Friday, November 28, 2008

For Your Favorite LA Face

Yes, this is a geographically specific gift.  But it's such a pleasure and an indulgence, I felt driven to post it.

Stress.  Hormones. Gunky air.  It all leads to that unfair result: zits galore and a clogged complexion.  But I have the Los Angeles solution to lousy skin: Arielle at Club Prive.  Arielle is a facial wizard.  Her 90 minute treatment (in a dark, quiet room) will relax even the twitchiest of stressballs.  Not only does Arielle manage to cleanse every pore, she massages faces with hot rocks for what seems like a blissful eternity.  Her products are French and smell fabulous (and hey, those French women drink and smoke and still look wonderful, so they must know something we don't).  

Club Prive is in an extremely private location in Westwood. There's plenty of parking and it's NEVER noisy.  I vote it as the best facial experience in LA, and a perfect gift for a very special and worried friend.  Or, hell, for yourself if you can wrangle someone into giving you a treatment.  'Cause beauty costs.

Dial Arielle at Club Prive: 310-470-4708.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fiddlehead Ferns On the Roof

If you live in a super urban environment like New York, you know that outdoor space is often at a premium, and is often in the sky.  The city rooftop garden is considered an ultimate apartment dweller dream come true.  In fact, they're so nice, even those of us with decks and yards envy hardcore urbanites their verdant aeries. 

Until now.  Check out this concept: a planter designed just like a lilliputian tenement, complete with its own rooftop garden. You plan your mini landscape.  You plant the plants or sow the seeds.  You can even add dollhouse deck furniture if you desire the diorama effect.  And then you watch your very own rooftop garden grow.

If this planter is too big or out of your price range, check out the drain grate planter instead (not as luxurious, but witty).  You can find both at  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boozy Bonsai

Ah, citified oenophiles.  They love a fine vintage, but live out of town.  You could send them a fine bottle or two, but that carries risk.  Temperature changes, sloppy shipping, and misplaced packages can turn the finest wine into unpalatable vinegar.

So maybe shipping actual nectar of the vine isn't such a good idea (and, god knows, these people have every glass and decanter known to man).  What to do?  Send them their own vineyard.

Well, on a micro level.  With this lovely grapevine bonsai, they can at least pretend they're residing in Napa (on their balcony).  This actual cabernet grapevine is not only adorably reinterpreted as a tree, come harvest time it'll produce actual wine grapes.  And what your boozy friends do with those grapes is their business.

You can find Bacchus's favorite gift pick at  It'll last way longer than any wine buzz.

Monday, November 24, 2008

NOT for the Birds

Usually Thanksgiving and holiday decor is fairly limited and lacking in wit.  There's the squat fake turkeys roosting on the dining room table.  Or twee miniature pilgrims gathering for their donated feast.  And don't get me started on the ridiculous gourd displays (why, god, why?).

One of the great things about Thanksgiving (and the holidays generally) in a warmer clime is having the outdoor space.  And I have the perfect decorative item for that mid-century modern patio or spanish hacienda courtyard.  Present your hostess (or yourself, if you've been tapped with bird duty this year) with a flaming birdhouse outdoor candle.

Available in a completely season appropriate autumnal brown, these flaming birdhouses on stakes will decorate your yard for the holidays and beyond.  They're a riff (albeit a tasteless riff) on the LA fire season.  They're also a reminder of your entree's noble fate.

You can find the flammable birdhouses at  And if you're indulging in tofu this year, think of them as a turkey protest statement.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Excuse me while I rant...

... about magazine gift guides.  Yeah, ok, I know they're print media, and not online, and that they don't really matter.   But I like to gather and then disseminate information, so I try to read all the magazine gift guides anyway.  And sometimes, like in the cases of Lucky and Domino, the guides aren't too bad.

