do you buy people like that for Christmas? I enjoy giving gifts and I am also pretty practical about it- not giving junk just to give. It has to be useful, even if it's not glitzy, which is good for not glitzy people.

On the western end of the 19th St commerical area is Urban Soles Outpost. I'll be honest when I say that comfort shoes are not my chosen footwear. I like a high heel or something equally uncomfortable, even when toting kids around. Yet even I couldn't help but covet some of the comfy shoes Inge and Shannon have stocked their shop with. One of the 1st things I noticed from the window was a display of Acorn slippers. I have owned this brand before and they are by far the most comfortable and well made slippers out there.

This little display made one of the most difficult people to buy for one of the 1st ones done. My MIL will be getting these great spa slippers in her fave color. At $35 they seem pricey for slippers but they will last for years and be comfortable until the threads give out. As fate would have it, there was also another more decorative pair of Acorns in the window that I think my own mother would love. She loves some slippers and these colorful wool ones would be great for cold Massachusetts mornings. For her I am still a little undecided though...

Machine washable, thick and comfortable. Acorn slippers $35-55

IMPORTANT: When I was talking to Inge and Shannon about their merchandise (and they know everything about all of it. It's hand selected by their own specific criteria and they know the ins and outs of every shoe, slipper, flip flop and bag) we talked a little about prices. You may think that shopping small business means spending more. However, at Urban Soles they sell everything according the MSRP meaning it's the same price as the mall, Whole Earth or even Zappos. You spend the same amount but get better service, more knowledge and support a local business which, in turn, supports our local economy.

The father-in-law has bad knees and definitely needs comfort shoes. Urban Soles has them. He loves Clark's and wears them daily. However, it's been hard for him to find a dressier shoe for church. Urban Soles has this great option, packed full of little shoe-y features that would make them perfect for him:

Light as air with a non-skid sole, Clark's comfort and 3 different ways to keep feet cool, including cleverly hidden air vents! Lined in super soft lambskin and priced the same as the mall $135

Here is the gift I have to get myself: Sanuk flip flops, made from yoga mats. I tried a pair on and the squishy sole is heavenly. In fact, I was somewhere (maybe Carter & Cooley) talking about getting info for these posts and when I mentioned Urban Soles, someone said "Oooo, they have those awesome soft sandals." They carry several colors for men and women. My 26 year old brother, who wears a suit to work in DC everyday, will love these for some casual comfort on his days off.

Sanuk Women's Sandals with yoga mat soles $26

And I don't have anyone to buy these for, but I did love these lap top bags. A simple, solid color or something with just a little more detail. Both would be great for anyone who carts their computer around. $48-58

Shopping around, I hit all my fave stores even if they weren't necessarily gift destinations. I had to stop in to Sew Crafty because it's so cute and Sarah is so sweet. Low and behold, I found these cool felt appliques. These would be great for anyone you know who crafts or who likes to appeat crafty. A simple stitch or two could decorate a simple hat, scarf or sweater.

Myriad flowers and other fun shapes, starting at $1

Also, if you are crafty or are buying for someone who is, Sarah is having a Wed night craft class where you can either make the craft yourself to give or you can assemble a How To gift set as the present. She'll have a broach kit, bath sets and more.

And randomly, Sew Crafty has some of the cutest wrapping paper I have seen so far:

If you live in The Heights chances are pretty good that you have a lawyer on your shopping list. When I was growing up, watching TV I was always lead to believe that ties for the holidays were unwanted. It was a bad cliche. But I didn't know anyone who wore a tie when I was growing up. Now that I do, I actually think ties are a useful gift. My husband wears one every day, so does my brother and my father-in-law wears one at least every weekend to church. They all appreciate a nice, new tie.

Harold's In The Heights carries some gorgeous ties (and cufflinks); something for everyone.

Conservative or preppy:




I knew Harold's had great ties but always thought the women's was probably a bit more mature than I would wear. But on my trip in for the post I saw this super cute LBD:

We are skipping my hub's office party this year, so I don't have anywhere to wear it or else it very well might have come home with me. Hopefully you have somewhere special to go, because it's so cute and deserves a home!

And lastly are all the random people, cousins and such, that you want to give something to... And add those friends who are like family who every year have a party with a gift exchange. This is when you should head straight to Jubilee.

For the gift exchange we go to every year, there is a good mix of "real gifts" (mostly booze) and fun, white elephant type gifts. I go for the latter, past gifts including a disco ball and Star Trek Pez dispenser collection. This year, I'm thinking rubber chicken.

