Charitable Gift Giving

We surf the Web to find good products that help out a great cause.

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Robot Stuffed Toy with a heart #kausbot #kauzkrew

November 28th, 2015 · Breast Cancer, Cancer, Children's Charities, Conservation, World Hunger

It’s so hard to find a stuffed toy that’s very unique anymore. Everywhere you go you see the same dogs and bears, most of which were mass produced in an assembly line and churned out thousands at a time.

Contrast that to Kauzbots, one of the most unique stuffed toys I’ve seen. They’re actually not real working robots (they’re to robots as a teddy bear is to a real bear). But looking at them they just exude personality. They’ve got two circular eyes and a line for a mouth inside of a rectangle face. They have three buttons in front with various “electronic” signals stitched in. They have multicolored striped arms leading to a stuffed wrench for hands (which happen to fit right into their stuffed nuts for ears), and multicolored legs leading to hammer-like feet.

kauzbot cute plush robots

On the back are two sewn fabric “buttons”, one that says “Activate” and one that says “Shut Down”. A pocket on the back (complete with two stuffed “screws” holding it on) reveals a cute little hand-stitched red heart which you can take out.

the robot with a heart

At about 12 inches long (20 including the legs and feet), and about 5 inches thick with padding, this little guy is the perfect size for hugging or for going on all kinds of adventures. The material is excellent–the robot’s body is sort of a thicker cotton and polyester material you might find in a totebag, while the arms and pockets are softer fabric.

I’m impressed at how well it’s put together and at the attention to detail in the design, right down to the stuffed screws and the hand stitched heart. Every stitch is in place and the material is durable but still soft and cuddly.

But what makes Kauzbots unique are the first part of their name–“Kauz”. They come in 10 different colors and each supports a unique cause. The robot will come with a tag that explains the robot’s name and a few details about the cause it supports. Each time you buy a Kauzbot, 10% of the proceeds go straight to the cause the robot is designated to help.

Kale is green with blue eyes and supports the Arbor Day Foundation’s mission to plant more trees.

Kalvin is brown with red eyes and supports different causes; currently he’s supporting Dream Catalyst’s work of helping homeless children.

Kaprice is pink and supports women with breast cancer (the Web site says she supports the Breast Cancer Network of Strength, but that charity is no longer active so presumably Kaprice’s portion will be going to another breast cancer charity).

Karson is red with blue eyes and supports music therapy programs at children’s hospitals.

Karthy is yellow with red eyes and supports Talk about Curing Autism’s mission to help the autisti.

Khloe is white with red eyes and supports the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation.

Kiefer is black with red eyes and supports the International Rescue Committee.

Kourage is purple with blue eyes and supports the Pablove Foundation’s mission to eradicate childhood cancer.

Kruz is blue with red eyes and supports Lifewater’s mission to deliver clean water.

Kamo is coming soon and I’m guessing his proceeds will go to support veteran’s causes.

The little lady above is named Karissa. With blue eyes and an orange body, her mission is to fight hunger with Share Our Strength. The tag reads:

Karissa is passionate about fighting hunger and poverty around the world. More than 840 million people in the world are malnourished–799 million of them live in the developing world. Whether due to drought, conflict, or disease, mothers and fathers will not be able to find enough food for their families in poor communities around the world. Karissa is committed to helping hungry children and their families get the assistance they desperately need.

I think what I love most about Kauzbots is that they’re imaginative and fun to play with, but they also create awareness to a wide range of great causes that might otherwise get the attention they need.

And in addition to helping these organizations, you can also use it to teach your kids valuable lessons about the importance of giving and helping others.

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The Best Schoolbag / Backpack for Kids from Will Leather Goods @willleather #shareyourwill

November 27th, 2015 · Education

Recently I had a great privilege of getting an introduction to Will Adler, the founder of a company called Will Leather Goods. Many of you are familiar with Will Leather Goods but if you’re not it’s one of the country’s premier leather goods companies, making everything from leather bags to purses to wallets to belts and bracelets and keychains and even leather notebooks, soccer balls, footballs, and dog collars. If it can be made from leather, chances are Will Leather Goods makes it–and does it with quality craftsmanship, top notch materials, and excellent manufacturing, so much so that they guarantee their products for the life of the product (i.e. outside of normal wear and tear, if your product breaks because of poor workmanship they’ll stand behind it).

We’ve talked in past posts about how “you get what you pay for” these days when you buy cheap mass produced schlock. Will Leather Goods is one of those companies that are holding up the standard that American companies were all once known for before so many of them sold out to the siren song of cheap mass production. I had a chance to experience this phenomenon personally–in the last 3 years I must have purchased about 6-8 cheap leather belts from one of those big box retailers. In every case, the stitching came loose, the leather broke, and in some cases the hardware even became undone (in one case a supposedly metallic belt buckle snapped in two, revealing that it wasn’t even metal at all but metal-painted plastic, and this was from a top name-brand manufacturer!). So I thought I was saving money but I ended up paying double or triple what it would have cost me if I’d just bought one of Will’s belts.

You can check out Will Leather Goods products on their site, or you can check out their products at major retailers like Zappos, Nordstrom, or Amazon. But today I wanted to talk about how this company has given back in a huge way.

