Category: Style Story

Style Story: Angela & Made-to-Order by Mumbi

This I Wear | Angela + Made-to-Order by Mumbi

Welcome back from summer! We’re kicking off the season with a story from my friend Angela. After seeing her Facebook posts of the beautiful dresses she had made in Nairobi where she lives, I asked her if there was a story behind the dresses and, of course, there was. Angela and I met when I was her RA in her freshman year of college. It didn’t take long before I felt like she was a member of my family, but anyone who meets Angela could be similarly lucky. Angela happens to be open to the world in a way that I’ve rarely encountered and because of that, she has a way of making deep friendships wherever she goes. (Did I mention that she is also an award-winning jazz singer?). So from Angela, here’s the story of the dresses and how she came to make the switch from discount shopping to made-to-order clothing. – Rebecca

My 62-year-old mother is more stylish than I am. In primary school, I was known as “Gap Girl” because my mom bought all my clothes (from the sales rack) at Gap Kids. Somehow she managed to pull together a great wardrobe at a bargain price. By the time I was in high school, Mom had discovered discount stores like Ross. My family nicknamed her “Ross Pro” because she would dig through the store’s overwhelming clothes racks and always triumphantly pull out the best designer pieces going for about 10% of the original retail price. In short, I never had to shop for myself until college when I moved out of my parent’s house in Honolulu to Washington, DC. Even once I moved out, I barely found time to go shopping between studying, studying, and studying. My biggest clothes purchases still occurred when Mom was visiting and escorted me to Ross or her new favorite, Marshalls.

But after graduation, when I moved from Washington, DC to Nairobi, Kenya on a research fellowship, my shopping habits changed and I had to wean myself off of Mom’s help. No longer could she send me pieces from a recent snag at her discount favorites (Not only because it usually takes months or even a year to arrive, but the postal system in Nairobi also has a way of losing things…).

So when I first arrived in 2010, I checked out Nairobi’s shopping malls but quickly realized they are full of imported, over-priced and poor quality products from the Middle East and China. Next, I tried the second- and third-hand clothing markets. Those were better and reminded me a little of the discount store experience – digging through bins of clothes and never seeing the same thing twice. But eventually I tired of that too and resigned to wearing the same clothes until my annual trip home when Mom would take me shopping.

Fortunately, on one fateful day in March last year, my clothes shopping habits changed forever. I met Mumbi. Mumbi is a talkative, hard-working Kenyan lady always up for a design challenge. She’s probably in her late forties/early fifties with an energy and joy for her job that’s rare to find anywhere in the world. Mumbi has been in the same cozy studio for the past 30 years, tucked away on the fourth floor of an old building in Nairobi’s Central Business District in the bustling heart of the capital city.

I was first escorted to Mumbi’s studio by one of my AirBnB guests who loved fabric and had been recommended to Mumbi by the owner of a nearby fabric shop. “She’s really great!” my guest gushed. After previous lukewarm attempts to have clothes made by fundis (tailors), I was skeptical. “Alright, well, let’s try.” I acquiesced. Before we left, we sketched out some ideas. I look for inspiration online as I am not the kind of person who wakes up dreaming of the ideal dress I want. Then, we stopped at Biashara Street (Swahili for “Business Street”) where Indian-owned shops boasting all types of fabrics are conveniently located next to one another. After picking through vibrant shades of blues, greens, oranges, we settle on a few that fit our design ideas.

“I love a challenge,” Mumbi always tells me. Once I asked her why she didn’t save the drawings or photos of her past work in a portfolio so future clients could peruse through and choose what designs they wanted. “That’s boring! I never like doing the same design twice. I want to have new challenges,” she exclaimed. That’s why Mumbi and I get along, I guess – I keep her on her toes with my ‘new-fangled’ designs and Pinterest-inspired photos. My clothes hang next to children’s Dalmatian costumes, traditional African attire, curtains and pillowcases. I’ve learned to never be surprised at what I might find Mumbi working on when I visit her.