$16 is a fair price for the look on the person's face who opens this package

These flowery tools are great for ladies who are DIY. We have a very close friend who built her own picket fence. Hammer, scissors, screwdriver, tape measure.

$7-10 each

While Jubilee is funky and outrageous, there are things that would appeal to the more traditional style as well. For my sister-in-law, who likes that traditional Texas thing, turquoise crosses are just the thing.

While I appreciate the restraint that most Heights stores showed by not going full on Christmas by Halloween, Jubilee is not the kind of place I expect restraint. From pink metallic trees to yarn and felt balls, they are decked out and ready to party for the holidays. They have so many fun, silly and beautiful ornaments. You could waste hours looking in every nook and crany.

I certainly wasted more time than planned. I had the Wee One with me and he got the full Holiday prep treatment:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Heights Holiday Shop-o-rama, Part 1

OK. Get ready. Part of the intention of this blog, part of the reason I started it, was to help promote small businesses in our neighborhood. No time is this more important than the holiday season. The sales a small store does during the holidays can help it stay open throughout the year and survive in general.

Recently I found out about this great "idea" called the 3/50 Project. The goal of the project is to get more people to spend their money at local businesses. Their tag line is "Pick 3. Spend 50. Save your local economy." The idea is to think of 3 businesses you would miss if they closed and spend $50 at each of them. It's not saying you can't go to the mall or that you shouldn't order on line, but when you spend $100 at a local business it is estimated that $68 stays in your community. If you go to a chain retailer, you only inject $43 in to your local economy. I was happy to find this information and hope you'll click the link to see more information. I have a "feeling" about shopping local; it's nice to have some stats to back up the sentiment.

I planned on doing a small post about what our local businesses have available for your holiday shopping needs. Then I found the 3/50 Project and thought I would pick 3 and focus on them. You know what? Impossible. There is just too much to choose from and too many wonderful retailers who love our neighborhood and do so much for it. So, instead of 3 retailers, I'm going to do 3 posts. I also thought I would do it as a gift idea post but again, I was overwhelmed when I went through my pictures. So, it's not going to be as orderly or organized as I hoped but I hope you'll see some good stuff and take a visit to the shops that make The Heights a unique shopping destination.

I love to cook and entertain and most of my friends at least like to eat a lot, if not cook themselves. I found a great array of gifts in many pricepoints- but all affordable- for the home cook or party host.

CODA [355 W 19th] carries a wonderful line of tapanades which retail for $11 each. For the holidays, Frank is offering great gift baskets which can include pretty much anything he sells. Most of them fit a tapanade and something fun like cocktail napkins or spreaders, making a great (and eco-friendly) bundle. Frank is having tastings every Saturday in December, 1-6 PM. Stop by and try before you buy.

Tapanades are $11. CODA also has some jellies for $11 and you can try both at their Saturday tastings.

Start with a basket filled with eco-friendly packing materials for $8.50-11, add in whatever fun gift items you would like for a special- and local- present for the foodie on your list.

A lot of what CODA carries is eco-friendly. This crazy line of kitchen gadgets is made of a plastic and wood composite and it 100% recyclable. At $11 each they are fun, useful, affordable and green. This is The Heights so you definitely have a vegan, organic gardening, composting neighbor who will love one of these in their stocking! Or you can just give the Rasta potato masher because it's so damn fun!

Cook with a little more personality

And every entertainer needs more wine glasses. These are made out of recycled bottles, green literally and figuratively.

Every year I ask for cookbooks. Blanca at Heights Books-Libros can hook you up in English or Spanish if someone you know also has cookbooks on their wish list.

Everyone who hosts parties wants the house to look good, smell good, feel good. At Behind The Garden Gate [which shares its space with CODA on 19th St], Felix has great gifts to help you satisfy the needs of your party hosts... Or for yourself and the fabulous shindigs you are sure to be throwing.

Small shotglass candles can be great for scattering around, bunching as a centerpiece or using individually in small spaces like your bathroom vanity. These are 100% soy wax with cotton, i.e. lead free, wicks and are hand poured in recycled glass.

Buy 6 and get a 7th free. 12 fragrances to choose from.

If you want a more substantial "gift" candle, these Paddywax are something Felix has just started carrying. Not only do they have all the eco-minded characteristics of the shotglass candles; the company created their own boxes which are biodegradable plating boxes. You know, the kind you plant your seeds in and then plant, box and all. At $18.50, these are less expensive than jarred candles you'll find at some of Houston's high end gift stores.