We spend a lot of time talking about companies that help charities in remote areas of the world from Africa to Asia. Not a bad thing, of course, but sometimes it’s sad to see when individuals and the media focus so much attention on the needs of people thousands of miles away and are completely blind to the needs of people right around the corner.

As a USA-based family business, based in Eugene, Oregon, Will Leather Goods recognized this and decided to focus on a critical need in the United States–public education. Once recognized as by far the top in the world, we’re now ranked #14 among developed nations for education–having dropped completely out of the top 10 and continuing on a downward trajectory. As the father of a 4-month old daughter this terrifies me. I was blessed to have gone through our school system when it was at its pinnacle of being the gold standard and it’s helped me become successful and productive. But I hear horror stories now of how America is losing its edge.

Oh, you’ll get politicians pointing fingers at each other. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum complain that the other side doesn’t do anything, and yet when we vote them into office they don’t do anything either–although you notice that they all magically leave Washington millions of dollars richer than when they came, while our schools keep deteriorating.

Most of the citizens of the country just throw up our hands in frustration and complain, which quite frankly doesn’t do any good either. And then there are those who actually step up and DO something about it. Will Leather Goods is one of those companies.

Specifically, Will Leather Goods has set up an initiative where they will go to underfunded public elementary schools across America and donate a backpack to children who need one, up to half a million of them across the country.

And it’s not just any backpack. This is a backpack designed by Will Adler himself. It’s gorgeous to look at, made of wax coated canvas in beautiful colors and accents–black and yellow, blue and green, grey and pink, tan and red, orange and purple, purple and red, red and blue, and yellow and blue. It has real leather accents throughout, from the sturdy leather handle to the zipper pulls to the reinforced piece on the back that keeps the straps securely fastened to the bag no matter how much use it gets, to the piece of leather at the ends of the straps to keep them from fraying to two round Give Will badges that read “A Bag to Carry Your Dreams”. This is easily one of the best designed backpacks I’ve seen.

best backpack for kidsI got a chance to sample one of these bags and I can vouch for how beautiful and sturdy it is. Compared to even other moderate-to-high end knapsacks and backpacks, the engineering on this is excellent. The straps are sturdy and thick, and anywhere on the bag that might be subjected to heavy use is reinforced, making it perfect for even the most active Kindergartener to 5th grader. There are two pockets in front, a zippered pocket in the inner front, and a place to put pencils, pens and other supplies. There are two main compartments, separated by a padded divider, the inner one of which can be secured with a velcro flap. On the outside are two additional zippered pockets. It is, bar none, one of the finest book bags you can buy for elementary school kids. 

inside will leather good bag

One of the nicest things about this bag was just taking it out of the box. Right away you can smell the wonderful aroma of the real leather.

This is NOT a bag that’s going to fall apart after a few uses. The color is bright and kid-friendly, not in a gaudy way like the latest Disney or Spiderman backpack but in a way that’s still fun and reflects the personality of the most important character in your life–your child’s!

In fact, one of the best features of this backpack is that on the back it says “A bag to carry your dreams. My dream is…” and you can work with your child to fill it out, whether he or she wants to be an astronaut, an athlete, a policeman or fireman, a teacher, or president!

top quality knapsack for kids from wills leather, with dream section on back

I love this feature because it encourages the child to grab and hold on to perhaps the most important thing that we adults are squandering–their hopes and dreams. This generation is the first one in the country’s history where a majority of adults cannot say that they are confident that their kids will be more successful than they were. It’s an indictment on all of us, and another reason I admire Will Leather Goods so much for what they’re doing.

Naysayers might scoff and ask, how is handing out a backpack going to solve the nation’s educational problem. But what I think this company has just taken the one thing that it excels at and applied it to helping kids. And one cannot underestimate what even a seemingly small thing can do for a child. If a child who has dealt all his life with bringing an old, torn up bag to school, what a difference giving this bag to him or her would be. Imagine the boost to their low self-esteem and confidence just a simple gesture of giving them this bag and telling them that yes, they are allowed to dream and that despite everything, the American dream is still alive and well for those who still dare to dream it, work hard, and grasp every opportunity.

If only everyone in this country who has lived the American Dream could do the same and use their God-given talents to pay it forward instead of focusing solely on money, money, money, imagine what a difference it would make to our children, who are our nation’s most valuable “natural resource” that we are squandering. Hopefully seeing what Will Leather Goods will inspire this country’s entrepreneurs, small businesses and corporations to do the same.

How can you help? If you buy one of these bags, or any other Will Leather Goods in one of their stores or online, Will Leather Goods will use part of your purchase to subsidize a bag for a child in need. And this includes when you buy a bag for your own child.

I got a chance to interview Will Adler. His story is a fascinating one–he was originally a professional actor who was on many hit shows in the 1970’s (as a kid, I used to watch a show called CHiPS and I actually remember the episode that he was in :)). Then during the big Screen Actor’s Guide strike in 1981 he had to find other work. I’ll let him tell the story below, but suffice it to say that going from where he was to owner of one of the premier leather companies in the world is the stuff dreams are made of, and I admire and appreciate him passing it forward.

I absolutely love the idea of providing donations to kids in underfunded public schools. How did you come up with the idea?

I grew up in Motor City, Detroit and understand firsthand the experience between diversity and education. At a young age, I learned the importance of inspiration, creativity and perseverance to fulfill my own personal dreams. Now as a business owner, we wanted to create the shared value portion of our company based on these principals- education and inspiration. From there Give Will was able to take shape.

