I did my first ever holiday gift guide for travelers a few years ago, which was fun to compile. Readers seemed to enjoy the various items, and I was happy to share some of the products that accompanied me on the road.
Now that my life is a little different – something all of you already know – my gift suggestions are less about souvenirs from abroad or reading about travel, and more things I use day to day or found wonderful.
I hope you’ll find something you like in them!
Holiday gifts for the 2023 season
There are a lot of birds in here, you’ve been warned.
Hands free shoes and boots
It was a fellow leak patient who first told me about Kizik shoes, and I have used them ever since. Made with patented technology that allow for hands-free use, these sneakers come in different styles and colours, and are available in kids, women, and men’s options.
A note that their newer models aren’t as good for my spinal CSF leak because the heel drop is higher; I find the Lima model to be the most comfortable, though my shoes are their Cairo model that has since been discontinued.
Once you tie the laces on Kiziks the first time, you simply step into the shoes thereafter. To get out, you use your other foot to hold the base steady and slowly pull out of the shoe. They’re excellent for people with disabilities, for pregnancy, for seniors, and generally for those who hate having to crouch to get their shoes on and off.
And for this holiday season, they also have winter boots for the first time, and a new Chelsea boot that goes to the ankle.
You can find these shoes and boots on their website, Kizik.com. Using this link gets you $20 off (it also gives me $20 off, but I don’t see myself getting any more shoes as I have several pair!). They ship to Canada and USA.
Follow them on: Instagram
A pencil to end all pencils
Do you know someone who is particular about their writing implements? The New York Times calls the Blackwing 602 the “Rolls Royce” of pencils, a previously popular choice from many a writer—including John Steinbeck. First created in the 1930’s, the Blackwing was also used by Chuck Jones, who proudly used Blackwings to create Bugs Bunny and many other Looney Tunes characters. After 1998, the pencil couldn’t be found, and devotees were paying $40 a pop when they did locate a stash. Thankfully, in 2010, a California company brought it back for “a new generation of writers, musicians, and others seeking a more natural existence” (not sure what they mean by that, but yes — it’s a great pencil!).
They brought back the cult-favourite mainstays: comfortable grip, a replaceable eraser in a very satisfying rectangular shape (why is this so satisfying!?), and a pencil crafted from California cedar and Japanese graphite. It writes like a dream, and makes doodling a pleasure. It’s not cheap but it’s not $40 a pencil expensive. Still, if you’ve got a family member or friend who loves to draw or handwrite, it’s a fun gift.
Hand-drawn maps of food
Yes, yes—I have included my own maps in this guide as well! My food maps get compliments whenever people visit, and make great holiday gifts for anyone who loves to eat.
In addition to Canada, above, I’ve got Vietnam, Portugal, Thailand, Japan, Italy, and Mexico art in the shop!
Gluten free translation cards
Despite my work hours being limited these days, one of the tasks I keep working hard at is the gluten free cards project. I started these cards when I got sick while eating in Japan with a short gluten free card in Japanese. I realized I needed to include more information, local ingredients names (not just “I can’t eat gluten”), and cross-contact (not just foods that are gluten free).
The result, 15 languages and counting with Bahasa Indonesia, Croatian, Lithuanian, and Swedish coming soon and over 12,000 cards sold.
Each card goes through 2 sets of translations for accuracy, with one translator at minimum being familiar with celiac disease. I’m in the process of adding PDF downloadable versions too, instead of just the PNG files. More and more people want to print the cards, not just have them on their phones.
Perfect for the celiac who loves to travel!
A great new card game for travel
Another fun gift that is perfect for the traveler: Trip Chaser, a new card game, beautifully designed. Trip Chaser is the love child of Dalene and Pete Heck, who you may also know from their site Hecktic Travels.
The game lets you figure out who’s the most travel-savvy of your group by buying, bartering, and gambling your way to various destinations. The more challenging a destination is to get to from North America, the more points it’s worth.
The game is already sold out in Canada, but you can order it on backorder or via the US, where there is still stock.
Lightweight chef’s knife
I have a great set of Global knives that I slowly accumulated over my years of lawyering. The problem is, with a spinal CSF leak I cannot use them because they are too heavy.
Instead, I’ve gotten a chef’s knife from Nakano, which is lightweight and comfortable—so much so, that anyone who comes in to help in the house only opts to use that one. It’s their “classic chef knife” and weighs in at 6.5 oz / 185g. Lightweight, but sturdy enough to cut many a great thing in the kitchen. They’ve got a 30% sale going on right now, too.
Nakano also has santoku knives and other sets on offer; I’m sharing the one I got and use because that’s the only one I have experience with. But it’s been a great addition to my knife block, and light enough to use even when my spinal CSF leak is in rough shape.