Mom still picks up clothes for me periodically, when she finds a deal is just too good to refuse. She saves them for me until my annual visit home to Hawaii. My husband is now also the lucky recipient of such clothing purchases by Mom and looks forward to her latest finds. That said, nowadays, it’s a reciprocal exchange: I also bring home custom-designed and tailor-made clothes by Mumbi (with some design input from yours truly), with love from Nairobi to Hawaii.

Angela Crandall Okune is making the jump from Nairobi back to the States to begin grad school. Follow her adventures on Twitter @Honoluluskye.

**If you are in Nairobi and need a new outfit, you can contact Mumbi directly at +254 724306117.

Lipstick & Loss

This I Wear | Style Lessons from My Grandma

Just two weeks ago, my grandmother passed away unexpectedly (and not the same grandmother who was unwell earlier this year). When I got the news, it was as if all of my memories of her suddenly filled a book in my mind that slammed shut. It felt as though only the strongest memories were inscribed in the half-a-second it took me to understand what had happened, and the little details that I remembered of her started to slip away. To capture them, I started writing.

I wanted to remember the taste of her stuffed bell peppers and macaroni and cheese, her insatiable appetite for ice cream and all things sweet, her stubbornness and sense of independence, her love of camellias and roses, how she’d chase me with $20 when I visited just to say “thank you” for spending time with her, and how proud she was of me. She introduced me to Martha Stewart and the idea of always having things look “just so” and offered her own example of somehow being able to make things perfect effortlessly. How she did it and raised seven children, I will never really know, though I will say that except in her later years, I rarely saw her sit down.

Mere, as we called her, means “mother” in French, the heritage of my mother’s side of the family. And she did all of the motherly things you can imagine – feed us until we nearly burst, rub our backs and hug us tight, and make sure we knew she appreciated her time with us.

On the way to the airport to fly back to New York after my visit with family for the funeral, we stopped at my grandfather’s home. My aunt offered my mom some of Mere’s makeup. My mom said she’d take the lipsticks.

When I discovered these in the car as we continued on our way to the airport, I told my mom I had to photograph them and asked her to pick a parking spot with good natural light. I think my mom thought I was crazy but was willing to humor me as we dug in the trunk of her car for props to create a makeshift backdrop. Lipsticks, as any woman knows, are incredibly personal. Each of us leaves our signature mark and shape on our lipsticks through use. My grandmother, it turns out, was a rounded, yet slightly angled lipstick shape. (I, on the other hand, am a very sharp angle…)

The lipsticks reminded me of all of her fashion rules, of which she had many. She truly took as much pride in her appearance as she did in her home and in her family. Here are just a few of her rules, almost all of which I must admit I break frequently:

1. Your shoes and bag must always match. Never, heaven forbid, should you wear black shoes with a brown bag or even brown pants. This is strictly prohibited. Black with black, brown with brown, and navy with navy.

2. Never leave your house without looking your best. You never know whom you will run into! Make sure to pass this sense of pride on to the people around you.

3. Know what looks good on you and stick with it. In the years I knew her, she almost exclusively wore separates, especially structured jackets, rather than dresses. Know what works on you and own it.

4. Get the fit right. Find a good tailor (such as your daughters) and make it fit your body type.

5. If you love something, buy multiples. In fact, you can never have enough ¾ sleeved white boat neck shirts, even if your stuffed closet tells you otherwise.

I agree with each of these rules to varying degrees, but they undoubtedly play a significant part in my memories of her. I think she would have been very proud to see how well we all looked as we came together to celebrate her.

Style Story: Yvette

This I Wear | Style Story: My Mom

This past Christmas Day, my mom and I found an hour to sit down for a style interview. While she wore her Christmas apron and things cooked away in the kitchen, I asked so many questions about her style that really revealed more questions I had about who she was before I was born.