However, this is a rant about crummy gift guides, and I have two examples to share.  The first, in Elle Decor, should be called the "Recession Denial" gift guide.  Yes, I know that Elle Decor is a snooty interior design mag (although it pales in comparison to Architectural Digest).  But, really, does anyone right now want to buy someone a $4,500 Kelly Wearstler brass box (although it makes the Ralph Lauren $2,895 boxes on the facing page look like a relative bargain).  And the boxes are understandably empty, since ostensibly you've blown your entire gift budget on the one item, and can't even afford a pack of gum to grace the inside.
Here's some more Decor craziness:
  • Four Ikat place mats for $270 (that look like you could've picked them up at Anthropologie)
  • Photo cases for $7,400 (empty as well)
  • A very furry and purple Hermes clutch for $2,450
  • A panoply of lower priced items so generic, they could be given to any number of strangers rather than your friends.
Some guides specialize in items that will offend no one but won't please anyone, either. InStyle's gift guide is stuffed full of 'em.  Check this out:
  • A bright pink travel backgammon set (that's some gaming)
  • $300 Victoria Beckham rainbow hued sunglasses for that Oleson twin reject look
  • Lots of (again) empty boxes
  • Crappy fake sparkly jewelry, suitable only for little girls but with big girl prices.
Is any of this stuff worth giving?  Does any of it match up with anyone you know?  It's so uncreative, so hopelessly spoon fed to lazy editors by rabid product pr specialists.  God, I'd rather just resort to the (god forbid) gift certificate route.

Thanks for humoring the rant.  I'll be back with the real gift ideas tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Vegan Carry Out

I know what you're thinking.  You think this entry is about vegan food.  Nope.  While I was a vegetarian in college (with an occasional fall off the wagon for a carnitas burrito), I can't quite get with the vegan victuals.  It's food that constantly has to pretend to be something it's not.  Little soy strips masquerading as a Reuben sandwich seems pathetic.  Obviously, the soy strips can't stand on their own; therefore, I will go eat a real Reuben instead.  At least it knows what it is, for god's sake.

So you won't be giving the vegan on your list any Miso Mayo.  Fine.  There's a bunch of other restrictions, though.  No silk (those little worms work too hard).  No leather.  No fur (ok, I'm against fur and you'll never see a fur item on this blog).   There is a solution, though.

A company called Matt and Nat is making wallets, sans bovine, reptile, stingray, or any other member of the animal kingdom.  Instead, these wallets and clutches are made out of Japanese paper.   It's vegan trickery at its best, since, unlike the aforementioned soy strips, this paper mimics leather to an uncanny degree.  Plus, they come in lovely colors like muted purple and gray.

Check them out at  Then go get a carnitas burrito.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Italian Engineering

Nothing beats the Italians for ingenuity.  The art.  The food.  The churches.  The bras.

Yeah, you heard right.  That Italian penchant for building big, seamlessly, and ambitiously really pays off on the lingerie front.  I'm thinking of one brand in particular, a brand that's difficult to find in the states: Ritratti.  And their one bra in particular: the Star.
As you can see from the photo, it's built a little differently.  On first glance, it seems impossible that it could work (sort of like looking up at the dome of the Duomo for the first time).  But work it does, and even on a rack like mine, which is hardly Romanesque in style.

So, who do you buy a very specially engineered bra for, anyway?  I'm guessing that there might be a lingerie freak on your list somewhere.  Or a silly bridal shower to attend (you might as well inject some culture).  Better yet, a friend who'd like to have plastic surgery but never would.  The Star would definitely help her temporarily achieve her secret goal.

Get some uplift at  

Tiny World

Everyone has control issues.  But, for some, it reaches the point where they really need their own tiny world.  

Enter the Ecosphere.  These self-contained, fully operational ecosystems have been around for a while.  Inside a glass ball or sphere, you'll find sea water, tiny red shrimp, algae, rocks, and sticks for scenery.  Given a modest amount of sunlight every day, this tiny world will produce its own oxygen, grow its own food source, feed the shrimp, and keep everything at a comforting status quo.  The crustaceans can live for years in there, happily nibbling and frolicking in their shrimpy way.

Now, it's true that your dictatorial friend might not be able to control everything in his Ecosphere.  There's no critter control and no high drama.  But he can make sure the sun rises and sets every day, and that's pretty much as godlike as it gets.  

A caveat: these worlds are fragile, so don't let kids or pets near them (one good shake is an unnatural catastrophe).  
Mail order them at

Monday, November 17, 2008

What's that smell?

I'll be the first to admit that perfume is a very tough gift item.  Perfume is personal.  It's individual.  It follows you through your everyday life.  And, most of all, it SMELLS.

