Saturday, July 31, 2010

Avoiding Admissions Depression

There comes a point in many a parent's life when the painful truth must be faced: it might be time to apply to private school. No, not for you, but for your kid. In Los Angeles, this can be a truly mysterious and painful process. Competition is stiff. You and your child are subjected to massive scrutiny and testing on many a front. And, after all that work and worry and wait, a big fat envelope might not be in your future.

The Toad knows this well, having just gone through the process. And I wish I'd had this incredible resource handy: Beyond the Brochure. Beyond the Brochure is both a book and a blog completely devoted to the private school admissions process. Offering tons of tips and info, these resources help you apply to private schools in the most intelligent, strategic way possible. So, even if you don't make five million dollars a year and have the Spielbergs as your best friends, you still might be able to wrangle a spot for your child in one of L.A.'s best schools. Although this book and blog focus on Los Angeles, the advice could be applied to any private school admissions process across the country (how about New York, which sounds 100 times more savage than L.A.).

If you're even thinking about applying to schools in the near future, check out Beyond the Brochure. It's a safe place in which no question is stupid and the advice is golden. I only wish I'd known about it when we went through the turmoil; it could've saved us some guesswork and depression!

Portable Art for the Wee Ones

Now that my daughter is nine, I look back on her younger years in disbelief. Every outing was devoted to keeping her entertained and preoccupied, so that the adults had the slightest chance at adult communication. Restaurants in particular were hard, frantically shoveling in food and hurling toys at her.

But then (alas, far too late) I came across Karen Kimmel's Kimmel Kids The Art of Exchange Art Tools. These complete kits contain super bright pencils, inventive and organically shaped stencils, paper, and an activity book, all contained in an awfully stylish canvas case. It's so portable that you could literally take it anywhere (planes, trains, maybe even automobiles) for instant child taming. I've been acquainted with Karen Kimmel for years through my daughter's former preschool; she's quite an art and product force, and I definitely think she's nailed a fabulous child entertainment system here.

The entire ultimate set, pictured here, is expensive: about $120.00. But, if you purchase, say, the activity book, neon pencils, and a stencil set separately, it takes the price down quite a bit. These art kits would make a great birthday present for a favorite three year old (it's really a present for the parents of the favorite three year old). Check them out at A+R.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Awesome Betty

There are some celebrities you may love to hate, but every once in a while, there's one you just have to love.

Betty White, for instance. Who couldn't love her? Even if you weren't a Golden Girls or Mary Tyler Moore fan, after seeing the 89 year old super pro dominate an entire Saturday Night Live, you just have to give her nothing but credit and admiration. She's absolutely an awesome octogenarian, the woman who turns the term "elderly" on its head. And these Betty White sweatshirts just expand on that theme. Take the Andy Warhol version pictured here, or the take off of the Sex Pistol's iconic album cover emblazoned with Betty, or any of the other completely current and ironic sweatshirt designs at Hoodie Buddie. These are hilarious, and for under $50 make a fabulous present.

And if your giftee doesn't fancy Ms. White, he or she is a choad. Go to Hoodie Buddie for the full Betty White Collection selection.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For the Budding Architect

Out of all the toys available to kids, blocks have always been a big favorite. There's something so satisfying, even primal, about watching a toddler build with a block set.

These Multiblocks are yet another example of great block design. Rather than muddling up the construction works with small and useless shapes like triangles and spheres, these blocks come in four different lengths instead. This makes taller, larger scale building a possibility. Watch the kid summon his or her own Sears Tower genius: the world's tallest block structure, sans retro-fitting for easy demolition at bedtime. They come 48 blocks to a set, and they're not unsightly plastic dreck, so you won't mind having them in the living room. Plus, the increment marks and numbers on each piece are nice (and practical) touch.

One set of Multiblocks makes a lovely baby or one year gift. Found only at Uncommon Goods. Check them out. With these in your home, you might even be tempted to do your own Bob the Builder imitation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Graphically Good Guide to Coffee

There's just no such thing as a normal cup of joe anymore. You know this, as the ordering options and the ensuing absurdity has been lampooned virtually everywhere. It's hard enough knowing the basic drinks, but when they're combined with a coffee house's infinite variations, coffee ordering becomes just one more opportunity to make a total dork out of yourself.

But what about making the stuff at home? Plaid, a blog and site devoted to branding ideas, created this poster for helping the at home barista. It ranges from the simple to the arcane (the Yuayang, anyone?). And its simple graphics, all organized around a symbol that looks like variations on a target, will mesh with any decor. Post this poster in a kitchen and the coffee lover in your life will always have the key to great coffee.