As craftsmen we knew we wanted to create a high quality, sturdy, and beautiful backpack that would last throughout the child’s journey as a student. Once the design for the bag itself was solidified, we added the space on the back for each child to write their dream for the future. Writing down their dream is the most powerful portion of the design. It solidifies a call to action for each child to pursue their passion every day and the bag serves as a resource to make this happen! Metaphorically, “A Bag to Carry Your Dream!”

I noticed the back of the bag includes an area where the child can write his or her dreams. What are some of the things you’ve seen kids write in this space? What are other things you think we can do as a society to help kids achieve these dreams?

The dreams for the future that we’ve seen are hopes to become a doctor, scientist, NBA/NFL professional, singer, dancer, policeman, fireman, music producer, video game designer, member of the army, college graduate, fashion designer, and teacher, just to name a few. The excitement and passion we witness from each student explaining their reasoning for their dream is incredibly moving!

As a society, I think we can continue to be open and accepting of any dream that a child has for the future. By simply asking them to express their dream, we open a doorway to provide support and resources to help them fulfill it!

 Where are some of the schools you’ve helped to date? What has the response been like from the kids and the faculty and administrators?

We’ve been fortunate enough to giveaway backpacks in Los Angeles, Portland, and Eugene thus far. We are gearing up to make two donations in my hometown of Detroit in a few months.

The response from the kids and faculty is overwhelmingly positive! Everyone is always so excited that we provide such an incredibly well-crafted backpack for their students to use; and they admire that we ask children to be inspired to dream big!

How did you make the transition from actor to expert leather goods designer?

After graduating from the Goodman Schools of Drama in Chicago, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in acting. During this time I was fortunate enough to land a variety of roles in CHiPs, Trapper John, M.D and Welcome Back Kotter. However, in 1981 there was a lengthy Screen Actors Guild Strike which stalled my career as an actor. At the time, I had a wife and a newborn baby and needed an income. It was my brother, a well-known Detroit retailer, who suggested I enter the garment industry until the strike passed to make ends meet. I took his advice and began selling handcrafted “Rainbow Belts” on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. I quickly discovered I had a passion and talent for leathercraftsmanship, business, and design. With the success of my business, I never ended up returning to acting and have been in the industry for over 35 years!

I see from your IMDB page that you guest starred on an episode of CHiPs, one of my favorite shows growing up. What was that like?

It was an incredible opportunity to work on CHiPs as a young 22 year old actor! I was on the “Dog Gone” episode and played a hoodlum who stole a dog. I was chased down by Officers Jon Baker and Frank Poncherello. It was all very exciting and it was the first time I realized the illusion of television. The cops never rode the motorcycles like they made it appear on TV! They either had their stunt doubles ride for long range shots or they just sat on the motorcycle and were pulled by a trailer for close range

My thanks to Will Adler for his time and especially for setting an example for all of us of how to give back in such a meaningful way. I plan on looking to Will Leather Goods first whenever I need anything made from high quality leather, and I hope you do too.

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Beadworks – Adorable Miniature Animals Made with Beads

November 25th, 2015 · Conservation, Developing Areas

bead animalsSee these two little guys shooting the breeze? The elephant to the left and the zebra to the right are actually made up of tiny beads. They both measure about 1.5 inches tall and long and are oh-so-adorable and will look great on a Christmas tree or just as a conversation piece at your desk.

This is just a sampling of what you’ll find at BeadWORKS Kenya, a venture of Northern Rangelands Trust. Click to their catalog and you’ll find bead jewelry, boxes, bracelets, napkin rings, keychains, necklaces, coasters, and much more. Each of them are handcrafted by women in Kenya. Specifically, 1,000 women in five community-led conservancies who would otherwise have no source of income use their traditional skills to make these wonderful beaded handicrafts.

BeadWORKS helps them out by finding places for them to sell their products, as well as training them and helping to coordinate things like product development, basic financial skills, and leadership and entrepreneurial skills. As a result these women earn a sustainable income that they use to send their children to school, pay medical bills, and buy essentials like clothes and food.

Community conservation is a growing phenomenon in Africa, including Northern Kenya where BeadWORKS and Northern Rangelands Trust is located. Put simply, community conservation is when private citizens in an area get together and decide that they’re going to work together to protect their own land and wildlife from things like poor land management and poaching. Protecting creation has wide-ranging benefits. results in improved security for the whole community, wiser management of land, and income and employment through supporting community projects.


So native wildlife like elephants are protected. How? First, these regions of the world have traditionally relied 100% on lifestock for their income, which expanding grazing land and dealing with situations where wildlife would encroach on that land. By providing alternate sources of income, land expansion could be controlled and wildlife protected. In many cases this opens up a whole new world for eco-tourism where ironically the same animals that used to be killed and poached because they were a threat to income now bring in more income just by saying alive.

Statistics have proven that once alternate sources of income and community conservation are introduced to a region, poaching becomes a lot more scarce. And you can start doing your part by getting these adorable Christmas ornaments or some of the dazzling jewelry that not only make great gifts but can change lives for humans and elephants alike,



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Beautiful Silk Scarf from World Vision @WorldVisionUSA

November 21st, 2015 · Uncategorized

I review a lot of charitable gift sites on this blog but invariably every year when this time comes around I always look to World Vision for some of the most impressive, high quality gifts.