Eco-friendly Paddywax candles

Their "Classic" hand-poured pillars

Of course, the best reason to shop at Behind The Garden Gate is Felix's hand crafted botanical creations. For gifts or you own decorating needs (yes, needs), everything is one of a kind.

A sneak peek at what Felix is bringing out for the holidays

Preserved botanicals are a long lasting alternative to fresh flowers ($48)

I think one of the biggest myths about buying local is that small businesses are always expensive to the point they are cost prohibitive. All the items shown above are in line with what big retailers sell for the holidays. Even knowing this, I was shocked at the affordable art glass pieces I saw at Eclectic Home. Starting at $16, these pieces make a big impact in a small amount of dollars.

Everyone likes something cool and innovative. These Chilewich placemats are sold at stores like Sur La Table, but why go to a chain (and try to park on West Gray) when you can buy them right here in The Heights at a local business? Made of vinyl, they are easy care but have the look of something much fancier and harder to care for.

I saw so many gorgeous things and there was so much Dale was clearly proud of. When I asked him if there was anything special he wanted to talk about, he just stumbled. There was too much. That is one of the many benefits of dealing with a local business. The people you meet when you walk through the door have a more vested interest in your entire experience. They want you to want something from them not just to make a sale, but because they know everything they have and are proud of it. They sell what they sell for a reason. They picked it, knowing why and how they thought it would appeal to and benefit their customers.
Dale mentioned that he has sold out of a lot of the pieces of this fun entertaining collection. He had 2 bowls and a chip-and-dip platter left but is expecting more soon- and expecting them to go quickly. If you like it, you'd better get up there!

Tucked in the back I saw the thing I would put on my list. These figurines kind of remind me of something from a Tool video and I like that about them. Weird, I know. Still, I think they would also fit a more traditional aesthetic and are really whimsical. I had to include them as my favorite.

Last on my list of gift ideas for the cook or entertainer is Bliss on 19th. Bliss is probably one of the best known stores in The Heights. Bliss, Oo La La and Tulips & Tutus are the 3 stores people always mention to me when I say I live in The Heights. I am not surprised. Bliss is a great store with a little something for everyone.
When I was in Bliss on this trip, something hit me. I had been working my way down 19th from the weest side, near Shepherd. Bliss was the last store and I went in to and it was in here I realized how muted "Christmas" is right now. When I think of Bliss at the holidays, I think of all the fun ornaments hanging from the ceiling. Those weren't out yet and it was like I went through some sci-fi space tunnel and bit of conversations from other stores came back to me. As if I needed another reason to love Heights retailers, they are WAITING until after Thanksgiving to bring out full on Holiday. I actually thanked Dan at Bliss for this. I get kind of annoyed by holiday creep. Leave it to The Heights to do it old-school (with one notable exception- Jubilee is in full swing but what do you expect? When you're putting up a hot pink Christmas tree, does the date reallt matter?)
The other great part about my stop in to Bliss today that was when I asked Dan about any special things he wanted to showcase, almost all of them were alcohol related. Ha!
Every year Shade hosts a holiday dinner for Heights Kids' Group. They let 40 of us have a great menu at a great set price and eat/drink/be merry. Claire also arranges for several businesses along 19th to stay open late so we can shop before we eat. Appetizers and drinks are served in the shops, priming the pump for a great dinner. Last year, Dan served this Wine Glace at Bliss. I couldn't partake. I was pregnant with the Wee One, but my friends certainly enjoyed it. It's basically a mix that you add to wine and it makes it like a Winarita. Fun!

Wine Glace, for Moms' Night Out :)

The same company that makes the Glace just came out with these mixes for more wine cocktails. Take a mix at $12.50 and add a cool wine stopper, ranging from $14-25, and you have a great item for a grab bag or gift exchange.

Foodies often cook, but many times they like to go out. Female foodies are probably going to have a purse. This cool stocking stuffer is an art glass purse hook, portable. You can pop it on any table and it balances your bag. I would love one for bars so I don't have to put my bag on the (usually wet, always dark) floor. Hint hint.

Art glass purse hooks $15

I know we already saw some great candles. However, candles aren't appropriate for everyone and Bliss has a cool alternative for anyone with a compelling reason to stay away from an open flame (can you say 2 year old?). These decorative "scent vessels" fragrance the air like a candle without burning. Dan says they last about a year and you can actually extend their scent life by rubbing them! Quirky, fun, unique. Like The Heights itself.

Scent vessels come in a bowl or sphere style, last at least a year and range from $18-25