Please use code JODI at checkout for a 30% off deal on your knife purchase. Instead of an affiliate payment to me, I asked for a discount code for readers. It’s valid for the Nakano site generally, not just this knife that I use and love.
My favourite notebook
My friend Candace sent me a few Joytop notebooks when I first got sick. She said the lines are just perfectly placed, and the notebook’s seams were satisfying to use; I can’t disagree at all. There’s something about the size and lightweight matte texture of these books that makes me want to write in them all the time. I used to love Moleskine books but I got frustrated with the size, always wishing I could spread out my creativity and not be cramped to the side of the page.
These books allow me to do that, and for some reason, I haven’t used anything since. Honestly, these books are lovely but why are they so satisfying?! The just are. Regardless of why, Candace was right, and I wanted to include them so you all can enjoy the satisfaction we get from writing in them.
An elegant straw system for your plants
When a friend in Sweden mentioned plantstraws as an option for me because I’m a notorious #plantkiller, I was intrigued. I know many of you love your plants and do far better at not murdering them than I do, so I thought you’d be interested too.
Plantstraws is the brainchild of Sweden’s Elin Fyhr, who wanted to make plant care effortless and believes that “design should be playful, curious, and unhurried”. Can’t find fault there.
The straws work by putting one end into a water jug and the other into the soil of your plants, allowing a cotton rope inside each brass tube to slowly add moisture to the soil without overwatering. This means you can put thirsty plants like swamp and rainforest native plants,on a similar care schedule as succulents, cacti or Mediterranean plants. They also add a fun look to any room with the brass tubes and glass jars:
Where to buy: the Plantstraw website
Shipping to: Canada, USA, and International. (Shipping outside Europe is costly, though), so you can also consult one of their resellers. For some reason the only ones in Canada are in Alberta; hopefully that changes one day soon!
Follow them on: Instagram
With a mission to bring greenery to “every struggling plant parent”, Kelsea’s whimsical knitted cacti caught my eye at a local flea market. The business came about when Kelsea knitted her sister some cacti for Christmas, after seeing how her sister couldn’t keep plants alive.
Taking inspiration from real plants, Kelsea carefully crafts knit cacti and succulents in a variety of sizes, colours, and shapes. She also tries to use sustainable materials for other parts of her products: upcycled packaging, sustainable yarn and stuffing, plus reusing cardboard inside the pot to make them lighter weight for shipping.
The company is fully family-supported, including the build for the displays at the market stall I met her at.
I bought myself a mini cacti (though I’m having cactus regret that I didn’t get a larger one), and thought you may want one too.
Fowl language puzzle
One of two options (see Effin Birds below) for those who, like me, are in that sweet spot of Venn diagram overlap between swearing and birds. This time, a 1000-piece puzzle for you to put together once dinner is over.
I loved the colour (it matches my logo), and it has birds so I’m not really a tough sell here. For those in the winter cold, a puzzle is always a great way to pass a few hours of your time.
I bought Nessie the tea guardian the moment I saw her, and I am obsessed with it. I use Nessie whenever I have loose tea, and the satisfaction of watching her peek out from the cup rim will, I suspect, never get old.
For the tea lovers and whimsy lovers alike!
Also unmissable (if you’re me): the same company’s spaghetti monster strainer. I love it so much.
Where to buy: Nessie: Amazon Canada, Amazon US.
The spagetti monster strainer: Amazon Canada, Amazon US.
This is the same company that also makes the mushroom funnel I currently own. Yes, I’m a statistic and I don’t care. You can also buy their products on the OTOTO Design website, but they only ship to the US.
Follow them on: Instagram
I enjoyed the symmetry and joy from this cute hummingbird ring, which can be ordered in 18K plated gold, or sterling silver. It’s from Little Rooms, a shop launched by designer Ester Delug in 2007. The shop has expanded quite a bit since then, but if you’re in the market for some fun and tasteful jewelry, you’ll certainly find something here.
They also sell beautiful hair accessories and ear cuffs, in addition to jewelry standards like necklaces and earrings.
Delightful bird art
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the genius behind Birdstrips, Jess, in person in Montreal twice before we each moved elsewhere. Her illustrations have grown a huge following on Instagram due to their whimsical, relatable messaging.
In Jess’ words, the shop comprises “the existential distress of the flightless through the eyes of the flighted.”
Below, two prints from her shop: one a vintage-style poster of 33 “rarely seen” gulls, including the elusive popsigull, peagull, and pierogigulls; and the second, therapy “before and after”—in classic Birdstrips style.
A portable red light device for pain
I wasn’t sure if I could tolerate red light therapy with a mast cell disorder, but everything I read suggested that if I stayed at higher wavelengths of light, my mast cells would be less disrupted.