This year is no exception. The World Vision gift catalog for 2015 recently came out and in it are more than 250 gifts to choose from. Unlike what you might find in other charities these aren’t all just symbolic gifts nor are they run-of-the-mill, low quality logo imprinted products. These are high-quality fashionable gifts that rival the best things you’ll see in media to high-end department and luxury stores.

IMG_2224For example, this Royal Silk Scarf is one of the more gorgeous scarves I’ve seeen this season. My wife Lisa was gracious enough to model it for me.

The silk, like any good silk, is soft and luxurious to the touch but keeps you warm on those cold and windy autumn and winter days. But what amazed me were the colors on this thing. It’s a gorgeous blend of rich blues, greens, purples and magentas that honestly look even more stunningly beautiful than scarves costing hundreds more in high end department stores. It’s especially stunning in the sunlight, which makes the vibrant colors really stand out. And because they’re handcrafted no two are alike.

Unlike the $400 scarves made in Italy with giant profit margins that line the pockets of corporate executives, or the $5 scarves made in China and produced under heaven knows what kind of conditions (by who knows whom), this scarf is hand-woven by villagers in Ma Chau, Vietnam.

It’s the gift that gives thrice, once to your recipient, once to the artisans in Vietnam who receive sustainable income from their craft, and once to help the amazing work that World Vision (consistently rated an A+ charity by every charity rating service out there) does.

There are other hand-crafted gifts like this in the catalog from around the world, which also help World Vision’s charitable work as well as provide sustainable income for people to make a living in impoverished parts of the world. Here’s just a sampling:



A beaded cross necklace from Nairobi, Kenya




baby bib from baliA handmade 100% cotton baby bib from Bali, Indonesia





christmas star ornamentA Christmas Star Ornament from India





shell coastersCapiz Shell coasters from the Philippines





There is literally something for everybody in this catalog, so get your Christmas shopping done now. Instead of the typical department store schlock, these gifts exude the personal touch–literally. You’ll feel great knowing you gave your friends and family gifts they will love and use, helped give a leg up to hard working artisans to support their families and communities, and helped World Vision’s mission to help those around the world who are in the most desperate need.

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Thick, Soft, Warm Socks made from Bison (Buffalo) Down #comfysocks @unitedbyblue

November 17th, 2015 · Conservation

When you think of luxurious socks, you’ll usually think of sheep and goats. Sheep’s wool has had a monopoly on warmth for centuries, while the wool from cashmere goats are what people think of for softness.

The one animal that people don’t usually think for both warmth and softness of is the American Bison. But if the socks I’m wearing right now are any indication, it’s time to think twice.

First of all, a little about the American Bison.

For years, people referred to these animals as “Buffalo”. From Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed singing “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight”; to the name of the city of Buffalo, New York and the Buffalo Bills; to the biggest celebrity of the late 1800’s, Buffalo Bill Cody; to the design of the nickel that was used from 1913-1938, this animal has left an indelible mark on the United States.

Here’s something you might not have known. In the United States the buffalo was never a buffalo. It’s more accurately called a bison. Specifically there are two subspecies, the plains bison (B. b. bison) and the wood biston (B. b. athabascae). In fact, it’s only distantly related to the true buffalo that you’ll generally find in Africa. But the malapropism stuck and so for the foreseeable future you’re going to hear people using the word buffalo and bison interchangeably.

When the first settlers came to North America there were tens of millions of them. But with westward expansion came the loss of their natural habitat and uncontrolled hunting. By the year 1900 the number got down to as little as 300. The largest animal in North America was at the brink of being gone. Even to the time I was in grade school in the 1970’s we were taught how buffalo were endangered and at the brink of extinction.

What happened next is a model for success in terms of stopping the extinction of an entire species. In the public sector, laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Park System helped bring awareness to what Americans were doing to this animal.

Just a few weeks ago on National Bison Day, Colorado State University published a Vine that showed bison being returned to their old stomping grounds in Northern Colorado for the first time in 150 years.

And in the private sector, the American bison was brought back from the edge of extinction through methodical breeding and building up livestock herds. And happily, we’re at a point today where they have been removed from the Endangered Species list. By the year 2000 the number was about 360,000 and today they number more than half a million.

So when you see bison meat on the menu, don’t think of it as akin to a dodo bird or passenger pigeon sandwich. It’s actually quite tasty (the reason it was hunted to near extinction), and good cuts will taste as good or better than cattle beef but with less fat and cholesterol.

But like I said, something I would never have guessed is how amazingly comfortable bison down is to wear. While the animal looks pretty rugged on the outside, they have an inner coat of incredibly soft down. And when this down is spun it has a consistency that’s genuinely as warm as wool but soft as cashmere.

One thing I’ve discovered about socks is that you really do get what you pay for. For years I bought socks at BJ’s that were made in China. They look decent, but after just a few wearing I noticed threads would start to unravel or there’d be holes in them. So ironically, while I’d maybe pay $3 for a pair of socks I used to pay $10 for, I’d go through five of those cheap socks before the one I paid a little more for would even show signs of wear.

