SHEFFIELD, Mass. — My mother always told me to shop smart.
"Don't buy 50 of the same thing, or 50 versions of the same thing and then complain that you've got nothing to wear."
Good advice, although I did notice the other day that she had several black cardigans and charcoal T-shirts in various styles, but, whatever, good advice.
My father, who rarely said much, ever, always shopped local — always. To this day, he rarely goes behind the borders of Great Barrington for anything, including food. In fact, in the summer, he'd much rather just grill a nice steak on a Saturday night, throw in some greens from the farmer's market less than two miles down the road, and call it a perfect night out.
So, shop smart, shop local. Sounds easy, right?
Not if you live in a town in which dairy and corn are tops on the export list and and a day trip involves a 5-minute walk to the bank. The scenery is beautiful; the fashion options, nonexistent.
Of course, that was then and this is now. It is with great pleasure, the same pleasure I had with the opening of the Marketplace Cafe and Awaken Healing Arts, that I can say that my little town on the fringe of everywhere now has some style — affordable, funky, real woman- (and man-) friendly.
Nothing says style like a pair of purple dancing shoes. Size 8.5 and they're all mine.
Re-Wear, located just north of the center of town (at the old Bradford's building), is a no-nonsense but plenty of thrills and frills consignment boutique that takes good clothes and the environment seriously. You don't have to dig through boxes of musty clothes to find that perfectly worn pair of jeans. Nor do you have to go gallavanting about the store looking for the match to that hot summer sandal that you're not even sure is your size. Everything at Re-Wear has a place and a price and the only thing you have to do is expect to find something amazing, for literally any occasion.
While most of the clothes are functional, everyday styles and include brands such as Gap, Ann Taylor and Jones New York, anyone looking for a little black dress or a light, sexy summer shift and shoes to match will not be disappointed.
Each rack is alight with color and each size is organized to a T, whether it be worn jeans, polished dress slacks or gypsy skirts. It's there and most likely you'll find at least one in your size. That's a bargain.
I went in there with several "fashion goals" in mind. I needed a dress for a hot flamenco concert (or several hot concerts, thank you, Jacob's Pillow), something light for the impending rise in temperature and humidity (more heat), some decent, lightweight tops for when I actually have to go out in public where people know me, and yes, as always, a pair of shoes that nobody but me will have.
No hunting, except for bargains.
I found it all, even the shoes.
Especially the shoes — purple slingbacks with lots of buckles and a perfect heel for tall, clumsy journalists. So, one burnt velvet, fringey, Argentinian nightclub dress, one white linen "Out of Africa" shirtdress, two silk shells and a pair of shoes later, I am out the door with money to spare and a wardrobe boost that'll last for years.
And a place to go the next time my ever-growing daughter needs a pair of shorts on the fly. I think Re-Wear marks the official renaissance of my small town. Now all we need is a theater company ...
Re-Wear is open most days from 11 to 5, and consignment sales are by appointment only. Check out their Facebook page for more details.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — There are two things you need, and I mean need like a baby needs its momma, to get through a winter like this one.
The first thing is a good pair of boots (for a recommendation on winter gear see my recent gear blog).
The second is a good sense of humor, a very good sense of humor. Maybe even a little sick, too. The kind of humor that, when someone asks you in a blinding snowstorm how you're doing, you just smile and say, "I'm freakin' great. It's downright balmy out here. Love this weather."
Then you trudge down the street headed for the nearest gun shop.
So, it is with this same sense of winter humor that Rubiner's Cheesemongers is having an "F' Mother Nature Sale." Yeah, you heard me. If you go to Rubiner's Tuesday and mention this particularly morbid sale you can get 20 percent off your entire purchase. And what better excuse is there to risk life and limb in a blizzard than cheese? Glorious, rich, creamy cheese from all regions of Europe. And chocolate, specialty meats, gourmet candies and great latte just around the corner at Rubi's.
I returned home this evening with a half pound of Belloc, sopressata and a baguette. It's going to be a great night.
LEE, Mass. — Now that we are in the throes of winter, and now that our seventh or eighth storm is moving in for Wednesday, we can no longer live in denial. It is winter in New England and there's nothing you can do about it.
