I love holiday gift guides. They make me feel fancy and wholesome at the same time, like I’ve got a lot of ideas on how to make people happy even if I don’t have the money to do it.
I also like to promote local businesses, especially in the towns where I live, so this year, what with supply chains being what they are, I thought I’d push a few of my favorites from both my hometown of Albuquerque and my current city of Austin, plus a few other local businesses scattered around the country. Buy local!
Instead of telling you exactly which gifts to buy, I listed places that have a variety of items or experiences so you can find just what you’re looking for this holiday season.
Vessel Vintage – https://www.vesselvintage.com/
I discovered J.D. when they were just starting to sell their clothes through a mutual Facebook friend several years ago and lo and behold, they ended up being my across-the-street neighbor! Now J.D. runs Vessel Vintage out of Shreveport, Louisiana, curating inclusive, quality vintage clothing in a variety of styles, sizes, and price ranges, using their impeccable taste and fashion to create a shop to die for. They’re also a highly vocal member of the LGBTQ+ community, pushing Shreveport and surrounding areas toward more acceptance and understanding through events and support. A good bet for gifts this season: J.D.’s hand-made, tie-dyed crop tops made from vintage tee shirts. Also, J.D. recently announced he’s going to stop selling clothes online after December 31, 2021, so there will be sales! Buy early and buy often!
Tee Shirts and Sweatshirts and Hats
This may be weird, but hear me out: some of my favorite clothing this season comes from the breweries at home. I brag about the beer in Albuquerque all the time, and it ends up that their merch creators are also knocking it out of the park. So if you can’t buy a six-pack (because for some reason most ABQ distributors don’t cross the Texas/New Mexico state line), you can check out some of these awesome breweries for cozy sweatshirts, stylin’ tee shirts, stand out hats, high-tech growlers, and other delightful gift ideas.
Marble Brewery – https://marblebrewery.com/merch
Bow & Arrow Brewing – https://www.bowandarrowbrewing.com/merch
Santa Fe Brewing Co. – https://santafebrewing.com/shop/
This Austin-based artist makes affordable, gorgeous statement jewelry with a big nod to her Chicana roots. She also makes badass stickers and pins, plus beautiful, colorful flower crowns, which you can check out on her Instagram. I’ve been following her since I came across her booth at an Austin street fair in 2019, and she has been steadily growing her business ever since, which has been a joy to watch.
Ornamental Things – https://www.ornamentalthings.com/
This small jewelry store offers affordable classy jewelry for the modern woman who likes folks to do a double-take on what she’s sporting, like a necklace with a tiny pocket knife, or a giant four-leaf clover ring. They have simple ear studs in interesting shapes, and their necklaces make great talismans for friends who love understated whimsy (is that an oxymoron?).
This East Austin-based Black artist paints colorful canvases that celebrate the power of Black, Latin, African, and Indigenous people in America as well as nodding to the history that so many have had to overcome. My (now ex-)husband bought one of her prints on the East Austin Studio Tour in 2017 and I’m lucky enough to have kept that piece through the divorce. Akaimi has expanded into clothing, backpacks, and other silkscreened items as well.
RokrJon – https://www.rokrjon.com/
My friend Jon Garcia is an illustrator and graphic designer who loves to make pop culture icons into digital art. He does great cartoon-style or digital illustrations of his favorite subjects: the Austin FC soccer league, NFL players, TV shows, video games, and more. He has a few items in his shop that are worth perusing, but you can also order custom prints or shirts from him directly.
KX2 ART – https://www.kx2art.com/
Sisters Dana Kleinman (whom I met through my running group in ABQ and whom I adore on so many levels) and Ruth Avra collaborate to create “mathematically inspired sculpture merging metal and painting”. Their pieces are versatile, visually stunning, and just plain cool. They get their inspiration from nature as well as ecological disasters and the human impact on the environment. They also showcase other modern artists in their gallery in Miami, Florida. Don’t tell anyone, but Ruth has also been known to do custom jewelry to memorialize pets using a small amount of their cremated remains — I have some custom earrings to commemorate my bunnies, Vonnegut and Zelda, that she designed and created with love and care. (I’m pretty sure she’s not doing this currently based on her workload with her big art projects, but it just goes to show what caring and wonderful people she and her sister are.)
I came across this kitschy bath and body space on a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas last fall and just adored their soaps, body scrubs, bath salts, and overall apothecary-style presentation. Their scents trend toward the sweet and somewhat overwhelming, but they have adorable seasonal bath bombs and other gift ideas that make for great gift baskets. One thing I really love about them is the variety of scents in their natural deodorant line. Personal fave: Bathhouse Couture.
