Shot of Brandi Gift Guide: 40 Things for 40 Years - Part 4

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Here we are. Only a few days left to buy gifts. Or, maybe you are celebrating after the holiday and still have some time to shop. Whatever your situation is, here are 10 more gift ideas from yours truly!

31. Reminiscing on the older gift guides has been inspiring. Back in 2011, I created gift guides based on different monetary values. On the first day, I recommended the Tiffany & Co. charm bracelet and I must say, the charm options have gone downhill. I’ve been recently receiving Instagram ads for a site called Charm It. They have cute, affordable charms and bracelets for girls. You can buy one now, and add on charms all year!

32. I have two methods to help me answer “What do you want for Christmas?” (or Birthday). I save a list of items on an Amazon gift list and I have a Bookmark folder of things. I also have a digital wishlist for Lennon that I keep updating throughout the year. Family members tend to love this. Let’s dip into my Bookmark list and see what we have…This stuff is pretty pricey, so that’s why it’s sitting here! Some Tiffany & Co. pearl earrings, Estelle wine glasses, and the New York Times Cookbook (I’ve fallen in love with its online database and I love a good cookbook!).

33. How fun was the 2014 gift guide - A Colorful Christmas! Bold colors are making their way back to the runway, which means we’ll likely see it in stores next year and I am here for it! A few years ago I purchased a rainbow handbag from Kurt Geiger and I love it. It goes with so many outfits (because it’s rainbow!).

34. Um. I’m barely making in through 40 gift ideas and looking back to 2015…I published 50! FIFTY! For that gift guide, I did 3-5 gifts inspired by every state! Man, to be young, well-rested, childless, and not dealing with a global pandemic lol. Inspired by this guide is one thing I’m HOPING to do more of in 2015…travel. I cannot tell you how excited I am for a trip next summer back to my favorite beach town(s) - the Outer Banks. Two stores that we shop from online year-round are Morning View Coffee and Zen & Zip. If you decide to order some beans, we are big fans of the Booty Blend! Follow Zen & Zip on Instagram for cute athletic and athleisure gear and accessories!

35. One of the best items that I ever purchased was a good camera. Yeah, iPhones take nice photos and they are almost always in an arms reach, but I love, love, love me a good camera. This is a bit of an investment gift, but you won’t regret it! Trust me! I use this Canon set and added on an additional lens. Using it around the holidays, birthdays, and other kid-related milestones has produced some amazing photos!

36. In 2017 I took my first real cycling/spin class. I had done some classes at a gym, but let’s say 2017 was my real studio experience. I’m a big fan of CycleBar locally; however, I do have a bike at home in case I’m looking for exercise in the comfort of my basement. You can get classes online through Peleton without the bike! For my faux Peleton situation, I use a BarWing bike from Amazon (under $300!). I liked the Schwinn’s too, but a lot were sold out! I do find I like going to a spin studio for a better workout and I’m more motivated when I’m paying! I’d really like some Tiem shoes in the future!

37. Around this year, we became a Google Home family. We have the Nest Mini devices in several rooms and the Nest Hub in our kitchen. I can’t tell you how much I love saying “Hey, Google” and requesting music. I also plug in the pods outside for music while working! It’s also great to answer quick questions, handsfree! Our family uses Duo to call my grandparents and check in! They don’t have to worry about figuring out face time and frankly don’t have the right device! Recently, Lennon discovered some new tricks and requested a Wifi lightbulb for her room. Now, she can ask Google for an array of colors at night. We are just scratching the surface of fun!

38. Christmas at 38 was the first one in our new house, so likely house items were on my list! A new home ornament is great for someone you know that purchased a house or a painting of the person’s new house with the year it was “established!”

39. My 39th birthday was one of the last times I went out pre-covid. We went curling with some friends and to a bar. You know, a gift card to go curling would make an amazing gift if you are in the Pittsburgh area! Or, find a curling or ax throwing spot near you!

40. Oh now we’ve come…to the end of the road...number 40! Let’s go with the gift that I actually received for my 40th birthday - a wine fridge! It’s been a nice addition to our dining room and I love having a bottle ready to drink when friends come over! It feels like a very adult gift, am I right!? This eight-bottle option is a bit smaller and can go on a tabletop.

This was fun! It took a little bit more time than I had hoped to put together, but I find it nice to be back blogging! Here’s to more of that in 2022!

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Shot of Brandi Gift Guide: 40 Things for 40 Years - Part 3

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

21. The teen years were rather hard - both for this gift guide and in life lol. I’m actually looking forward to today - the 20’s!

