Score big

Winning gifts to say ‘thanks’ to a coach

If you have sporty kids, you know this time of year is spent shuffling money around Venmo. Whether contributing to the lacrosse kitty or taking the lead on collecting cash for the soccer fund, we all like to do our part to say thanks to the coaches for a great season. And since many coaches are parent volunteers, it’s nice to recognize their generous efforts.

It takes patience and good humor to teach kids sports skills.

It seems the most common token of appreciation in my town is a gift card. Top choices are sports stores such as Dick’s or Modell’s, or a local bar/restaurant. Gift cards are easy to pick up and widely welcomed. Coaches are sure to like some new athletic gear, or after a long day of coaching, a nice cold beer and/or effortless meal can do wonders.

If you don’t like the impersonality of a gift card, purchase a relevant sports ball and have the team sign it. While some balls are more expensive than others, this can either accompany or replace the gift card. It’s also a nice little thank you for coaches of younger kids or assistant coaches. If you have time to order something online and want a more polished present, check out these personalized balls and pucks that you can label with your coach’s name, team name and year.

If you were a coach, what would you appreciate as a thank you gift? Feel free to comment below.

This week’s picks

Have some fun: Memorialize your coach with his or her very own bobblehead. Upload a photo to the site, then select a variety of options to make it realistic. Free approvals during the various production stages are included, to ensure your doll looks spot on. $69.90 and up

Turn your coach into a bobblehead.

Ace it: Lady tennis coaches will love this clever lariat necklace. The 18-inch sterling silver chain is capped off with a silver-plated tennis ball charm that hangs through a racquet charm on the other end. It can be personalized with your coach’s initials and/or birthstone. $16 and up

This tennis necklace is an eye-catcher.

End in a tie? This baseball stadium tie is ideal for dads who come right from the office to practice. The navy silk neckwear features sketches of classic ballparks from a bygone era, including stadiums such as Ebbets Field and Comiskey Park. Sketches vary. $49

Great outdoors

With the right accessories, a day in the park can be lots of fun

There’s nothing like the smile a summer-like day can put on your face. Sunny skies, warm breezes and sounds seeping through open windows—whether music from a radio, the clanking of plates from a restaurant or the hum of passing conversation—make us want to connect with others.

Maybe that’s why we’re drawn to the park when the weather warms up. As a child, I remember spending Saturday mornings on the playground. After college, an afternoon sprawled out on a towel in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow did the trick. Now, I enjoy a simple stroll or bike ride though a picturesque park to relax and catch up with friends.

Whether one seeks the leisure of a picnic or the green space for something more sporty, a trip to the park fits the bill. To really make the outing special, don’t forget to pack a bag of park essentials—perhaps a Frisbee, soccer ball, snacks, book, etc. Better yet, pack a park bag and gift it to someone to make their day at the park something special. Below are some ideas.

Heading to the park with some S’wells in my tote

My personal must-have list includes an insulated water bottle to keep cool on really hot days. I’m still sweet on my S’well. And when the sun is too strong to see your smartphone, a good old-fashioned magazine or easy crossword is a nice diversion.

What’s your favorite thing to take to the park? Feel free to comment below.

This week’s picks

Picnic perfect: If she’s not the wicker basket type, perhaps your friend will appreciate this retro-looking picnic cooler from Crate & Barrel. The insulated carrier is big enough for snacks and drinks and includes a bottle opener. And the metal design makes it easy to wipe clean of any spills. $69.95

Retro metal cooler from Crate & Barrel

Games to go: This personalized picnic blanket from PersonalizationMall.com doubles as a “play-nket.” It includes the framework for four games, though you’ll have to pack or find your own markers. It’s made of plush material, has a water-repellent lining for comfort and is machine washable. $29.99

Picnic Play-nket from PersonalizationMall.com

Park workout: Get some exercise with this flag football set by Franklin. It comes with a red or blue foam ball, tee and eight flag belts so that two teams of four people can play. $19.99

Franklin’s flag football set

Magic for Mom

Gifts that will make your mama feel special this Mother’s Day

Cinnamon toast was my kitchen specialty as a child, and every Mother’s Day it would top the breakfast-in-bed menu for my mom. Who knows if she actually liked it, but at least she did the motherly thing of pretending to if she didn’t.