With family, we often take for granted that we know them so well! My mom and I share a birthday (it’s today!) and have always been very close, but there were still stories she shared, especially about her time growing up in New Orleans, that I had never heard before. While I had to trim A LOT out to post it here, I hope our conversation will inspire you to do the same with someone you love.

Happy birthday, Mom! I’m so glad I get to spend our day together this year.

Here’s the interview…

Name 2-3 of your favorite items from your wardrobe.
Two of them would be scarves. The one that I brought back from Hong Kong for my mother. I bought it, thinking of myself, but then I thought, “Well, she would probably like this too.” And then after a few years, she gave it to me saying she had never worn it, why didn’t I take it back, and I was glad to get it.

Do you wear it often?
It’s a big scarf, so it really takes the place of a jacket. Same as that Hermes scarf, that would be another one.

What Hermes scarf?
The one that I got for $9 at the consignment store.

I went to that little consignment store in Covington, which has since closed. I saw this scarf on the counter, and I liked the colors in it. And the lady said, “Oh, I just got that in. I’m going to look it up and price it.” So then I found a few things and went back to the counter, and when I looked at the scarf again, I saw the Hermes signature on it. I’m just staring and holding my breath and asked “Did you get a chance to price this scarf out yet?” “Oh, let me see. $9.” [laughing] I said, “Okay, put this with the other things that I’m getting today.” And I went back to work and looked it up on eBay, and they were going for $325! So all those people at work are after me, “Well, you’re going to sell it, right?” I said, “Absolutely not.” I would never go out and pay $300 for an Hermes scarf, but if I could get one for $9, I’m going to wear it and enjoy it. So they all think I’m crazy.

Any other favorite items?
Well, the problem is, the things that I really love like that, I almost tend to protect. It’s a shame to do it, because I do enjoy wearing them so much.

I feel like I want to dress for the way I want people to perceive me. So for work, I want them to perceive me as a professional woman. I would say one piece would be that black-and-white houndstooth wool jacket that I have that I mix with different black skirts or pants. It makes me feel really good when I wear it. It makes me feel accomplished, like I look good, more confident.

When you look back, is there a favorite outfit that you used to have that you wish you still had now or that you have fond memories of?
I was just thinking of this Madras outfit I had. It was a blouse and a matching skirt. Usually, you think of Madras as being brighter colors, but this was a very pale, bland yellow and off-white. I think I remember it because the comment that [our neighbor] Jeannie made when I was wearing it, saying, “Oh, I can’t believe you found [panty] hose to match that outfit.” And I said, “Jeannie, I’m not wearing stockings. My legs are just that pale.” But it was just a comfortable outfit.

I don’t know why, out of all the outfits I’ve ever had, that would pop into my head, except like I said, because there was something associated with it. I wore it to see President Reagan when he came to Lafreniere Park on a field trip with [my sons].

When did you learn to sew?
I was around eight, I think, when I first played, at least, on my mom’s sewing machine, and maybe nine or ten when [my sister] Lynn and I took sewing lessons at the Singer Sewing Center together. I made a shirtwaist dress. Lynn never finished hers, but I actually wore mine.

How has your style changed over different life eras?
All I remember from high school are those gray wool pleated skirts and the white blouses. I do remember early high school, ninth grade or so, we were still sewing, and that’s when bell bottom pants were in. My grandparents were taking me on vacation with them over to the Gulf coast, and I made a pair to wear for the trip.

I remember also ninth grade or so, my parents used to buy us an outfit for Christmas. And that year, we went shopping and bought a dress with a coat, really kind of Jackie O. looking, you know? In those days, number one, you wore stockings, and there were no pantyhose. To get rid of lumps, you wore a girdle. So my mother had me in a girdle.

After graduating from uniforms, what did you wear in college once you had to figure out what to wear every day?
We would go to All American Jeans because there were no women’s jeans at the time, only men’s jeans. They were all hip hugger style, so you didn’t have to worry for a man’s shape versus a woman’s shape having the waist so much smaller. My friend, Mary, made me a macramé belt in blue and pink, so I wore my macramé belt with my hip hugger blue jeans and a polo shirt for class.

