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Six Tips for Giving Great Gifts

By holiday fun, lifestyle, lists, shopping, skills, you might learn something 3 Comments

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For the last few years, I’ve put together a holiday gift guide, but this year, I thought I’d try something different. I’m posting these actual gift-giving tips for a few reasons: (1) because doing that scavenger hunt and putting together those collages takes way, way too much time, (2) because I can’t actually post any of the gifts I’m planning to purchase without ruining the surprise, and (3) because your friends and family probably want to receive gifts you picked out, not me. (Well, maybe not so much that third reason — I’m an excellent gift giver, and I bet your friends and family would love getting gifts from me. :))

I knocked out a big chunk of my Christmas shopping this weekend, and while I was at it, I made a few mental notes about how I choose gifts. For me, gift shopping is much, much different than shopping for myself, so most of the shopping tips I normally dole out do not apply. Obviously I’m posting this list in time for the holidays, but I think these ideas work for all occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, showers, weddings, etc.

Anyway, here it goes. How to become the best gift giver your friends and family are acquainted with (unless they’re acquainted with me):

1. Make a Budget

The first thing I do when shopping for gifts is figure out how much I want to spend on each person, and I write it down where I can keep a tally of how much I’ve spent as I shop. I don’t do this because I’m not generous — I do it because I am generous, and sometimes I go overboard. Shopping for gifts should be fun, and it shouldn’t put you in debt for months afterward. As I’ve become more financially stable over the last several years, I’ve gradually increased my shopping budget for my family members. For my friends, I do my best to stay within a reasonable dollar range based on previous gift exchanges with each person. I do this to make sure I don’t overextend myself, but also because the last thing I want to do is make a friend feel awkward, which sometimes happens if one person spends a whole lot more money than the other. If I do go over my budget for the perfect gift, I try to prevent any awkwardness by saying (or, even better, writing in my card) something along the lines of, “I saw this, and I thought it was absolutely perfect for you. I really, really wanted you to have it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I think you will.”

2. Give Something Special

It’s important for gifts to be thoughtful and useful, but they should also be special. By special, I mean something that the person wouldn’t have necessarily bought for him or herself, perhaps because they would never have thought of it or because they wouldn’t have been willing to splurge on it. A gift is something shared between two people, and it’s a win-win if the giver appreciates the gift just as much as the recipient…because spending money on gifts you personally dislike isn’t very satisfying at all. It’s also good practice to focus on quality over quantity when gift shopping because crappy gifts have a tendency to turn into household clutter or end up in the donation pile. That’s best avoided by purchasing useful items of the highest quality possible in your price range.

Here are some examples:

  • I have a friend who sits on old bath towels at the beach. If I splurge on some extra cute, colorful beach towels for her, I know she’ll use them; they’ll remind her of me because she knows I love the beach; and they’ll also be something special that she wouldn’t have spent money on herself.
  • If I’ve got a $30 budget, I’d prefer to spring for a top-of-the-line $30 amazing-smelling body lotion in a gorgeous bottle, rather than purchase a gift set of three average body lotions for $9 each. The $30 lotion is more likely to be treasured, displayed on a dresser and ultimately used, whereas the $9 bottles are more likely to end up in the bottom of the bathroom cabinet, never to be seen again.

3. Do Some Research
Almost everyone has some kind of social media account these days. Pinterest is an especially good tool for doing a little investigative research prior to choosing a gift. Those who are easiest to buy for might have a “Wish List” board, but even those who don’t may have boards that offer up clues as to what they enjoy and what types of things are important to them. You might pick up on some favorite brands, favorite colors, favorite foods/wines/beers, etc. Facebook and Twitter might not offer quite as much insight, but it’s always worth a peek, and these two offer up the ability to private message a significant other, family member or friend of your target to see if you can get some hints about what he’d like.

Here are some examples:

  • Perhaps you notice on Facebook that your friend and his wife just exchanged anniversary gifts — he got her a beautiful red handbag, and she bought him a black wool coat. The perfect gifts for these two could be a pair of new winter scarves — one that goes with his black coat, and one that has a bit of red in it to go with her new bag.
  • Whenever I look at my friend Heather’s photos on Facebook, I remember that she always wears these multi-colored plaid rubber boots on rainy days. I might consider giving her a collection of cute umbrellas — one of each color in her boots. (No, Heather. I did not get you umbrellas for Christmas.)
  • Maybe you see that your friend keeps pinning bar carts to her “Home Inspiration” board on Pinterest because she wants one for her dining room. A book of cocktail recipes or a few bar accessories may be great gifts to compliment her bar cart once she gets it set up.