But there are a few ways to make the rest of this endless snowpile tolerable. Perhaps the most important is to break down and invest in some proper winter gear. I mean hardcore Arctic stuff. This past weekend, I came to the realization that we might be buried until April and that I had suffered enough. By suffer, I mean cold feet, cold hands, cold body, just cold, cold, cold. All of this has been cured thanks to a trip to Ben's on Main Street.
Let me begin by saying that the ladies at Ben's know why you're there. They know that you've swallowed your pride and that you're ready to take the plunge, literally, along with the temperature. In fact, when I walked into the place (with a little cajoling from my boyfriend who has been purchasing various warm accessories for me since December) the sales clerk took one look at me and shook her head.
"You need some warmer boots," she said.
I looked down at my unlined, treadless-bottomed Muck boots and grinned sheepishly.
"I need a lot of things," I said.
"Well, at least you have that nice Minus 33 pullover. At least somebody knows how to keep you warm, even if you don't."
My boyfriend nudged me and nodded. I wanted to punch the cocky smile right off his face.
Somehow this was beginning to feel like a makeover episode of Oprah.
I strolled over to the boots, where I found an impressive selection of winter wear for all shapes and sizes. Of course, I had my heart set on Sorels because that's what I always wore before I began unsuccessfully boycotting winter. Unfortunately, they did not have my size in the women's boots (my feet are gunboats compared to my relatively small frame). Before I could even feign a look of disappointment, the sales clerk set a rugged pair of brown and black Kamiks in front of me.
"They're a men's 7, they should fit," she said.
I slipped into the impressive boots and almost immediately my cold toes, which had already suffered from mild frostbite twice this winter, were toasty. I laced up the boots and walked to the counter.
"I'm not taking these off," I said.
"I know, honey. I wouldn't take them off either."
I didn't stop at the boots, either. Tooling around the store, I noticed a rack of SmartWool socks. I was tempted to get the girly striped ones but pride prevented me and I purchased a pair of brown knee-highs. Again, one of the best investments I've ever made. Right up there with the boots, the Minus 33 pullover, and my cowboy hat with ear flaps.
It has been three days since the purchase of the boots. So far, I've only taken them off to shower and sleep. Even when my mother demanded that I take them off to go in her house I blatantly refused.
"No way, not until April," I said.
I am making another trip to Ben's this week, in anticipation of the "big storm." This time I will be purchasing a Stormy Kromer, red and black plaid, and maybe, just maybe, one more pair of SmartWools, the girly kind. Who knows, I may even get myself some snowpants.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I am a caffeine addict (since I’ve given up on everything else). And lately, I’ve also become a salt junkie. Not just any kind of salt, however, but pink Himalayan salt. Sounds fancy, right? Well, it is. And we’re not talking little, boring white grains of supposed sea salt. Think giant 70-pound gleaming rocks of 250 million-year-old salt that has made its way through a historical and cultural web to my back stoop; Great Barrington.
Salt cups are perfect for serving margaritas and sorbet (with green peppercorns).
HimalaSalt, founded by dynamo and natural foods extraordinaire Melissa Kushi (or the Salt Lady as my kids refer to her), is a foodie’s wet dream. The store/warehouse is a treasure trove of gorgeous, pink salt blocks and rare and pungent peppers from India, Brazil and beyond. To say that the store is unique would be an understatement. Just stepping foot into HimalaSalt is an experience; maybe it’s the neutralizing effect of the salt on any bad energy (or grumpy writer) that finds its way into the space.
Most of the product line, excluding the pepper and some cooking accoutrement, is comprised of the pink salt that is mined from deep within the Himalayas. HimalaSalt has made use of this extraordinary mineral by transforming it into more than just a food additive. Thick pink cups (particularly good for serving sorbet and margaritas), hefty 4”x 8” sushi platters and polished massage stones are just a few of the products indigenous to HimalaSalt. Not to mention detoxifying bath salts infused with lavender and other oils and herbs and giant salt “urns,” and attractive gift packages containing salt and pepper combinations for novice and discerning cooks.