And we are kicking things off with something fun - 21! Booze is the obvious one here, but let’s not go with the obvious. How about some hangover helpers! Too Faced makes a hangover lip balm and face primer. A weighted eye mask will help block out the light and remove some stress from the eye area. I mean, alcohol is typically a welcome gift, but the hangover helpers are nice!

22. If everything that was cool 20 years ago is cool again, let’s talk about jewelry. Thanks to some celebrities and Elle Woods, the Return to Tiffany line was a must-have. You could either invest in a good silver cleaner and cloth from the company or upgrade with a new ring, bracelet, or earrings!

23. During the Christmas of 2004, I was gearing up for a big, big thing on New Year’s Day....Moving to Chicago! I literally moved to the Windy City on January 1, 2005. My mom and dad moved me in and then drove back to Pittsburgh on January 2. When visiting Chicago, taking guests to get some deep-dish pizza was always a must. I love that I can order Giordano’s online and have it shipped frozen to Pittsburgh. We did this last year and I can say it’s delicious!

24. For my 24th birthday, I made my first Kate Spade purchase. A small shoulder bag that appears to be making a comeback (it was very similar to this! And, I still have it!). Kate Spade remains one of my favorite brands to this day and I love gifting anything from the accessories line, like these statement earrings, iWatch band, or necklace.

25. Living in Chicago, one thing was a lifesaver on those chilly below zero nights - my electric blanket. Yes, I feel like I’m a senior citizen talking about my love of electric blankets, but they are just so amazing! And, how cute is this plaid one - only $26!! Living in Chicago I actually had a heated mattress pad warmer. I’d fire up my bed about an hour before I was about to get in and it would be toasty!

26. Walking home from work on Tuesdays in Chicago, it became a weekly ritual to stop by Anthropologie to check out the new markdowns (the sales associate told me that Tuesdays were the new sale day!) and to get Chipotle after - they were basically neighbors and one block from my apartment. Anthropologie has a lot of cute gifts. From necklaces, to blankets, to mugs, and ornaments - there are a lot of options for teachers, friends, hostesses, co-workers, etc.

27. Guess what 2008 was? The FIRST Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide!! I reserved the URL for Shot of Brandi* in 2006 and officially launched the blog in 2008. I remember preparing and preparing posts in anticipation. I was so excited to share info - and I still am! Looking back, it’s pretty crazy how this gift guide stood the test of time! The list was Tickets, Dates, Food & Alcohol, Monthly (fill in the blank club), and a Charity Donation!

28. We are now approaching the years where I can look back on some of my older gift guides for inspiration. The 2009 gift guide was inspired by class personalities because it was right after my 10-Year Class Reunion. Using “Best Dressed” for ideas, I do love a good beauty gift and browsing Ulta recently there are so many good holiday sets. My store was sold out of a lot, but this Tarte Full Face set for $32 caught my eye (it was sold out too). Sephora has a Too Faced Christmas in the City kit with a ton of shades for $42, and Kohl’s has a Sephora beauty favorites set for $36!

29. 2010 was the Smithkowski’s first married Christmas. Newlyweds are hard to buy for because we received SO MANY things that we needed as wedding/shower gifts. One thing that we didn’t receive that would have come in handy this time of year - Christmas decorations! Gifting an engaged couple a tree (if they don’t have one) could be memorable. Or something I’ve mentioned here before that would make an AMAZING gift - this set of wedding ornaments that all have a special meaning.
30. Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun DUN dun - cue the Tchaikovsky! The 2011 Shot of Brandi Gift Guide featured gifts inspired by the Nutcracker! I’m rather excited to head back into the theater to see a performance this week! So, tickets are an obvious gift! I’m a big fan of Rifle Paper Co. and they have some amazing Nutcracker themed merchandise. I love this mug, wrapping paper, and puzzle. Also check out the amazing party plates, cups, and napkins!
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Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide: 40 Things for 40 Years - Part 2

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Let’s roll into the next decade with gifts for 11-20-year-olds. This is a bit of a weird age group where it feels like a drastic change between a tween and an “adult.” You really “grow up” during these years into truly becoming an adult!