4. Localize It
Buying locally inspired gifts is a tactic I’ve been using a lot lately. Who doesn’t love being reminded of their home town, favorite vacation destination, alma mater or even a faraway place they’ve never been before? The key to making local gifts work is subtlety — as in, no “So-and-so went to St. Somewhere, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” apparel, and certainly no touristy key chains, shot glasses or other such nonsense (unless you’re trying to be funny or your recipient is into that kind of stuff). When done right, locally inspired gifts are always well-received because they’re very thoughtful.

Here are a few examples:

  • My parents brought back some 100% Kona coffee from their trip this summer, which would make the perfect gift for a coffee-drinking, Hawaii-obsessed person (hint, hint).
  • A bottle of wine I recently discovered in Napa Valley accompanied by a wine opener or a cheese board would make a great hostess gift.
  • I picked up some pretty flamingo Christmas ornaments and dish towels when I stayed at the Flamingo in Vegas. They don’t say Flamingo on them; they just are flamingos. When I give them, I’ll say, “I thought of you in Vegas and picked this up for you at the Flamingo — isn’t it adorable?” I like to think a gift like this shows recipient she’s important to me because I keep her in mind even while I’m on vacation.
  • A few years ago, I gave my best friend’s little girl a few Jersey Shore children’s books, and she loved them! People don’t often think to buy themselves mementos from their home towns, so they make great gifts.
  • I’ve found that college grads who may be too old to stick decals to their cards always seem to appreciate the subtlety of a license plate frame.
  • A framed map of someone’s home town who has moved away would make a nice gift, too.

5. Personalize It
If you don’t feel like your gift ideas are very creative, personalizing an otherwise mundane gift makes a world of difference. There are thousands of items out there just waiting to be embroidered, etched and customized with all sorts of monograms, names, dates, birthstones, colors, etc. These days you can personalize pretty much anything, thanks to websites like CafePress and Etsy. There are a few things to keep in mind when personalizing gifts, though. First, custom items can rarely be returned, so be sure to double check spelling and confirm dates, birthdays, etc. before ordering. This would be another situation where Facebook may enable you to contact a spouse or parent of the recipient to confirm a date or find out whether someone’s middle name changed after they were married. Custom gifts also take a little more time, so plan ahead, and be prepared to order a few weeks before the holiday.

Some of my favorite personalized gifts include:

  • Monogram and name necklaces
  • Custom iPhone cases
  • Calendars and photo products (Who needs those dog breed calendars? Last year I made a calendar featuring photos of Diesel for J, and he loved it!)
  • Embroidered totes, men’s shirts, linens, etc.

6. Give a Gift Card
Gift cards are the easiest, quickest, least risky gifts to get your hands on, which is why they seem to have a reputation for being the last resort gift or the gift that lazy people give. I don’t necessarily agree — I think gift cards can be great gifts. They say, “It’s the thought that counts,” and the key to successfully giving gift cards is just that. You still have to think before you choose the gift card. If you just grab the Target gift card at the register, it’s extremely likely the recipient is going to use it for groceries, cat litter and paper towels. If you want your gift to be remembered, try to think outside the box a little.

Here are some great gift card ideas:

  • Choose a gift card to a restaurant you visit regularly that perhaps the recipient hasn’t discovered yet. Include a copy of the menu with some notes on your favorite dishes and drinks and the best nights to visit the restaurant.
  • With books, music and movies becoming more and more digitized, gift cards are unavoidable when giving the gift of entertainment. Give an iTunes gift card, along with a list of songs that remind you of the person you’re giving it to. Or give a Kindle-lover an Amazon gift card accompanied by a few suggestions about what to read on his or her upcoming vacation.
  • Purchase a gift card to a salon or spa. If it’s one you frequently visit, and pass along the names of your regular facialist or massage therapist. Go a step further — let the staff know your friend is coming in, and tip ahead to ensure she receives VIP customer service while she’s there.

I’d like to end this post with one of my all-time best gifts ever. I can’t take all the credit for it because I think it may have been my mom’s idea. In 2006, I got my hands on three dresses custom-made for my grandmother years and years ago. I posed for a photo in each one, framed the prints, and gave them to my grandmother. It was Christmas, but her birthday is in December, too — I think it was a birthday gift. Either way, the prints are hanging up at her house, and the they top the list of my favorite gifts given, for sure. 🙂

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If you’re still reading this, I hope you found this list helpful. This was a long post, and I really appreciate your dedication to becoming a gift-giving guru. In fact, I’ll make you a deal. If you read this far, and you still don’t know what to give someone, e-mail me, and I’ll help you figure it out. 🙂 (Or, you could always go back and check last year’s gift guides…)

Thanks for reading, and happy holiday shopping!