I had a chance to try out some bison down for myself, a product called The Ultimate American Sock from a company called United By Blue. I got the box in the mail, and right away I could see that this was a high quality product just from the box.


Opening the box I saw the thick socks. Again, I’m used to buying cheap, thin socks stuffed into plastic bags so these looked gigantic to me.


The craftsmanship of the socks is beautiful. Not a stitch out of place. You can tell just by feeling them that these aren’t going to wear out after just a few washings.

But I still had to be convinced. I’m someone who doesn’t like the scratchiness and abrasiveness of sheep’s wool, so I wondered to myself if I would really like these.


Putting on these socks, well, knocked my socks off. I was hesitant as I slipped on the first sock, expecting the usual sandpaper-like sensations you get with wool socks. But these socks were amazing. The softness is easily comparable to cashmere as far as feeling soft, smooth, and gentle. They do this by making a blend of merino wool, bison down, nylon, and spandex. They actually have a whole page that talks about the impressive engineering where every detail was thought of, from the spandex rib knit welt to keep your sock up without any irritation, to how they reinforced the toe and heel with nylon, to the rib arch support that helps circulation in your feet, to its moisture wicking capabilities, to the flat and reinforced toes seam.

When I put them on they just slipped on and instantly enveloped my feet with a warm cozy feeling, which was perfect on the first cold autumn day of the year.

I got up to walk in them and it’s like walking on a cloud of pillow, thanks to the padding on the soles.


The thickness is not only great for warmth and comfort, but as the day went on I could feel them wicking the moisture, which makes these ideal for when you’re doing a lot of physical activity in the cool months.

Here’s how comfy they are–my original intent was to review them and chance back into my regular socks for work. But I decided to just leave them on all day.

If you look through United By Blue’s catalog you’ll find the socks and also other new products like a bison down jacket. You might have a hard time justifying $38 for a pair of socks, but these are not only more comfortable and durable than almost any other sock you’ll be, it’s completely made in America. And “made in America” doesn’t mean like other companies they import foreign material as assemble it in the US. They designed the socks and packaging in Philadelphia, they collect bison down from ranchers in North Dakota, they blend the bison down with American Merino Wool and spin it into yarn in Massachusetts, and they knit and package them in Iowa into packages made in Wisconsin. It’s a great gift for the person in your life who has everything, because chances are they don’t have this yet!

But something I appreciate most about this company is their charitable efforts focused on ocean and waterway conservation. Just as mankind almost decimated the American Bison population by careless, thoughtless and selfish actions against God’s creation, mankind is also just as careless in dealing with its rivers and oceans.

I live in the New York area, and it’s heartbreaking to see what our fellow humans still do. It’s sad when the government needs to publish brochures warning the public against eating the fish that live in the oceans and rivers around us because of all the toxins in them, thanks to years and years of dumping by industry. And as much as has been done to clean up companies people are just as thoughtless on an individual level. I can’t go I go hiking in the woods or talking on the beach without seeing plastic food containers, bottles and cans, tires, candy wrappers.

All it takes are a few selfish and thoughtless people, both on an individual level and a company level, to ruin it for everyone else, not to mention for future generations.

Most of us see these things, shake our heads and say, “someone should really do something.” But then there are those that do.

For every product sold, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company organized and hosted cleanups.

Specifically, they’ll organize and host ocean and waterway cleanups across the country, bringing together thousands of volunteers to pick up things like cans and bottles, tires, appliances, and everything else that makes its way into the aquatic world. So far, they’ve hosted 141 cleanups and removed 252,042 pounds of trash from rivers, streams, creeks, and beaches across 23 states. You can see photos and even sign up to participate yourself here.

Great product, great cause, this is just the sort of product I love to highlight on this blog. Stock up for the holidays!



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The Ultimate Goodie Bag / Surprise Box for Women #purplepurse #fabfitfun

November 11th, 2015 · Domestic Violence

Who doesn’t love a good goodie bag or surprise box? Whether you’re a three year-old unwrapping a treasure trove of Christmas presents or someone at the Academy Awards seeing what things await you in your $168,000 swag bag, there’s just something magical about unwrapping a mystery box of goodies and anticipating the wonders you’ll find inside.

Mystery boxes are nothing new, of course. You can buy care packages to send to your child in college; if you’re a parent you can receive goodies like the Baby Registry Welcome Box from Amazon; and if you’re geeky you can even enjoy a Bag of Crap from Woot.

But an organization called FabFitFun (which for some reason I keep calling “FitFabFun”) has taken it to a whole new level. They’ve designed a box filled with premium products for women. If there’s a woman in your life who you’d like to give a fantastic gift to–or if you just want to pamper yourself–this is one of the best options.

FabFitFun releases a new box every quarter to start each season. You can order each season’s box for $49.99, or if you’d like to get four boxes in a year, they have a deal where you can pay $179.99 for the year.

For your $49.99 you’re guaranteed a box filled with products worth well more than $200 in retail value. These aren’t just beauty items, but also fashion accessories, fitness products, health and wellness items, and items for your home. And unlike other similar boxes you might have seen, these aren’t sample items or trial size products, but full retail packages of high-end products.

I received a Fall 2105 box in the mail. Here was the unboxing.