Speaking of rolling, I hear roller skates made a bit of a comeback during the pandemic. Probably with a boost from TikTok. I love this pair from Chicago Skates. Not only are they an amazing shade of pink, but they LIGHT UP! The inline skates are pretty rad too!
Probably before you hit 12, updating your bedroom from kid to tween starts to happen. If you are buying for a 12-year-old that isn’t yours, maybe ask if there is something you can buy for their room. I’m thinking cool lights, a neon sign, or lamp.
Guys. If you have a teenager, bless you! It’s really hard to think about what I liked at 15 and what a teen today might want! A quick Google search tells me that Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Dolls (I guess still!?), PlayStation, and Power Rangers were big back when I was 15. The Beanie Babies reminded me of a hot early request in this house - Squishmallows. I’m not sure I understand the point of these beyond a stuffed animal, but that statement in itself makes me sound like a huge adult, right!? Of course I’m linking a unicorn one here, but there are so many different animals. I’ve also discovered there are a lot of imitators so beware.
If I thought 13 was hard, here comes 14! Ahhhh the freshman year of high school. It makes me think of the popularity of fuzzy sweaters. Maybe because I wore one in my school picture. I’d say there was a 100% chance my fuzzy sweater was from Express, so let’s go with that. There is also a cool Free People option that is on sale right now at Macy’s.
The Christmas of ‘96. I was 15 and just 2 months shy of my 16th birthday. Clothes would have likely been at the top of my list, some disposable cameras (which, yet again are making a comeback). While I’m assuming most 16-year-olds are well into having a phone, perhaps another Apple device would be a good gift. From an iWatch to AirPods, you’ll create some excitement once they spot an Apple box! OR, if someone has both, a new iWatch band or AirPods case is nice!
I spent some time in a high school this week and one thing these girls like - leggings. You really can’t go wrong here with some Lululemon (try the Align leggings), Aerie, or Athleta.
Some of my fondest memories from high school are from “camping.” Some nights it was drinking in the woods. During the summer we would camp out at a friend's house. Sometimes in tents. Sometimes sleeping in pool chairs. One thing that could totally have enhanced the “camping” experience (other than the alcohol) was a projector to watch movies! Well, not for the parties in the woods where we were trying to be discreet. The compact size and built-in carrier on this projector one would have made it easy to lug into the woods. I probably could have used a sleeping bag and a backpack cooler too lol.
Gonna party like it’s 1999! Mid-way through my senior year and I was probably thinking about one thing...heading to WVU the following fall. So let’s roll out the red carpet and bring on some Mountaineer gifts! I actually hung on to my first WVU hooded sweatshirt. I’ll give it to Lennon when she heads on campus in 12 years. The styles of WVU-branded clothing options have been upgraded. You can’t go wrong with a sweatshirt and this tailgate starter pack is amazing. Gosh when I end up on the ShopWVU website I just want it all! I’m totally against inflatables, but I keep thinking about how good this Mountaineer would look on our lawn.
You know what they say about fashion - it repeats itself every 20 years. That means everything from the year 2000 is cool again. While it might not have been totally 2000, there are two things that can help you achieve ultimate coziness from this era that are back with a vengeance - Uggs and velour. Let’s start with the Uggs. Short Uggs are on all of the hot gift lists (like the national ones, not the Shot of Brandi one which might get 62 views). Other Ugg options are the Fluff Yeah slippers or cozy socks. And the velour. It’s back. I’ve heard that Juicy suits are returning, but I even saw them at Old Navy today in the form of this short set.

Thinking about a 200-year-old me living in 2021, what would I want? I’m usually not a gift card fan, but I gotta be honest - it’s probably best for a 20-year-old! I’m thinking Amazon, DoorDash, or Uber.
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Shot of Brandi Gift Guide - 40 Things for 40 Years

Monday, November 29, 2021

Earlier this year, I celebrated a milestone birthday. The big 4-0. So when thinking about themes for this year’s gift guide, I decided to break down 10 gifts for the last 4 decades of my life. I figure by offering things by year, it could match up to anyone at any age on your list (i.e. gift number 1 would be for a 1-year-old or something I liked at that age - like 21 = booze!).

Let’s get things going with the first 10 years!


0. One of my favorite newborn gifts is a personalized blanket from Pottery Barn Kids. In fact, their personalized towels are a great gift for older kiddos too!

1. Another go-to gift for a baby girl: her first American Girl doll! The Bitty Baby is an awesome option and has some adorable accessories! Lennon received her first Bitty Baby when she was 1 and a half and named her “Baby Suri” and the name stuck to this day! Also, Lennon was still using the jogging stroller today (five years later)!

2. Parents today say the same thing - our kid has too many toys. At two, they won’t remember what you bought them. I suggest you go to Five Below and get some cool crap and then put the rest of the money you’d spent in a card and hand it to the parents. Or, ask if they have an account set up for their child. I recently started an Acorns Early account for Lennon and I’m excited to see her savings grow!

3. My cousin and I would spend HOURS on our battery-powered cars. The options today are unbelievable. From a ride-on carriage to a food truck to a Mercedes-Benz, there is a car for every kid!