Smelling, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.   But what smells like a field of flowers to you can smell like a whole heap of allergy to someone else.  My mother used to gasp for breath and roll the windows down in the car (cursing and muttering unmentionables all the while) when faced with a scent she hated.  Now, I believe I've found the possible exception to objectionable perfume: HEELEY.  And one HEELEY scent in particular: Menthe Fraiche.

Basically, it smells like moroccan mint tea mixed with a little sugar (maybe with a bit of lemon mixed in for kicks).  It's not a scent that hangs all over you like a shroud.  It doesn't have any synthetic musk notes that make 'em wheeze.  I wear it myself and I've given it to several people, all of whom love it.  Plus, it smells like food.  And men like things that smell like food.  The only scent that might be better than this one for attracting the opposite sex would be a perfume reeking of pepperoni pizza.

HEELEY perfume is available at  They'll also send you samples.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lofty Luddite

It seems clear to me that if you're reading this blog, you're probably not opposed to technology.  After all, computers and mobile phones, high definition tv and internet dating, Bluetooth enabled cars and Facebook "friends" are all just part of your everyday landscape.  But what about the technological misfits?

You know who I'm talking about.  The stubborn people who still use a typewriter.  They still have their answering machine with its original cassette tape intact. Caller ID?  What's that?  And for them, the Internet is something someone named Al Gore invented to steal their identity, send them emails from African government officials and get them addicted to porn.  None of that newfangled technology for them, thanks.

They are the Luddites.  And you can't change them.  But you can give them something to make their rigid little hearts beat a little faster.  Designer Gary Gibson opened his loftlike showroom in Los Angeles partially because he loved to collect things.  And his collections are firmly
 rooted in the deeply nostalgic past.  Check these out:
  • How about an entire array of old oil cans (looking very much like a Tin Man tribute)?  
  • A set of much used wooden mallets (originally from the midwest)  
  • One of the more interesting old items I found was a display of old sprinkler faucet handles, which were everywhere in the 1970s but disappeared with the advent of watering timers.  
Everywhere I looked, Gibson's store harkened back to a past where Luddites still long to tread.

Gibson's web site ( shows off art, furniture and interior design too.  He gets in new old stuff frequently, so you can always contact him through the site for the newest goods for your oldest (or oldest-seeming) friends.

Friday, November 14, 2008

There's One Born Every Minute

Babies, that is.  Or at least it seems as though the little screamers are being born in my crowd constantly.  And I'm sure you have your own fecund group, demanding gifts for their newborns.

Of course, you're not buying for the baby.  The baby is barely beyond amoeba and can't even SEE what you've given it for months yet.  You're buying a gift for the parent.  While there's endless registry items to choose from, on occasion something more personal is required (anyone can charge a Bugaboo Frog).  Something that's unusual, quirky, and brings a smile to parent and baby alike.

Like a letter from artist Susan Arena's "Joe's Alphabet."  Originally a series of 24 paintings (one for each letter, duh) and painted in honor of her son Joe's arrival, Arena transformed her canvases into gorgeous, affordable prints for baby's room.  Arena's themes are mostly animals, but resonate with a sense of mystery and menace rather than mere cuteness (sort of like childhood itself).  Match a letter up with Baby's first or last name.  Frame it or don't.  They look great virtually anywhere; I have one (the letter "E," featuring a very demure and retiring elephant) on my daughter's bedroom door.  The only downside is you'll have to wait until you know the kid's name to make your choice.  But don't worry; the baby will never know the gift was late.

Go to to check out all the letters from A to Z.

Shrinky Dink

I think I'm probably limiting my gift-giving audience here, but this situation must apply to someone, somewhere: what do you get your shrink? My first impulse was to go for a plant.  Yes, a living green thing your shrink must display and tenderly care for, else it shrivels and dies.  Watch it carefully over the following months for signs of deterioration.  You know you're always looking for a reason to terminate treatment, and here it is!

But wait.  There's something so much better.  Try a Tank Book.  These shrunken volumes of gloomy classic lit are packaged just like a real pack of cigarettes.  It's so rare that you can give your shrink a gift so heavy with hidden portent.  The ciggie packaging symbolizes your addictive needs (and is a painful reminder to your doctor just how badly they want a smoke to ward off boredom and drowsiness during session).  And don't even get me started on the titles.  I'm torn between Conrad's Heart of Darkness or Kafka's double whammy of The Metamorphosis and The Penal Colony.  One of these tiny tomes gives your shrink endless opportunities for analysis.  This isn't just a gift: it's job satisfaction wrapped in cellophane.