The package was a gorgeously printed cardboard box with the FabFitFun logo on the front.  A pull tab on the front of the box made it easy to open.

fit fab fub surprise box

The first thing you see is this magazine that details all the goodies you’ll find inside the box and provides some interesting feature articles about some of the gifts in the box. For the fall 2015 box they have an interview with Ashkahn, the artist who designed the custom umbrella (which you’ll see me unpack below) as well as a feature on the Purple Purse Charm which I’ll write about as well.

fitfabfun magazine

Then we got to reveal the surprise goodies themselves, nicely packaged behind curtain #1.

inside the mystery surprise box

Unveiling the curtain revealed an amazing haul of goodies.

inside the surprise box


The first was a set of two facial masks by Passport to Beauty.  These masks by themselves retail for $65.00, or $11 over the $49 the entire box cost! The collagen and rose oil help stimulate circulation, increase enzyme activity, and sooth skin.

facial mask

Next was the beautiful Glass Crystal Bead Bracelet by Tribe Alive. What’s neat about Tribe Alive is that in addition to producing gorgeous handmade jewelry, they work with female artisans around the world, including in impoverished areas, paying a living wage for their work. Contrast that with jewelry you find in your local department store that’s made by workers in conditions we can probably guess.

blue crystal bead necklace

The next item was the purple purse charm, provided by the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse.The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse is a charity that helps women who deal with the horrific issue of domestic abuse. The purple color of the FabFitFun box is in support of bringing awareness to this important issue that is too often swept under the rug.

This is a beautiful brass-colored charm imprinted with a purple purse logo and attached to a beautiful purple tassel and a card that tells the story of a woman who survived the horrors of domestic violence. By attaching this charm to your purse, or by purchasing the limited edition purple purse at Saks Fifth Avenue, you can further help be a voice to the voiceless.

purple purse charm to fight domestic abuse

The next full retail product is Flawless Skin Fluid by Doctor D. Schwab. This is a 30 milliliter tube of lightweight moisturizer that helps balance and brighten your skin. It’s a high quality product that retails at $39 and has 5 stars on Amazon.

flawless skin fluid

Next comes this battery pack by HiSY that’s great for adding juice to your smartphone when you’re on the road; in fact, it’ll add a full charge to most phones, but is barely larger than a tube of lipstick or a lighter. This one came in nice blue color that looked as stylish as it is functional. It retails for $25.

portable battery pack for purse

We’re not done yet. Next came a Merrithew Total Body Tone with Tubing: Lower Body and Core DVD, rated at 5 stars on Amazon, and the actual resistance band tubing from Merrithew, rated at 4 stars on Amazon. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s a great way to keep your thighs, glutes, and calves in great shape. The whole package is valued at $33.

IMG_1997 toning pack

The next item is a designer, one-of-a-kind umbrella designed in conjunction with the Tappan Collective, an online community of up-and-coming artists. This bright pink umbrella was designed by LA artist Ashkahn Shahparnia, who is also interviewed in this month’s magazine. It’s a whimsical umbrella with the words “Rain Rain Go Away” playfully repeated as a pattern that looks beautiful from afar. This umbrella goes for $32 normally.

stylish umbrella

Next came a box of lip stain from Manna Kadar Cosmetics. It’s a primer, lip gloss, and lip stain all in one that also moisturizes your lips. It retails at $24.

primer and lip gloss

Usually in boxes like these you end up throwing away the paper on the bottom, as it’s usually just some advertising. In this case I was glad I saved this; it’s a personalized $75 voucher to Picture It On Canvas, which lets you take your digital photographs and print them on canvas prints, slates, metal prints, or posters. And unlike other “vouchers” that give you that big a discount only if you spend hundreds of dollars more, this one was good for any size purchase.

Another gift card came from The Jeweler’s Wife, and lets you spend $15 on any order.

gift certificates

Finally, came “the ad”, but even this one was valuable–it’s a sample of Crest’s new toothpaste and whitening finisher.

free toothpaste sample

And of course, I scoured the shredded paper filler to make sure I wasn’t missing anything (I wasn’t).

empty goodie box


I feel like a game show host here, but the total retail value of this whole package was…$357. At $49.99, you not only get all these products, but perhaps even better you get the anticipation of waiting for the box in the mail and the great feeling of opening it and finding product after product of things you’d use and love.

FabFitFun is probably one of the best gift ideas for women there is, and it’s all the more special that they dedicate so much of their time and efforts to help charities such as the Purple Purse Foundation, as well as merchants who themselves do great things, such as Tribe Alive. It’s too late for you to order this Fall box, but they’re taking orders for the Winter Box now, and if all past boxes is any indication it’s going to be a great one. If there’s a woman in your life who’s hard to shop for, why not get her a box (or four) that’ll be sure to have plenty to surprise her and delight her and be lots of fun for both of you!

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Perfect Gift for a Photography with a High-End Camera – The FotoStrap Camera Strap

November 3rd, 2015 · Disability, Disaster Relief, Poverty

A few months ago I was talking to my niece about photography. I told her stories about how people didn’t used to take pictures on digital cameras. Back then, I dramatically told her, we had things called SLR cameras, and we put things called film into them, and we had to get them developed, 24 photos at a time! And there were thing called “dark rooms” where you exposed your film. I felt like Abraham Lincoln talking about how he used to do his homework on the back of a coal shovel.

