Here’s one of the things I like about Christmas: Friends and family giving you presents that you never ever would buy for yourself. And by “you,” I mean me. And by “friends and family,” I mean the wacky gift givers I hang out with. Such as my dad, whose sense of humor somehow takes a creative turn during the holidays and he picks out and wraps up items such as … a box of cereal. Specifically, a box of Nature’s Path Organic Oaty Bites cereal that he thought I might like. Because he likes it. And the thing is, I do like it. But how my dad knew I would is beyond me, because whenever I visit my mom and dad, I usually have toast or muffins or cinnamon rolls or something equally warm and yummy. But this cereal is crunchy and slightly sweet and slightly nutty and good for you. Thanks, Dad. You still know best. Then my brother and sister-in-law who live in Chattanooga gave me something I’d been entirely ignorant of but which I now find out is something everybody in the whole world knew about except for me: Wine-bottle candelabras. You save your cool bottles and then put this candelabra in one and light the candles and you’ve got instant wine-bottle chic. Plus, my bro and sis-in-law ordered mine from Sundance – one of their favorite places to shop — and whenever I’m lucky enough get something from Sundance I always imagine that Robert Redford himself packed it. It could happen!
After my husband and I got married five years ago at the ripe old ages of 46, he just sort of moved his toothbrush and sock drawer into the house where I’d lived for a decade as a single mom raising two daughters. As a couple, he and I never have created a household together from scratch and I’m constantly trying to figure out what his “style” is before we do that. We’re probably distinct opposites — on everything. For instance, he’s a newspaper sports editor who watches “CSI,” listens to Rush Limbaugh and says his favorite movie is “Roadhouse.” I’m a freelance writer who watches “Survivor,” listens to NPR and adores the original “Sabrina,” although we both like “Good Eats,” REM and “Raising Arizona.” Hmmm. You see my dilemma. I can’t figure out how all that translates to one unifying home decor. But I keep trying. On a recent meander through a furniture store, I asked him which — if either — of these two candle fixtures he liked better. Naturally, it wasn’t the one I liked. However, there is hope because we both said the one we didn’t pick wasn’t all that bad. Maybe after five years of marriage, we’re becoming more alike than different. Crazy!!! But in a good way.
One of my family’s favorite stores in Birmingham, Alabama, actually is in Homewood. Red Rain is a sort of environmentally-aware general store with an emphasis on local and Alabama products. You can buy handmade soaps and candles in recycled containers, local honey, fresh produce, gently used books and glass ware, lotions and creams, handmade jewelry, stationery, Alabama Dirt shirts, yoga items and Alabama Chanin appliqued dish towels made from recycled T-shirts. Red Rain is a vibrant gathering place, too. Shopkeeper Sarah Gurganus believes in being an active member of the community and in environmental education and supporting local craftspeople and artisans as well as environmental causes. Red Rain is a go-to place for gifts in my family. Just walking in makes me smile — and it smells so good! Plus, it’s so inspiring to see what creative folks can do. Red Rain also has Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bronners products and some wonderfully whimsical pottery pieces. Check out the Web site at www.redrainstore.com.
I want to live in downtown Franklin, Tenn. And have lots of money. Well, a girl’s gotta dream, right? But even without lots of money, it’s still fun to go to Franklin. So many cute stores! Visit http://www.historicfranklin.com/ to learn more about this historic, renovated, shopper-friendly downtown. Some of my favorite stores include Philanthropy, www.philanthropyfashion.com, a clothing and gift boutique full of creative pieces from around the world, like these candles that look and smell unlike any others. You’ll also find jewelry, handbags, notepads, T-shirts, swingy skirts, throw pillows, party goods and other treasures there. Part of your purchase price goes to causes the store supports, so you can feel even better about shopping there.
At the bright and airy Bathos, www.bathosonline.com, you buy soaps, scrubs, lotions, oils and other goodies in a shop set up like an old-fashioned grocery store.
In fact, this reminded me so much of a tiny grocery near my gandparents’ house in Effingham, Ill., when I was little that I felt as if I’d time-traveled there. Other downtown Franklin spots I love to linger in are Rare Prints Gallery, www.rareprintsgallery.com, where you can wander around and admire and learn from the knowledgable staffers who are happy to talk about their museum-quality offerings and Franklin Tea, www.franklintea.com , a calm and serene sanctuary of international tea. Also try Bijou, a home and gift shop with cheerful fabrics and nature motifs. And this was only one block on one side of the street! Everyone is helpful and friendly — a great day or weekend trip for anyone who needs a break.