Homemade gifts I crafted at school were another annual tradition. But as the years went on, my presents got nicer, especially when I became a mother myself and understood the job of motherhood much better. I quickly learned that every mom deserved a spa day—a day to kick back and relax and treat herself right. Combining a mani/pedi or massage with some rare one-on-one time with my mom now seems to capture the true spirit of the day.

My son serving cake at his school’s annual Mother’s Day tea in 2012

Though the pre-K Mother’s Day Teas catered by my own kids are long gone, I still cherish the love poured into the homemade gifts that accompany my own breakfasts in bed now. Whether it’s sand art or a some macaroni jewelry, I display it proudly.

What’s your favorite Mother’s Day gift to give or receive? Feel free to comment below.

This week’s picks

Tea for two: Republic of Tea is offering two special tea tins for Mom. Ginger peach black tea comes with the saying “Thanks, You’re a Peach.” The strawberry vanilla-flavored red rooibos tea comes with the label “Mom, You’re the Berry Best.” Also available individually in many supermarkets. $26.99

Republic of Tea’s Mother’s Day duo

Flower power: Whether you pick some fresh buds from your garden or stop at the supermarket for a bunch on the way to Mom’s house, these Leah Goren-designed Marcella vases for Anthropologie make the perfect presentation. The hand-painted stoneware is available in white, pink or blue and measures approximately 5 inches by 6 inches. $24

Hand-painted vases from Anthropologie

Crowning moment: Treat Mom like the queen she is with a Royalty bath bomb from Lush. The luxurious floral scent includes hints of jasmine, ylang ylang, sandalwood and vanilla. Her skin will begin to feel silky soft as soon as the water begins to bubble into a fizzy golden froth. $6.45

Royalty bath bomb from Lush

Hats off

Top off a celebration by giving someone a chapeau

My mom always says that when my grandmother was having a bad day she would go out and buy a hat. Maybe that’s where I get my love of fedoras from, I don’t know.

I do know that when I place a fancy fashion on top of my head it makes me feel special. I look forward to every Easter so that I can break out my bonnets—I mean, when else can a girl in the burbs bust those out? And my dream of making it to the Kentucky Derby someday is driven by the idea of trying on hundreds of hats to find the perfect look.

Realizing my love of hats, others have offered them to me as gifts over the years. There’s nothing like receiving a big, round hat box and slipping off the cover to see the work of art inside.

Here’s one of my favorites. My husband bought it for me from a small millinery on Thompson Street in Soho called The Hat Shop. The feathers are magnificent, and when I’m feeling not so flashy, the decoration can be removed.

Love the purple feathers on this hat from The Hat Shop in NYC.

In the spirit of Easter, the Kentucky Derby and warming weather, this is a great time of year to think about hats as gifts. Whether you choose something for fun (think fancy feathers) or practicality (a sensible sunhat), here’s your chance to stand out.

What’s your favorite kind of hat? Feel free to comment below.

This week’s picks

Summer classic: Men will look polished in this handwoven Ruben Gonzalez hat from Goorin Bros. The wide-brim fedora is made from toquilla straw in Ecuador and shaped in the United States. It features a two-toned band and canvas insert to maintain shape. $160

Ruben Gonzalez hat from Goorin Bros.

Casual comfort: The ladies’ Pistil Matty hat from L.L.Bean screams summer. The coral and blue design recalls a seaside sunset and the mesh sides keep you cool—it’s perfect for the beach. The trucker hat also has an adjustable closure in back. $24.99

Pistil Matty hat from L.L.Bean

Shade-maker: The generous 5-inch brim on this striped beach hat from Coolibar offers great coverage to protect your eyes, ears, face and neck. It has a UPF rating of 50+ and a comfortable cotton-lined crown. An elastic drawstring inside helps you get just the right fit. $49.50

Striped sunhat from Coolibar

How sweet it is!

Chocolate lovers revel in spring holidays

Just when the Valentine candy disappears, it’s time to restock your cabinets with sweets for Easter and Passover.

Though Easter basket options run the gamut from gummy bunnies to Robin Eggs, in our house growing up, the treats were always heavy on chocolate. There was a Gertrude Hawk store in town, and I looked forward to my peanut-butter-filled eggs, white-chocolate crosses and milk-chocolate lambs each year.

I also used to have a neighbor growing up who would give us a bag of toasted-coconut marshmallows each Passover. I loved them and still buy a bag every Passover, remembering them from my childhood. If you’re not a coconut fan, there are rainbow and chocolate-covered varieties to indulge in. For a twist, Manischewitz even has a S’more Matzo Kit.