But then after you dad and I got married and I was working, I really admired my mother-on-law’s clothes.

At that time in your life, did you feel stylish?
Yes, I did. And you can see how a lot of people dress, a lot of people just don’t have clothes sense, it seems like, or they look sloppy. I just liked to always feel like I was put together; things match or went together, that it was intentional.

Do you feel someone taught you how to do that or it was just something you knew?
Probably just watching [my mom] and [mother-in-law].

Did your mom have style?
I remember being in high school, and we went to D.C. when my dad had to go for work. We drove up there in the station wagon, me, [my sisters] Cindy and Lynn, and my parents. Mom had made this pink shift dress because she had to go to some evening thing with Dad. Just an A-line shift and pink marabou feathers around the bottom.

But they put it in a garment bag on top of the car to travel, and it didn’t get wet or anything, although it was snowing. It just got dirty, just from air going through it or something, with streaks of black.

Poor thing after all that work! I don’t remember what she did, if she found somebody to clean it for her. But nice and something special for an occasion that she would look dressy in.

Did she care about her appearance?
Oh, definitely. Her mother used to wear housedresses all the time, with the stockings rolled below her knees, [wearing] a lot of the dresses like you would see from the 30s, where the belt matched the dress.

So I don’t know where my mother got her style so much. Not that my grandmother didn’t look nice, but I think my mother went a little farther and cared more about how she looked. My dad never went out without a jacket and a tie. He always dressed up to go to church. So it’s not just her, the whole family would look nice and dress up for an occasion.

Is that the difference between the time periods though?
I think so. My dad told me that about his father who never went out without a coat and tie. That was a sign of the times. So things have gotten more casual. People are not dressing up so much, so I guess I’m really a throwback, but I like doing it. I feel better about myself when I’m nicely dressed, so I’ll keep doing it.

I remember Patty, who lived next-door, and she kept a lipstick in a drawer by the front door. Whenever that doorbell rang, she would whip that lipstick out before she would open the door.

Do you have something you can’t leave the house without wearing like that?
Earrings and mascara; definitely mascara because I have no eyelashes. I need to go put some makeup on right now, even though I can’t see myself. Because I know I’m not wearing makeup, I feel like I’m missing something. Not the real me.

What would you say have been the significant life moments that have influenced your style?
Going to work in a professional office in downtown New Orleans.

In that time period when you were transitioning back to an office (after running your own business), you were also in the divorce process. Do you feel like that significantly impacted your style?
Yes, I think it did, because actually, when I finally said I’ve had enough, I felt empowered. For so long I had just kind of blended into the background. Just don’t make waves. At the point I stood up and said, “No, I’m not living like this anymore. Yeah, I’m ready for a change.” I guess that’s why I like that power business suit kind of a look, you know? Obviously, you can choose what statements you’re trying to make when you select your clothes.

How has cost influenced how you shop? On the one hand, if you know how to sew, you kind of know what things are worth or that you could make it yourself.
You know I’ve always let cost dictate a lot of my wardrobe too, which is probably why I sew a lot. But I always managed to find nice clothes at a price I was willing to pay. So I tend to invest money in something like a well-tailored jacket as opposed to a skirt because I could whip up a skirt. I would invest in pants that fit well because I know that’s difficult to accomplish.

But cost matters, as I said, because I like variety. I don’t like to invest too much in one piece. I won’t buy a $300 coat; I’ll wait till it’s on sale for $125 because I know they do go down too. Everything eventually is marked down, or if I miss it, I miss it.

What’s one thing, regardless of cost, that you wish that you could add to your closet?
I tend to stay away from everyday clothing that has to be dry cleaned, because I just don’t like to pay for dry cleaning. So I would add things that were dry clean only. Maybe some cashmere sweaters, something I really liked. They’re beautiful, but I can buy merino wool for much less. I’ve always shopped price.