After several minutes of pontificating my niece smiled at me and said, “I know what film is…”

But I realize that the next generation probably will have no clue. They’ll look at our 35mm rolls of film like we look at daguerreotypes and the rotogravure.

One trend I’m very happy to see coming back is that digital SLR cameras are coming back. For a while it seemed that digital photographers were going to be relegated to using little boxy point-and-shoot cameras. But companies like Canon and Nikon are making professional cameras that are on par with the quality of our old traditional SLR cameras.

My mother-in-law took up photography later in her life, and she is bar none one of the best natural talents at photography I know. Here’s an amazing photo she took last year at a local park.


She’s had a high-end Canon SLR camera for several years now, but as nice as the camera was, I noticed how the strap didn’t really match the quality of the camera, it was just a typical thin, black one with low-quality plastic that comes with any camera.

Which is why I was very happy to hear about Fotostrap. Fotostrap is an amazingly high quality camera strap which is the perfect gift for the photographer in your life who has a nice camera but just an average camera strap. You can purchase a Fotostrap from their Web site, or if you prefer, you can also purchase a Fotostrap on Amazon

The first thing you notice about Fotostrap is that it looks great. The strap itself is 1.5″ wide, which increases the sturdiness, avoids tangling, and looks very fashionable. It comes in a variety of colors to choose from.

The camera strap was designed for a comfortable fit. There’s an ergonomic leather shoulder pad that feels comfortable no matter how heavy your camera and lens are (and the straps holds up to 40 pounds!) This is something especially helpful for my mother-in-law who suffers from back pain. The shoulder pad is lined with soft rubber to prevent it from slipping, and the end strap has 5 adjustable holes so you can adjust the height

Something else I love about the strap is that it’s made of durable canvas fabric, the hardware is made of brass, and the end straps, accents, and shoulder pad are made from genuine vegetable-tanned leather (vegetable-tanned basically means that the leather was tanned using tannins and ingredients found in plant matter, such as bark, wood, leaves, fruits, and roots). The result is a beautiful chestnut brown color which they say will only improve over time with more use.

Finally, I love how the strap is monogrammable with your initials, a short phrase, a name, or even a logo. It just adds that personal special touch.

Here’s what it looks like.

camera strap for expensive cameras

I got to try her camera–and the Fotostrap–out for myself on a recent trip to take pictures of the fall foliage in New York State. Here’s me taking pictures of baby Maddie.

me using fotostrap

The strap felt amazingly comfortable, and I liked how I could hang the camera lower on my body in a way that kept it secure (I don’t think my mother-in-law would love it if I destroyed her expensive camera!) while still giving me mobility and easy access.

And here’s the foliage itself (which was amazing this year!)

autumn in new york, why does it feel so inviting?

Aside from being the perfect gift for the professional photographer (or aspiring professional photographer) in your life, the FotoStrap does something else. 10% of each FotoStrap purchased goes to help Fotolanthropy, a non-profit organization that that’s unique in itself.

Fotolanthrophy is an amazing organization that was started in 2011 by professional photographer Katie Norris. Katie wanted to “give back” to others through photography.

We live in a world where photojournalists fall into one of two categories–see who can take the photos of the most tragic and devastating images of wars and natural disasters, or see who can take the most embarrassing or revealing photos of celebrities. Those photographers are successful only because their work sells papers and gets clicks. It’s a sad reflection of how empty we’ve become as humans.

Fotolanthrophy goes to the other extreme. It seeks out those in the country who have the most inspiring stories of courage and triumph over tragedy, and offers the chance to share their stories through professional photography. The recipient receives a portrait session, album, images, and slides to share their story with the world. In addition, Fotolanthopy will choose about 5 stoies a year to make into short documentary films.

Here’s a video that describes them more:

A great product for a great cause and one that’ll make the photographer in your life very happy, especially if he or she has just plunked down a lot of $$ for a nice camera!

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Lucky Day – An App that Lets you Win Free Money for a Great Cause

October 12th, 2015 · Men's Health, Movember

It seems that just about everything in life that used to be done with paper has been “digitized” into an app by now. Instead of paper maps we use Google Maps or Apple Maps. Instead of printed airline tickets we have e-tickets. Instead of printed books we have e-books.

But when we play the Lotto, we still go to the local grocery store and buy those scratch-off tickets. Until now, that is.

Lucky Day is an app that lets you play scratch-off games, slot machines, and lotto right from your cell phone. And unlike simulation games, you can actually win free money. Granted we’re talking only a few dollars here and there (albeit you do have a chance to win a jackpot of up to $25,000), but considering the price you pay to download the game (free) and the price to collect tokens to use to play the game (free), it’s not a bad way to get your gambling itch scratched.

While it sounds like a scam, it’s really a brilliant business idea. When you use any app that has adds, from Candy Crush to Farmville to Angry Birds, each time you view an ad the app publisher gets a little money. That’s why app publishing has become a huge business, and why you see Super Bowl ads for cheap little iOS and Android games.

If I’m interpreting the business model of this company correctly, they’re basically set up to make some money from ads, but also to pass some of it back to their users. The more users the app has, the more the pool of money they’ll make for themselves AND be able to pass back to users. It’s a brilliant scheme and as long as they don’t get too greedy, one that will make them very rich and keep their users entertained.

And here’s something cool. From now until the end of November, all winners who on Lucky Day playing the scratch-off games, lotto games, or slot machines will have the option to donate their winnings to The Movember Foundation.