J.Crew Fall 2012 Love

By fall, shopping, style No Comments

JCrew Fall 2012 Wishlist

Hypothetically, if someone were to unleash me in J.Crew with unlimited funds this season, these are the six items I’d purchase. I say “hypothetically” for two reasons: (1) because once I try on those paisley-looking pants, I’m probably going to realize they won’t work out on my 5’1″ frame, and (2) because that black dress is already sold out. =)

1. Collection Golden Paisley Pant, $325
2. Booker Boots, $298
3. Collection Houndstooth Popover, $525 (This thing must be made from the wool of sheep royalty.)
4. Collection Cafe Capri in Jade Jacquard, $198
5. Etta Cap Toe Leather Pumps, $248
6. Flared Ponte Dress, $138 (sold out)

Fashion’s Night Out

By events, fashion statements, hampton roads, lifestyle, partying like a rock star, shopping, style One Comment

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Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Fashion’s Night Out at Peninsula Town Center as a photographer. It was so much fun mingling and snapping pictures of Hampton Roads’ local fashionistas looking their best. I loved participating in a local event celebrating fashion in conjunction with NYFW, and Peninsula Town Center went all out. They brought in celebrity stylist Stephen “Cojo” Cojocaru, gave away special gifts and hundreds of goodie bags, and rolled out the red carpet at shops throughout the center to offer special deals and sales to shoppers. They also hosted a fabulous VIP pre-party at Cinebistro, where Cojo revealed the new look of PTC’s FNO makeover winner, Christina Morales. She looked drop-dead gorgeous in a sparkly neutral dress, strappy heels, and a glamorous new hairstyle.

As partygoers hung on every word of Cojo’s style advice, I thought nothing of my own outfit, since I was flitting around behind the camera taking pictures of as many people as I could. It was right around the time he started warning against over-highlighting one’s locks and delighting in the fact that women look so put-together in heels that I started to think, “Uh oh…maybe I’m underdressed.” =)

Luckily, I was wrong. I got plenty of compliments on my layered rainy-day photographer look (which featured a sleeveless trench, red Hunter boots and my trusty Ona bag). I think the most flattering one came from Hillary Puckett, a local contributor to College Fashionista, when she asked if she could take a picture of my outfit! Thanks, Hillary! =)

Special thanks and congratulations to my friend Suzanne, who invited me up to take pictures and played a huge role in planning Fashion’s Night Out at Pensinsula Town Center.

If you were in attendance and would like to see the rest of my photos, you can find them here. =)

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FNO Comes to Hampton Roads! (Win 2 VIP Tickets!)

By breaking news, events, fashion statements, giveaways, lifestyle, partying like a rock star, shopping, style 14 Comments

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Fashion’s Night Out celebrates its fourth anniversary this year, and the event will make its local debut at Peninsula Town Center this September. FNO kicks off New York Fashion Week, and is an event that’s grown on a global scale since its inception in 2009.

I’m so flattered to be attending PTC’s first FNO event as a photographer! In return for my services, PTC has offered me two tickets to an exclusive Pre-Event VIP Party at Cinebistro, and I’m so excited to give them away to one of my local readers! The winner and a guest will attend a special meet and greet from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with celebrity stylist Steven “COJO” Cojocaru and receive an FNO tote bag filled with goodies. After that, you’ll join COJO and the rest of the FNO-goers in Town Square for an official FNO kickoff, fashion tips, special prize drawings and more. Then, from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., select PTC merchants will roll out the red carpets for shoppers to enjoy in-store promotions and events.

To enter, all you need to do is this: Check out Peninsula Town Center’s shopping directory, and tell me which store is your favorite and why. =) This giveaway begins now and ends next Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:01 AM EDT.

Want to earn some extra entries? Earn one extra entry for each of the following:

1. Tweet about this giveaway, and let me know you did in a comment.
2. Share the giveaway on Facebook, and let me know you did in a comment.
3. Follow LDA Press in some way (Bloglovin’, WordPress, RSS, Google Reader, etc.), and let me know you do in a comment.
4. Follow me (@lisadenoia) on Twitter, and let me know you do in a comment.
5. “Like” Peninsula Town Center on Facebook, and let me know you do in a comment.
6. Follow @peninsulatwnctr on Twitter, and let me know you do in a comment.

Once the giveaway ends, I’ll use a random number generator to draw a winner. The winner will have to contact me via e-mail to provide a name, address, phone number and e-mail. Then just show up, valet park (I love valet parking), and your two VIP tickets will be waiting for you at the event. =)

For more information on FNO at Peninsula Town Center, please check out their special event page here.

If you don’t happen to win, or you’d like more tickets, you can purchase them through the Junior League of Hampton Roads here.

Good luck, and I hope to see you there!