Gift set for any taste and price range are available at HimalaSalt.
I know what you’re thinking; you saw the word “mined” and are wondering if this is an ethical product. Well, rest assured, HimalaSalt not only sources the salt from non-blasting, fair trade miners (Kushi is also founder of Sustainable Sourcing LLC), but the company also takes pains to compensate for its carbon footprint by using only post-consumer boxes and other enviro-friendly packaging in its shipping.
And, better yet, you won’t have to request a single box if you go to HimalaSalt this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a major blowout sale. In addition to the amazing, attractive product Kushi will be providing cooking demonstrations on her famed salt plates (i.e. free food and great kitchen ideas). HimalaSalt is located behind the old Searles school. For more information visit www.himalasalt.com. Also, check out the cooking demos on YouTube.
It's going to be an old-fashioned Christmas once again this year. By "old-fashioned," I mean very low tech, no $300 PSPs or DSIs or XBoxs under the tree this year. It'd be nice to surprise the kids with an iPhone each, but they'd be even more surprised by the lack of food on the table for the next several months after we wrapped up Christmas morning. So, back to the basics. And I know I'm not the only one doing this. Most of us have no choice but to continue to be frugal through a very indulgent season.
Bananagrams: an anagram fun fest.
So, with that in mind, I went on a hunt for little things; special things that capture the imagination and don’t cost an arm and a leg. Turns out, just like back in the day of my childhood some 20 years ago, the classics still reign supreme and now they’re even cooler!
And, it turns out, I only had to make one stop to find some cool, affordable toys: The Gifted Child on Railroad Street in Great Barrington (they also have a store on Church Street in Lenox).
They have virtually everything for everyone at every price range. I perused the place for at least an hour and a half and I know that I still didn't cover all the ground I could have. But I did find some amazing toys for every child (even the child at heart).
Magformers are apparently very popular, and I can see why. They are brightly-colored plastic shapes with rotating magnets inside so that each piece connects to another at any given angle, and even in midair! You can shape the connected pieces into three-dimensional structures (houses, cars, rockets, you name it) and just as easily disassemble your creation and start over. And, of course, Magformer sets are interchangeable so there is the potential to build an impressive collection over time. A 30-piece set run about $35 (which, by the way, is less than a single game cartridge for a Nintendo DSI).
In my little family of three, we are word wits. Everything is about finding the right word or expression. Remember "Scrabble?" Well, now there is the word-building anagram phenomenon of Bananagrams. Anyone can play, it's a combination of a crossword puzzle and Scrabble and all 144 letter tiles fit neatly into a little "banana" pouch. The damage, about $15. And I am confident that when I'm not playing the game with the kids that they will have a free-for-all with the tiles (which may include some inappropriate words, but at least they will be spelled correctly with enough practice).
And if you really want to get old school with words, pick up a couple of "Mad Libs" pads and use them as stocking stuffers. At $4 a pad, they provide endless (and somewhat disturbing) laughter and they now come with themes such as Star Trek, "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings."
If words are too exhausting (or the holidays for that matter) there is always the Zoobie. While
Zoobies are for everyone.
I'm not a big stuffed animal fan, mostly because of their complete lack of function, but the Zoobie isn’t just a stuffed animal. It unfolds from a furry friend (could be a panda, a frog, a wolf, you name it, there’s a Zoobie for it) into a fairly sizable comfy pillow.
And if you unzip the bottom of the Zoobie, out comes a soft fleece blanket that could warm even a holiday-exhausted parent (and they do make Jumbo Zoobies; the blanket is 34 by 53 inches). The damage on this one is $35. Not bad considering you get three things and each is FUNCTIONAL.
So, when you're shopping for your kids this year, don't hurt yourself. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a FUN time of year where meaning trumps quantity. If you are not having fun and you are stressing about money (more so than usual) then it's time to get back to the basics. A chess set, a an aerodynamic Frisbee, a book about making slime, a papier-mache volcano kit; these are all great gifts under $20 that are guaranteed to be exciting and even entertaining, no plug in necessary.
And remember, shop local. All you need and want is at your fingertips, including your holiday feast.