Each holiday the populace drones out to the local malls in search of appropriate gifts. Not that there's anything wrong with the holiday institutions of bad parking, blasphemy, and Black Friday — they are, after all, our modern manifestations of the holiday spirit — but in the event you like the idea of giving charming gifts handmade with affection and idiosyncrasy, you have an array of clever and affordable online options at your fingertips. Largely conceived and produced by local artisans, these handicrafts play well to most audiences, offering irony for the siblings, sincerity for the grandparents, and neutrality to the ne'er-do-wells.
Before we hit the gifts, it's worth noting that the holiday season is a time to acknowledge all the people in our lives. As nice as that is, few of these folks will actually receive gifts. Happily, the right card can take the place of a casual gift and still produce warm fuzzies the way the best wrapped packages do.
Take, for example, Motormouth Press's ornament cards (www.motormouthpress.com). These paper fetishes are fitting mementos for those in small living spaces as they store easily, weigh nothing, and are as cute to receive as they are to hang on your space-saving tree. Motormouth's penguin flexagon card tells a little story and ends with a seasonal greeting. In a more mixed-media vein, Notesink (www.notesink.com) builds cards using remnants of fabric, buttons, and paper and also features screen-printed, kid-themed, and, of course, holiday cards. These cards are so cute you'll rub your eyes in disbelief — they may even inspire you with their crafty prowess. If that happens, you should look into Sideshow Stamps (www.sideshowstamps.com). A purveyor of funky stampedelica, Sideshow features pithy images such as its Leg Lamp stamp, and if you've seen A Christmas Story, you know that's Xmas imagery plain and true.
The Bay Area has much to offer in the way of bath and beauty product lines. Though using soap is a personal matter, bath products make peculiarly neutral gifts. To spice up the body politic, the following kitchen chemists have put some weight into product design. Take Lizzie Sweet (www.lizziesweet.com), for example. The tangy-looking packaging is intended to make you feel as sexy about buying the bath line as using it. Presentation also matters to Aqua Energy Design Studio (www.aquaenergydesignstudio.com), whose island-inspired products include supersexy bath salts that resemble uncut diamonds. The Aromatic Way Apothecary (www.aromaticway.com) uses potent olfactory triggers to make its pragmatic products. The cold salve clears your pathways better than Vicks and without the chemical blur, while the scented shea butter sticks, packaged in deodorant twist-up tubes, are practical for the pocketbook.
Though all bath products can be hedonistic experiences, not all are. Mandrake Apothecary puts the sense into sensual. Perfect for the solstice, Mandrake's line of sexy scents (www.mandrakeapothecary.com) is rife with plant extracts and mystical purpose. It's genuinely magic stuff. And not like Jesus magic — like magic magic. For a more arcane approach to the sacred ritual of bathing, look to Oakland's Pomegranate Body (www.pomegranatebody.com). Skin-nourishing shea butter abounds, and the Citrus Sun line smells like sunshine.
The Curiosity Shoppe (www.curiosityshoppeonline.com) could be San Francisco's one-stop craft shopping mecca. With themed products for the home and the office, it has layers of quippy objets d'art that can offer petite grandeur to all the people on your shopping list. The brass bird nest (with stone eggs) is precious, and rumor has it that using the owl paperweights will make you smarter. For the "kitschen" (get it?) it's all about Lorena Barrezueta's ceramic takeout containers.