10 Summer Essentials

By life's a beach, lifestyle, lists, shopping, style, summer One Comment

10 Summer Essentials

Summer’s in full swing, and I’m ready to make the most of the next few months. My calendar’s full of beach days, weekend trips, work events, cookouts, and more, and I’m sure yours is, too. The days may be long and scorching, but that’s no reason to go around looking (or acting) like a hot mess. =)

Here are 10 of my favorite summer essentials to get you through the season in style.

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1-Shorts
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From the beach to the bar to the office, I’ve been wearing these J.Crew 3″ Chino Shorts ($45) virtually everywhere this summer. I’ve got navy, khaki and hot pink on repeat, and since they’re so easy to wash, dry, pack, and wear, I see no end in sight for these shorts throughout the rest of July and August.

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2-Sunscreen
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If you’re one of those people who still doesn’t wear sunscreen, then you may as well be smoking a pack a day. I can’t be out in the mid-day sun for more than 20 minutes without long sleeves or some kind of SPF on my skin. Here’s what’s in my beach bag right now:
Ultimate Sun Protection Cream For Face SPF 55 PA+++ ($35)
Fresh Sugar Coral Lip Treatment SPF 15 ($23)
Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen SPF 30 ($7)
Hawaiian Tropic Shimmer Effect Lotion SPF 20 ($10)

And one I’d like to try out soon:
Margaritaville Parrot Head Floridays Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30 ($14)

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3-Beach Chair
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I’ve been using an older version of this Nautica beach chair for the last few summers. It’s the best one I’ve ever owned, and it’s held up quite well. You can usually find these at Bed Bath & Beyond, Sam’s Club, Costco or other local stores that carry name-brand beach chairs. Surprisingly, the best place to find Nautica beach chairs (in a variety of colors) online right now seems to be eBay ($60 + free shipping).

Tommy Bahama carries some really nice beach chairs, too — complete with backpack straps and cooler pouches.

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4-Swim Suit
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Most of my favorite suits come from designers Trina Turk, Vitamin A, and Nanette Lepore (mostly via Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, 6pm.com, and sample sale sites). For budget-friendly options, I love JCPenney’s Arizona Mix-and-Match Separates, which is where I stumbled upon the pink-and-white striped suit pictured above.

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5-Tote Bag
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I’ve been hauling the same tote bag back and forth to the beach with me for going on ten years now. I’m ready for something new, and this Parrott Canvas Windjammer Ketch Tote ($75) is on my radar. Not only will it easily replace my past-its-prime beach bag, it will also make the perfect summer travel carry-on.

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6-Self-Tanner
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It took me a good 30 years to realize I was never going to turn the enviable color bronze I dream about, and it’s been a challenge to find a self-tanner that doesn’t turn me a ridiculous shade of orange. Spray and airbrush tans are off-limits for me, but this summer, I discovered St. Tropez Everyday Gradual Tan ($30). It’s available in Light-Medium and Medium-Dark, the first of which is perfect for me. I love using it right after a day at the beach. =) Best part about it? It doesn’t smell like self-tanner. People actually tell me I smell nice when I use this stuff.

A budget-friendly alternative (that’s almost as good with a pretty tolerable scent): Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer ($10)

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7-Sun Hat
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I never thought I’d be able to pull off hats like these, but once I started wearing them, I couldn’t stop. A hat is the best way I can think of to protect your hair and face from the sun on a summer day. Not to mention, the right hat is an easy outfit-maker. My four favorites (from left to right):
Nine West Packable Super Straw Floppy Hat ($40)
Tommy Bahama Medium-Brimmed Scarf Hat ($115)
Charlotte Russe Bow-Back Straw Fedora ($10)
Straw Boater Hat (very similar for $30 here)

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8-Beach Cruiser
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Summers were simply made for riding bicycles. Obviously, a beach cruiser isn’t the best choice for everyone, but mine are my two prize possessions. Beach cruiser #1 is the 2008 model of this Electra Women’s Coaster 7. Beach cruiser #2 is this year’s Electra Women’s Cruiser 1.

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9-Bronzer
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I’m big on low-maintenance make-up in the summer. A light-colored eye shadow, a coat of mascara, a dab of lipstick, a dusting of bronzer, and I’m out the door. These two have had a presence in my make-up bag for years, and I can’t imagine spending a summer (or winter) without them:
Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzing Powder ($29)
Benefit Hoola ($28)

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10-Sunglasses
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I can’t go anywhere without sunglasses, and ever since they put a Sunglass Hut inside Macy’s, I haven’t been able to stop buying them. These Ray-Bans are my latest acquisition, and the last pair I bought before I realized I needed some way to organize them all. Can’t get enough sunglasses like me? You can find a few more of my favorite pairs here.

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And that’s all I’ve got. What are your summer essentials?