You’ve probably heard of the Movember Foundation if you know a family, friend, or co-worker who’s grown a moustache in the month of November. It’s a great charity that focuses on health issues specific to men, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and physical inactivity.

You can download the app here.

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cuddle+kind – the highest quality hand-knit dolls you’ll find anywhere

October 4th, 2015 · World Hunger

cuddle and kind handknit dolls

See this adorable cast of characters? They’re all part of cuddle+kind, a new company based in Ontario, Canada that’s creating amazing hand-knit dolls.

Their names, from left-to-right, are Isla, Pearl, Willow, Scout, Chloe, Benedict, Chelsea, Maximus, and Everest.

There are so many good things to say about this company I hardly know where to begin.

First, the dolls themselves are amazing. Being a new father, I’ve looked and looked for stuffed animals and dolls for my little girl, but more and more I find that toys out there lacking. Of course, you’ll find the stuffed Elmos and Mickey Mouses, but those seem to be more like advertisements than “friends”. And bears, dogs,  lions, and elephants all seem to be mass-produced, “made in China” that completely lack any kind of personality. I remember giving my niece a cute stuffed dog, which she loved for a few minutes but then threw into the closest with what must literally have been 50 that looked exactly the same.

Each of the cuddle+kind dolls is simply designed but each seem to exude personality and style, from Maximus the cat’s ski cap and fish sweater to Scout the reindeer’s popsicle sweater and little tail, to Benedict the bunny’s red-framed glasses and bowtie, to Everest the penguin’s hat and scarf. At 20 inches from head to toe and made of soft, premium natural cotton, they are eminently cuddly and huggable, a perfect gift for the little one in your life to get him or her through those cold, lonely winter nights.

everest the penguinAnother problem with toys that are mass produced toys is safety. The materials sometimes go through so many loopholes that you have no idea where they came from. cuddle+kind dolls, on the other hand, meet or exceed all US and Canadian safety standards and are made of top-quality yarn of high stitch counts. You can feel confident handing the doll right over to your little one right from the plastic bag he comes in.

Also, with mass-produced toys you just don’t know where they’re being made–in some countries those producing the dolls should be the ones playing with the dolls! With cuddle+kind dolls, each doll is meticulously hand-made, switched by artisans in Peru. This provides these women with sustainable, fair trade income that helps their families and their communities.

hand knit doll embroideryI had a chance to play with Everest. I am astounded at the high quality of the hand-stitching and the embroidery. As they describ on their Web site, each doll goes through 42 steps to create just one, and they obsess at the details of every step. You can see it in the craftsmanship; there is not one stitch that’s out of place, not one loose thread, not one detail missing.

This is a truly unique doll that you won’t find piles of in your local Toys R Us. At $49 it’s a bit pricier than your generic mass-produced doll, but when you consider the value, the price is really a small one to pay. All the $5-15 stuffed animals in your closet will invariably end up in a closest or landfill somewhere. But these dollars are of such high quality, and so beautifully made that you little one will hug, befriend, and love him or her for life.

maddie and everestI “introduced” my little girl Maddie to Everest. At 20 inches, Everest is just about her size right now. But as she grows older, he’ll be of the perfect size for her to hug and cuddle with on those cold winter nights.

And what makes the value even more amazing is that the founders of cuddle+kind, Jennifer and Derek Woodgate, founded it not to enrich themselves but to help feed hungry children in North America and around the world. And so with every doll purchased, they will provide 10 meals to children in need in the US and Canada and around the world through World Food Program USA and Children’s Hunger Fund, with a goal of providing 1 million meals a year. And just so you can start teaching your little one early the importance of caring for others less fortunate than him or her, each doll is wearing a little wristband that reads “1 doll = 10 meals”.

You can order a doll of your own at Indiegogo. So far, they’ve sold enough to provide 25,000 meals to children, but you can help them by buying your own and by following them on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

This is by far my most favorite kind of product to review–a high quality product produced by a small business to help a great cause. cuddle+kind meets all three of these, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Free Golf Lessons from GolfTEC

September 28th, 2015 · Uncategorized

GolfTEC, if you’ve never heard of it, is the leading provider of golf lessons. They provide lessons for anyone from beginners to advanced players, and many of their instructors are PGA professionals themselves, so you know you’re getting the best of the best instruction with the latest teaching techniques and technologies to learn and improve your skills. They have almost 200 locations around the world and over the past 20 years have taught over 5.7 million lessons.
In celebration of their 20th anniversary, they’ve teamed up with PGA REACH, the charitable arm of the PGA of America, to offer free golf lessons to anyone who makes a donation to PGA Reach. The golf lessons will be given at GolfTEC locations between October 9 and October 11. Spots are limited, so make sure you get your donation in quickly. You can do so here:
Once you make your donation, all you have to do is schedule your appointment during those days at your closest GolfTEC location and show the receipt of your donation. Each lesson is valued at more than $50. The minimum suggested donation is $20, but you can donate more, of course.
PGA REACH is a charity that’s tied with the PGA which helps veterans, youth, and communities of all kinds with programs that promote development, rehabilitation, and education to these communities through the game of golf. Whether you’re a golf professional or someone who’s always just been interested, this is a great way to help a great cause and improve your game while you’re at it.

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