Pricing appears to be upon request. Check it out at Plaid. It's an elegantly graphic route to complex coffee.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unexpected, Ahem, Benefit

A little while ago I posted about an Alba Botanica sugar body scrub that seemed the same quality as other scrubs, but at about a third of the price.

Well, if that wasn't enough of an incentive, get a load of this. A good friend of mine purchased the scrub, took it home, and discovered her husband couldn't get enough of it. As in, couldn't get enough of rubbing the brown sugary substance all over her, while inhaling the intoxicating scent deeply and getting very frisky. Turns out, there's some bona fide scientific evidence regarding males, sweet food scents, and arousal. In fact, the number one preferred scent (in a study I recall but am way too lazy to find; this isn't an academic site after all) for males was hot cinnamon rolls. I suppose one could interpret this evidence as justification for a bake sale food fight as foreplay; please go right ahead, it's a free country.

Remember, it's just eleven bucks for a multi-purpose product. The male sensory appeal just sweetens the deal. Find it at Alba Botanica.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gallons of 3 Ounce Toiletries

Travel is such a wonderful thing. Air travel, on the other hand, pretty much sucks these days. Between the scheduling problems and the nickel and diming over luggage check-in, flying is just one big pain.

The biggest pain, though, is the carry-on toiletry conundrum. In an attempt to circumvent the extra costs (and possible temporary loss) of checked luggage, carry-on is now au courant. Learning to pack compactly is an excellent skill. Trying to shrink your favorite products into a 3 ounce form isn't really a part of the skill set. You know the drill: here you are, at the drugstore, searching for acceptable travel sized brands to stick in that skimpy zip-lock bag. Alternatively, you've purchased appropriate sized plastic bottles, and have dripped product all over your bathroom in an attempt to funnel goop into them. Well, leave it to the revolutionary internet to take care of this problem. Just go to for a pretty staggering selection of premium beauty products. With names like Phyto, Hauschka, DDF, and an assortment of organic brands, this site surely carries something that meets your exacting standards. For instance, the Phyto hair kit pictured above, featuring everything you'll need for shiny, frizz free hair on that trip into the humid east coast summer.

Click here for and look around. If you stock up now, you'll have enough for yourself, plus inexpensive bon voyage presents. Because a prepared traveler is a happy traveler.

Monday, July 19, 2010

And Don't Call Me Fanny

Everyone and their mother is either going on vacation or getting ready to depart. A bon voyage gift is always welcome. And while this might not be the ideal travel gift for the fashionista in your orbit, in terms of practicality it works for virtually everyone else.

I'm talking about the dreaded fanny pack. Oh, I'm sorry, we don't call them fanny anymore; now we call them hip packs. Whatever. A fanny pack by any other name can still carry all the money, id, and sunscreen sojourners will ever require. And this hip pack completely fits the bill. Made by those rugged individualists at Patagonia, this model is simple, compact, water-resistant, and completely functional. It'll hold stuff, it'll hold it either fastened around the (ahem, we're not fooling anyone here) hip or shoulder slung. And it's small enough to squish into carry-on luggage. Fine, it's not pretty. But it's only forty bucks!

Find Ms. Hipster at Altrec. And give your fellow traveler some hands-free tourism.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Maholo for the Caffeine

There are a few things that Hawaii does extremely well. Coffee is one of them. Somehow, an ordinary cup of joe on Oahu (or Kauai, or Maui, you get my drift) is transported to the level of caffeinated transcendence.

I used to think it was just the tropics, playing a trick on the mind. But, no. It's definitely the coffee. And now you can order pounds and pounds of those wonderful sun kissed brews anytime you'd like, from Haleiwa, Oahu's Coffee Gallery. Send some of this to a North Shore beach jonesing friend and watch tears spring to her eyes. Coffee Gallery roasts your order after it's received online, and it's whisked to the lucky drinker in three to five days. I swear, you can taste the lava rich soil and blazing rays that produced those beans.

Go to for Coffee Gallery's full selection (the Hawaiian blends are excellent). And check out the video feed, giving you a glimpse into that casual island life that seems so far, far away.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Takashimaya RIP

Well, another revered store bites the dust. Takashimaya, the emperor of the understated department store, shut their doors last week in Manhattan.

Takashimaya was a sort of shopping oasis in the over stimulating hell that is New York City shopping. After hours spent trudging in cold, wind, or shirt soaking humidity, the extended hush of the multi-floored curated department store was a welcome relief. The air conditioning always worked, the sales people so discreet they were practically invisible. You could always find an interesting item, from cufflinks made from antique watch parts to obscure Japanese cosmetics, and not all of it was very expensive. There was tea and very civilized small cookies of good fortune in the basement. And the store boasted the best public bathroom in the city.

We will miss you, Takashimaya. Even if Lainie found it unnervingly quiet and yelled in there just to hear another human being.