Try going to  Alternatively, go to  They aren't on the store's site, but if you call or email, they'll gladly fill your order.  And did I mention they're only 15 bucks?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

So green, it smells like the lawn

I'll be perfectly honest here and say just how annoying the whole "green" thing is, particularly in Los Angeles.  Here we are, in one of the most polluted places on the planet, and rich people in the Hollywood Hills think that by purchasing a hand-plucked, humanely raised alpaca schmatte, they're somehow saving the planet.  It's consumerism at its most smug.

Still, there's nothing wrong with making a bit of an effort on the green scene.  Especially when there's always at least one person on your gift list who will be impressed.  You know the one. Never a close relative or friend, but someone who's involved with someone you're close to, a person who refuses to use Saran Wrap and starts their own compost pile... even though they live in a fourth floor walkup.  Compost, indeed.

That's why these mugs from are so perfect.  They look like corrugated cardboard, a renewable resource.  But, they're actually porcelain and dishwasher (or handwasher) safe.  Doubly renewable!  And, because going green should always involve sacrifice of some kind, these cleverly designed cups have no handles, adding a bit of digit warming risk every morning.  

Sending Home the Bacon: Smoke for the Foodie

Buying for a foodie can be a challenge.  Let's face it: they've already bought every kitchen gadget known to man, they're on all the food blogs and know all the latest food trends.  And forget about trying to treat them to a great dinner somewhere, since they've been there and done that six months ago.  Yeah, I live in Los Angeles, where this all might be a bigger problem than in, say, Peoria.  But I'm sure you have someone on your gift list with a food fetish.  Everybody does.

So here's the thing: forget super-gourmet.  It's a waste of time.  Go for some old-fashioned Heartland-of-America nostalgia factor.  Give them some pig.  And not just any pig.  After sampling my trayf-ridden way through plate after plate of bacon, I've concluded that Nueske's is number one.  Made in Wisconsin, it shrinks less (more swine for the table), and its smoke flavor beats all hell out of anything else on a Sunday morning.  Forget those "bacon-sampler" packages you can find online at various foodie sites, too.  While those packages may contain some Nueske's, I see no reason to waste taste bud action and shipping costs on anything but a box full of the real thing.

Go to their site at and design your own porky package.  Anything is fabulous.  Just make sure to include some of their canadian bacon, a sure-fire smoky addition to everything from frittatas to bean soup.  It'll make them squeal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Welcome to Find a Toad

Welcome to Find a Toad, a blog dedicated to (hopefully) helping you find the right gift for anyone and everyone in your life.

First off, what does Find a Toad even mean?  I could give a long winded explanation (my blog, remember?) about a childhood nickname, reclaiming years of embarrassment in a positive light, and a fondness for a beloved kids' book.  All that's true.  But I thought it had a sort of memorable, funny ring besides.  Hell, we're always looking for princes in the worst places (sorry, all two of my straight guy readers, for leaving you out).  It's better in just about every case to find a toad.  Sometimes it might turn into a prince, but even an insanely useful, voracious insect eating amphibian isn't so bad compared to the schlock that's out there.  I'm on the lookout for toad-like gifts that magically transform into princes upon receipt.

So onto the gift concept.  Every magazine on earth has a gift guide this time of year.  Most of them are shameless examples of publicity at work: samples and "gifts" get sent to writers and editors, and they take the path of least resistance by writing about them.  Rarely do I see an innovative gift guide (InStyle is the guiltiest party for this kind of giveaway journalism); Domino and Lucky magazines tend to have the best gift arrays (but I'm suspicious of these as well).

I'm planning to divide giftees into categories.  Not just "He," and "She," and "Baby," but "The Best Friend with More Money Than God Who Can Buy Whatever She Wants."   After all, ANYONE can buy a baby gift (what's the tadpole going to do, complain?), but not anyone can buy the perfect gift for "The Perpetually Dissatisfied Mother-In-Law," or the "Friend's Wife Who Claims to Hate Materialism."  Hopefully, I can help out there.