Who taught you that?
Well, even growing up, we just didn’t have that much money. Then after I was married, it was still the same situation. There wasn’t that much money to invest in clothes, or maybe just because the bargain mentality, that it’s got to be a bargain for me to buy it.

You maybe mentioned it already, but what was one of the best deals you ever got?
Yeah, definitely, that scarf.

Is that part of the appeal of that scarf, that it was such an insane deal?
Part of the appeal of that scarf was that it’s the Courtyard at Versailles, so it was the memory attached to that trip that we took, so that was a large part of it too. Maybe if it had been something else, it wouldn’t have been quite as attractive, but that’s all built into that too. The memory.

Thank you.
You’re welcome.

Here’s my challenge to you now: ask someone you love to sit down with you and let you interview them. Consider recording it (I use iPhone voice memos!) so you can share with other family or just listen again later. If you want help holding yourself accountable, share in the comments below who you want to interview and by when! I promise it’s worth it.


Style Story: Shalena + Sweating Pretty

This I Wear | Shalena + Sweating Pretty

Whenever I put my sneakers on, my energy is amazing. Suddenly, I’m dancing in the kitchen, and I haven’t even made it out the door yet for my bike ride. After a yoga session, I can’t stop moving long enough to change out of my workout clothes. But it took a stress-related injury to get me into a regular exercise routine five years ago. And it finally stuck because of one revelation: As soon as I’m wearing workout clothes, I don’t just get over my dislike of sweating, but I want to sweat! I feel a sudden rush of power, and I have to move. Sweating in a dress: not ok. Sweating in spandex: truly enjoyable. I’ve found that what I wear has a huge impact on whether on not I want to work out.

As New Year’s resolutions for fitness fall by the wayside in February, I’d like to propose my own secret to reaching fitness goals: take the same care in picking out and caring for your activewear as you do for your everyday wardrobe. Since I was my only documented success story, I asked my friend Shalena, who has been transformed by a recent but intense running and strength training routine, how her clothes affect her workouts. And I think it’s safe to conclude, the secret is in the gear. Read on for Shalena’s story and her tips for balancing functionality with style.

How did you get into running?

I tried running on a few occasions over the past three years. Each time I attempted to run, I ended up getting injured. I went to a podiatrist, and he tried to give me orthotics and said I’m not built for running. I have flat feet, I’m knock-kneed, and I have big hips. So my alignment isn’t necessarily ideal for a runner. I just thought I’d keep going at it and that I’d eventually become a runner. It was at the end of July that I became serious about it. I started off with the “Couch to 5K” program app on my phone, and then I joined a running group. That was the first time I had ever run more than a mile, and I’ve never been injured since. Previously they said I overpronate and should probably get stability shoes to correct that. But the last time I went to get fitted for shoes, I actually had corrected my stride, and I don’t overpronate anymore. Now I can run like most runners, even though I still have fairly flat feet, though I’m developing arches too. All of those things corrected themselves over time with me just being patient.

Why stick with running if there were so many obstacles?

I think I wanted to focus on it because it had so many obstacles. I’ve never been really athletic. I played tennis for a little bit when I was a kid, I dabbled in dance for a few years, and I did martial arts for a bit. All of those things were fairly easy for me. Running was the only thing I couldn’t accomplish, so I wanted to work harder at it.

What do you wear when you work out? How much thought goes into it?

A lot of thought. I like to run outdoors, so while the weather might determine what I wear, I like to wear bright colors just to make me feel good. Even if I’m wearing black tights, I will wear colorful shoes and a colorful t-shirt or hoodie. I like to have bright colors, because they make me feel happy.

Then if I’m at the gym, and this sounds silly, if I’m doing legwork, I make sure I wear shorts, because I like to see my muscles working. If it’s arm day, I’ll wear no sleeves, so I can see my arms working. It’s a confidence booster, because I can see the transition of my body over time.

Does the outfit make a difference when you’re working out?