Whatever one’s sweet tooth craves, there’s a springtime candy to celebrate with. What’s your favorite Easter or Passover candy? Feel free to comment below.


This week’s picks:

Lotsa matzah: Fatty Sunday’s chocolate-covered matzah comes in three varieties: dark chocolate and sea salt, milk chocolate and rainbow sprinkles, and milk chocolate and toffee crumbles. Diehards can also enjoy a 14-layer matzah cake. The matzah is certified OU-D Kosher. $14.95-$149.95

Celebrate with chocolate-covered matzah.

Good ears: Let’s face it, the bunny ears are the first thing to go Easter morning. They get snapped off and the rest of the rabbit sits around for weeks. Cut directly to the chase with these yummy chocolate bunny ear pieces. Each package includes four handmade, individually wrapped, milk chocolate ears. $14.80

Munch on some bunny ears.

Apply ever after: Try to slip a little nutrition into their Easter basket with a mini caramel apple. The four chocolate-and-caramel-dipped Granny Smith apples in this set from Williams Sonoma come packaged in their own adorable spring-themed boxes. $49.95

Sink your teeth into something sweet and crunchy.

Funny Business

In honor of April Fool’s Day, put a little levity into your gift giving

Every year, the people in my family (namely my dad and daughter) try to put one over on me on April 1. If they catch me early enough in the morning, they may succeed, but I’m pretty keen on keeping up my guard throughout the day.

When it comes to playing a trick on them or someone else, I have three general rules: 1) Make the scenario believable, 2) try to present it as matter-of-factly as possible and 3) use the element of surprise so they don’t have time to think about it. Sometimes it works, sometimes they’re just waiting for it and I don’t have much success.

Props can also come in handy when trying to fool someone. My daughter’s current favorite is the old stick-of-gum standby—ask someone if they want a piece and their finger gets mousetrapped when they pull out the gum. (I’m glad to see the updated version has a pad on the snapper to protect little fingers.)

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If you need a little practical help, check out these trick-themed gift ideas that will keep friends and family entertained any time of year.

What’s your favorite April Fool’s prank? Feel free to comment below.

This week’s picks

Office antics: Place this spilling coffee cup atop a co-worker’s important papers or keyboard and you’re sure to get a rise. Then, they can use it to pass on the prank to others. Various coffee cups and soda cans available. $9

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Work for it: Don’t just hand over a gift card; make them work for it. They’ll have fun using their brains to crack the code of this puzzle box to unlock the gift card inside. Cards are available from $50 to $150 from retailers such as Home Depot, Nike and Best Buy. $79.99-$179.99

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It’s tricky: Kids will have fun learning the 10 classic tricks and illusions packed into this wooden magic set by Melissa and Doug. They can practice on their own, then wow family and friends with their sleight of hand. $27.99

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Celebrate Spring!

Put a twist on your basic bouquet

I miss walking by the delis of New York City, taking in the garden of scents emanating from the colorful display of buds that seem to confront the grey sidewalks with a message of hope. The sweet smell of lilies, in particular, always stood out to me.

Delis were always a convenient place to pick up flowers on the way to someone’s celebration. Whether saying happy birthday, congratulations, or simply thank you for having me over, the effort was always much appreciated.

As the first day of spring arrives, I’m thinking about new ways to gift flowers. If you’re really looking for a way to wow someone, there’s a local bakery in my town that fashions arrangements out of expertly iced cupcakes. Baked Bouquet takes online orders and delivers in the Northeast.

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For more unique flower and greenery ideas that put a modern twist on the basic bouquet, check out this week’s picks.

What’s your favorite springtime flower? Feel free to comment below.

This week’s picks

Wealth wishes: This money tree might be a good way to congratulate someone on a new business venture. The easy-to-care-for braided bonsai comes in a ceramic pot and is available in small, medium and large. $39.99 and up

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Garden variety: Foodies will fawn over this organic herb kit.  Cilantro, mint and basil seeds come with soil in recycled-tea-bag growing containers. The eco-minded planters are a great way to start an herb garden. $31.17

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Flower box: If you can’t decide between a bouquet or present, combine them into this adorable gift flower arrangement. The purple and green buds come styled in the shape of a gift box topped off with a green satin bow. $44.96 and up

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