LeatherDaddy Skin Co. – https://leatherdaddyskin.com/
This LGBTQ-owned business is perfect for every body, but particularly the men in your life. Chris Wright-Garcia’s plant-based skincare line features the world’s first flavored body scrub, Tastyhole, plus great products for beards, faces, and bodies.
KP’s Candles – https://www.instagram.com/kp_candles/
Customized candles to fit your brand? A monthly candle subscription? Non-toxic ingredients? KP’s Candles is one of those local businesses that can help you bring warmth and joy to your colleagues, friends, and family. Plus, KP is just starting out, so it’s a great time to give him a boost!
Paper and Journaling
Paper + Craft Pantry – https://thepapercraftpantry.com/
I still love sending cards and letters to friends and family, and I use “analog” methods (i.e. notebooks) to keep track of my work deadlines and feelings, so the Paper + Craft Pantry is one of my favorite shops in Austin. Stationery, pens, cards, notebooks, bullet journals, and craft items are all available in their online shop. They also offer a number of workshops in-studio in subjects like candle pouring, resin art, and iPad drawing, which you can buy someone a ticket for, or get a PDF guide for workshops, too.
Legit Trips – https://legittrips.com/
Planning an international trip can be overwhelming, especially with all the COVID restrictions and uncertainty still in place. How do you know what’s open or what’s worth seeing? Luckily, travel agents are here to help. Legit Trips has pre-planned group trips to all sorts of destinations planned in 2022 and 2023. I went with them to Greece for Labor Day this year and met some of my new best friends while enjoying everything the country had to offer, from history and sightseeing to beaches and nightlife. Megan and Kristin are extremely personable and can help you plan the perfect trip for your family or friends, from hotels to museums to restaurant reservations and more. Just tell them where you want to go, when you want to travel, and your budget, and they can arrange everything except your flights (although they may have recommendations if you’re traveling from ATX). Fun fact: they get paid through partnerships with hotels and other agencies, plus they get deals at places, so you may end up paying less for your trip through them than if you tried to book it yourself!
Okay, this isn’t local. And yes, Spotify has a reputation for being crummy when it comes to paying artists. But here’s the thing: Spotify has a bunch of services now that allow you to share music with your friends across long distances. You can start a joint session and have the same music playing on speakers across the country so you can have a virtual dance party together. There’s even a new feature that comes up with customized playlists between you and a friend based on your shared interests. It’s a reminder that the All-Seeing Algorithm isn’t all bad, and that music is one of the things that brings us together.
A Personal Trainer
Aaptiv ($50) – https://aaptiv.com/gift
Also not local, but I recommend this app to any of my friends who want to kickstart their workout routine without having to come up with their own ideas. This last year, my twin sister (in Ohio) and I (in Texas) did two running programs together over the span of a few months with Aaptiv, and we both improved our running times and got closer together. A friend recommended this app to me two years ago and I’m so glad she did (thanks, Nikida!).
Food and Drink
Coffee Coffee Coffee Tea!
Moon’s Coffee & Tea – http://moonscoffeeandtea.com/
My family has been getting our coffee from the same roaster in Albuquerque for nearly 20 years (if not longer). Moon’s Coffee & Tea was started by a Korean woman who traveled the world to make her own tea blends and find local coffee providers. The place has gone through two owners since then, but the quality has not diminished. I still ask my dad to pick me up a pound of the Oaxaca dark roast when he has a chance, and we give away the Piñon Nut to friends for a Christmas treat (they use actual piñon nuts in the roast — ask for it ground because it’ll f*ck up your coffee grinder). Their Masala Chai is also stellar.
Antonelli’s Cheese Shop – https://www.antonellischeese.com/
These folks don’t need a plug — they’re one of the most popular local shops in Austin — but I went to college with John and Kendall, and while we don’t keep up on a personal level, I’m proud to say I knew them once. They focus on hyper-local cheese and other fine dining items, and do classes in cheese pairings. Plus, they ship!
Did you know that COVID-19 exacerbated hunger in America, throwing 42 million Americans into the crosshairs of hunger in 2020? This includes 13 million children. In the richest country in the world! Food banks are the most organized and far-reaching programs in the U.S. to help gather, organize, and distribute food to those most in need. If you want to give to a charity, I can’t recommend food banks enough. Every dollar you donate can provide four meals to a family or individual in need.
Roadrunner Food Bank – https://www.rrfb.org/
Central Texas Food Bank – https://www.centraltexasfoodbank.org/