It does. I actually accessorize more with my workout outfits than I do with my regular outfits. Aside from the colorful accents on my outfits, I make sure I have really colorful headphones that are also functional. My husband calls my little pouch a fanny pack, but it makes me feel comfortable to know I have everything I need. And it’s kind of 80s, so I can dig that. Or I’ll put my phone in an armband, which has to be comfortable and sleek. I bought a new phone holder that is thinner, neon and reflective, which is important when I’m running at night. They’re functional but also really cute.

Beyond functionality, does what you wear when you exercise impact your confidence?

I don’t wear loose clothing at all when I work out. It’s one of the few times I feel good about showing off my body since I worked so hard for it. It’s not like I’m wearing sports bras and booty shorts, though actually it is a goal of mine to run a race in a sports bra and booty shorts. But it’s one of the times that I’m super-feminine and more fitted, because I worked so hard for the body I have now.

What is your go-to piece?

I have these shorts that hit at the perfect spot where you can see every muscle in my legs. I was so insecure about my legs growing up, because people used to say I had little chubby boy legs since there was absolutely no shape to them. I was so ashamed of them that I would wear oversized basketball shorts in gym class, and it made me look even more like a little boy. Now that I’ve been running, I have so much shape to my legs that I love wearing my shorts.

What is your advice for others if they’re struggling to stay active?

I’ve worked out whenever I can fit it into my schedule. I work two jobs, I’m finishing up school, and I have a husband and friends. When I’m getting up in the morning [to exercise], I lay out my clothes first thing, because it’s so much easier once you see your clothes. You can’t hide from them. They’re kind of taunting you. I always have my staple piece closest to my bed, because if I feel good wearing it, then I want to put it on, even when I don’t feel great.

Do you treat your workout clothes differently than the rest of your wardrobe? Do you keep them as long?

I take good care of my workout outfits. They’re really cute! They’re almost like your favorite pair of jeans. I air-dry them for fear that the dryer is going to ruin them. Also between washes, so I don’t have to go to the laundry everyday, I hand wash them. And if I have favorite tops in a big pile of dirty laundry, I’ll wash the tops separately. I treat them with even more care than I do the rest of my clothes, especially because they can lose a lot of their functional properties when you don’t take care of them. For instance, a lot of the pants I wear wick away the sweat, but if you wash them a lot, that property can disappear. So to preserve that, I really do take care of them by hand washing as needed.

Is it worth it to invest in activewear if you’re just going to sweat in them?

It’s the kind of thing I would invest in upfront. I had a pair of cheap shorts that lasted a long time, but when they go, they really go. You don’t want to be in the middle of a really intense workout and not feel like you are supported where you need to be supported. I make sure my pants are fitted, so I feel like I’m not jiggling everywhere, which can be painful. I switch out my sports bras every two months, because they lose their elasticity. I change my sneakers every 300 miles, and I have an app on my phone, which tracks my sneaker use. That investment upfront makes a difference with how long you keep your clothes.

What do you do with your sneakers once you are done with them?

I switch from using them for running to using them as an everyday shoe. I keep them for years and years at a time. Even though I won’t run in them after three months, I keep them because they’re really cute, and I’ll pair them with my everyday outfits.

Any final advice?

What helped me get motivated to workout was also the process of going shopping for clothes. I’m not a shopper, but to be able to try on things that you may not have fit into a month or two ago, is a confidence booster. You don’t have to purchase the clothes, but to try them on to see how they fit is an awesome experience. I don’t like to shop for everyday clothes – it’s too much pressure. But there are so many workout clothes that are cute and fashionable, it can really motivating.

Quick tip: if you do have old sneakers that are too smelly to donate, drop them off at your local Nike or Converse store (or any of the locations listed on their website), which accept all sneakers for their Reuse-a-Shoe program that recycles them into future products.

(Photos provided by Shalena)

Your Closet: Favorite Gifts, Pt.2

Winter Trees | This I Wear

It is finally cold in New Orleans this week, which has made it much easier to feel the holiday spirit. But reading more of your stories of some of the best gifts you’ve ever received might be a big factor too.