So I sought out a portable LED red light device that I could lift with a spinal CSF leak, but also that had options for higher nm of red light, so that I could hopefully tolerate it. That theory did bear out with my use of the FlexBeam, where I can use their Setting 3 for 20 minutes a day on my front and back when needed. I had to work up to that—I started at only 5 minutes—but now I can do the full 10 minute session twice without issue. I do use it earlier in the day in case it disrupts my mast cells enough to affect sleep, but most people actually use it right before bed because they say it helps them sleep.
I opted for this devices because from everything I read, its lamps didn’t get hot, and unlike laser light, I didn’t risk any tissue damage from the studies I looked at. While a combo of red and near-infrared wavelengths are recommended for most uses of the device, I opted for only level 3, its longest wavelight, which penetrates deeper but most importantly does not disrupt mast cells as much. I’ve found it increases my energy, helps with sleep (when I do it earlier in the day), and most importantly really takes down any nerve pain I have. I was sceptical when I started using it, but I have really come to enjoy how much it helps the spine pain from my leak.
The device comes with velcro bands that you attach at the handles, for when you want to loop it around a leg or your spine, as well as a slender carrying case. I use it as is (without the velcro) because I just place it on my spine or stomach where my leak sites are, but many people I’ve chatted with use it on their thigh or at lumbar while moving around.
The company is from Norway, but the device is made in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Birds + curse words
These illustrations of birds that swear in creative ways are popular all over the web, with good reason. As Twitter implodes and the world feels like it’s doing the same, the bird outrage by Aaron Reynolds says all that we are bottling up inside.
That doesn’t stop people from getting pissed off about the cursing, but … did you expect anything else from a company called Effin Birds?! He also now has wax candles, a new addition to his “shitmas” collection for people who dislike the holidays.
Where to buy: Clothing, mugs, pins, and more here, plus an Effin’ Birds book (currently on sale!) and a French Effin’ Birds book, as well as a 2024 Calendar too.
Shipping to: Worldwide
Follow him on: Instagram
Pearl jewelry from Tahiti
My friend Celeste is not only a great travel writer, but also runs an environmentally-friendly Tahitian pearl company, Kamoka, that adheres to the strictest levels of sustainable farming in the world. Their pearls are from oysters grown in the nutrient-rich lagoon of Ahe Atoll, 300 miles northeast of Tahiti, with electricity supplied by solar and wind power. And if you needed more convincing about supporting their enterprise: a National Geographic study found that their farming methods helped increase the area’s fish population in recent years.
One of their products I wear often: the Mana Bracelet. At $99, it is an investment, but a durable and beautiful one.
Celeste said that this bracelet was initially crafted for surfers. Now, it’s one of their best sellers for active people who want a beautiful pearl bracelet without worrying about fragility. The adjustable band is made from kangaroo leather (the strongest leather in the world), and is a great choice for the fashionable wanderer and the active fashionista alike.
They also now offer a new collection, featuring Tahitian blacklip oyster shells and jewelry made from their own sustainably produced mother-of-pearl. The earrings below are more affordable than the pearls alone, and are a beautiful gift for those who want something sustainable and different.
Many of Kamoka’s products are one of a kind, and are put together by Celeste and her team each year.
Where to buy: The Mana Bracelet is available here. The full mother-of-pearl collection is here, with the earrings above here. If rings are your fancy, they’ve got a lovely aqua crescent ring this season as well.
Shipping to: Worldwide
Follow them on: Instagram
Embroidered heart maps
I met the lovely couple behind Sadie and June when at a flea market in Ottawa, and appreciated their fun offerings as a traveler with a lot of places I miss deeply. They sell hand-embroidered maps for 900 locations (and counting), either as stand-alone “I love this place” style, or connecting hearts, where there is a thread connecting two places. They also do custom maps, if your favourite destinations aren’t on offer presently.
The couple, whose names are actually Steve and Kendall, are a cross-border couple—something quite common here in the towns that border the US! She’s from New Jersey and he’s from Ottawa, but they met in Florida. Extremely popular any time I’ve seen their booth around town, they capture the nostalgia of leaving pieces of ourselves in places we loved.
Says Kendall, “Our hand-embroidered heart maps were born out of this love and our belief that love knows no borders. The concept: I began embroidering through paper vintage map prints that meant something special to me and Steve.”
The couple have a post about how they went from being ‘flat broke’ in 2014 to building a full-time business around their sewing skills. When I met Kendall at the market, she mentioned that as the business picked up she was struggling to get orders done … until she taught Steve how to sew, and that helped get the maps completed much faster. Now they are both working on their popular maps, and adding cities all of the time.
Those are my 2023 holiday gift picks! I hope you enjoy at least some of them.