I have two favorite gifts: First, I received a pair of earrings from Qatar as a gift from my dad when he came home after a 6-month stint in Iraq in 2006-2007. While not a supporter of the war, he made the courageous decision to volunteer to work overseas, as his way to support the troops in combat. Obviously, I was worried for his safety, but extremely proud of the sacrifice he was willing to make for this country. To me, the earrings remind me of my dad’s sense of loyalty to the Americans serving abroad and his courageous spirit.

Secondly, during my 2 years in grad school, I worked at a coffee shop in DC where I got to know many of the customers who frequented the shop. One of the regular customers was an avid knitter and offered to make all the baristas a custom scarf as a token of appreciation. I boldly asked for a yellow scarf (my favorite color at the time) and was in love with the way it turned out.

I had only been dating my boyfriend Brian for a few months, and we had been dating long distance the entire time. That Christmas, I was a first year law student in my very first semester. I should stress that Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. My family does it up big: we set up lots of decorations, drive around to look at lights, and go to Christmas-themed plays. You can understand why I was extra disappointed that the whole season was being destroyed by the stress of studying for finals.

Brian decided to fly to Chicago to meet my family for the first time the weekend before Christmas. He carried my Christmas present in his luggage, a misshapen lump wrapped in Christmas paper, and I could not for the life of me guess what it was. I gave him his gift (which involved a Barney Stinson inspirational poster) and then eagerly opened mine. It was a plush Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas decoration. Basically, it was Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, and Hermie the dentist elf. When you push a button, they say lines from the cartoon and sing “Misfits.” It sounds really odd, but it was the perfect thing for the girl who loved Christmas and felt like it had been stolen from her that year. Not only that, but the way he obtained the present made it that much more impressive. It had been opened by someone else at his office’s White Elephant gift swap. He used all of his steals for me, because as soon as he saw it, he knew I would love it. I know he bought me other things that year, but I can’t remember any of them now. This Rudolph showed just how well he knew me, after only a few months. The boyfriend that went out of his way for me in everything he did, who stole a Rudolph for me, will be my husband in a few short months.

I spent my junior year of college in Paris, where I have a lot of family, including–at the time–my grandparents. We had a standing Wednesday night dinner appointment, and I really appreciated getting to spend that time with them, particularly since my grandfather’s health started to decline not too long thereafter. When I was coming home to New York at the end of the school year, they gave me a book, from the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, a French series of books by important & classic authors. The one they gave me was the complete dramatic works of Sartre. While I appreciated that they knew me well enough to pick a writer I enjoy, what struck me about it was the gesture of giving me the first piece of something that could become an amazing collection. My grandfather had a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with books from this collection that I hugely admired, being a total nerd about such things, and I knew that they were extremely important to him as well. While I haven’t gotten any other books from the Pléiade yet, I was really very touched to get that first building block from my grandparents.

Ken (my dad!):
I don’t have an all-time favorite, but here are a few of my favorites: 1) Christmas 1971 – from my parents – a black, incredibly-powered 1969 Chevelle SS396, the stuff every muscle-car maniac dreams of owning; 2) Christmas 1976 – from my wife Yvette – a beautiful little grey furball named Tigger (I thought I was getting scuba gear…); 3) February 2004 – from my mother – my Dad’s Rolex watch and his wedding ring when he passed away. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him. 4) November 2008 – a wedding present from my second wife, Fran – a beautiful White/Silver Harley Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle. Most beautiful motorcycle I’ve ever owned, and my favorite by far. 5) And as always, saving the best for last – the birth of each of my 4 kids was the stuff that was “life-changing”. Just doesn’t get any better than that!

Thanks to everyone who sent in stories. If you’re still searching for the perfect gift to give a friend or family member, try asking this question to each other. And for those of you who shared stories, I hope these posts were a great conversation starter to say “thank you” to the person whose gift you decided to write about. For more inspiration, read about one of my favorite gifts as well as more stories from readers.

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