4. Four is a good age for a big giant present to surprise your little one. I’m thinking of a dollhouse or car tower.

5. Something that’s been on the Santa list in our house each year is Barbies, which it’s pretty cool to see this toy passed down from generation to generation. This year, I love the astronaut spaceship! Add on the Chelsea rocketship for extra fun!

6. Ahhh the age that I’m doing a lot of shopping for now. The “big” wishlist items are anything but big! Lennon told Santa that she wanted the Got2Glow Fairy Finder (although this product name is a little difficult for all of us to remember).

7. It might be a little late for this or time for an upgrade, but every kid needs a bike. I’m obsessed with the pint-sized beach cruisers. Scooters have become popular too and tend to travel well!

8. Little me would have been so into any craft kit. I mean, old me is also into this and thankfully so is my kid! We are big fans of Kid Made Modern in this house. I can’t tell you how many times the Arts and Crafts Library saved us during the long early days of the pandemic. These small kits make great stocking stuffers, items to bring on long car rides, or to pack into a bag for trips to relatives (that don’t have toys!). OR, you can pick some up for young guests!

9. Growing up, if you would have asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I went through a “talk show host” phase. Could you imagine young me growing up with today’s technology? I probably would have convinced my parents to let me have a YouTube channel. For the younger budding talk show host in your life, this wooden reporter set is just way too cute. I also like the Vtech Kidizoom Creator Cam for actual video recording! I’m also hearing the Fujifilm cameras are popular among the early tween set!

10. I asked my resident expert of 10-year-olds, Amy, for a pro tip on what this age wants. I was anticipating the answer was going to be “gift cards,” but to my surprise, the list is LONG. Clothes (American Eagle, Abercrombie Kids, Forever 21, and Nike - LOTS of Nike). The real thing I discovered here was that this 10-year-old wants some expensive shoes from a website called GOAT. Once I started exploring these super expensive shoes, I started digging these almost $500 Nikes. I guess I need to start saving now for 10-year-old Christmas in 4 years!

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The Positives of the Pandemic: More...

Friday, November 26, 2021

Wow. It’s been awhile. I haven’t forgotten about this thing. Just busy doing life during a global pandemic! Reflecting on the time since I’ve been gone from this blog (sing that in a Kelly Clarkson voice), there have been highs and lows. Real lows. But I’ve decided I need to focus on the positives of this period of life. So let’s dig in on the positives of the pandemic. The things it’s brought more of.

More Time With Lennon - It’s easy to look at the last two years of my six-year-olds life and think about all of the things she might have missed out on, but I’ll likely look back on this time and cherish the amount of time we spent with her. The crafts, the games, the days watching new movies or shows from my childhood. We weren’t running from practices to games to dance to birthday parties. Yeah, there were some, but things just started to pick back up at the start of this school year and I think she will be just fine in the future socialization area. I tried to find small opportunities to teach her how to do things herself - to make her own peanut butter and jelly or clean (which some days she oddly loves). Yes, the days were long, but the last (almost) two years went fast!

More Time At Home - When I think back on the last 21 months, one thing that sticks out is small gatherings at home - either our house or friends. Yes, I miss restaurants. But no, I can’t even fathom the thought of going to a club. I think I was a bit over that before this pandemic, but I’ll take a night at home with good food (made at home or take out) and a fridge full of wine and beer over going out. I’ve found a new love for the New York Times Cooking (worth the subscription fee), Half Baked Harvest, and days watching and attempting cakes thanks to Nailed It. Oh and I was a fan of online grocery shopping before the pandemic and that’s one thing I’ll keep up!

More Screen Time - What!? More screen time!? Is she crazy? I mean, yes, I’m crazy, but bare with me on this one. We’ve had holiday video chats with my family from across the U.S., which has stuck with us! We’ve had happy hours with friends in other states. We’ve watched dance recitals at home vs. sitting through a whole show. The biggest one of them all is that we were able to Google video (through Duo) my grandfather into my cousin’s wedding when he was too weak to travel. I hope the availability to “video into” things stays with us so that we can watch special moments across states.

More Work - A few days after my last post I accepted my dream job - doing public relations for a school district. Yes, this is so random. From a young age, I knew I wanted a career in communications - thanks to that “talks excessively” marks for citizenship on my report cards. In my elementary years, I wanted to be a talk show host, but quickly realized I’m not great on camera during morning announcements. In high school, I thought our public relations specialist had the coolest job, so I decided to pursue PR. Upon graduation from WVU, I actually emailed every PR contact at every school District around Pittsburgh that I could find and asked them for some advice to break into the field. I actually saved a few responses! The next 17 years took me to a global PR firm, boutique PR firm, advertising agency, a media buying company, and some freelance consulting. Then, during a global pandemic my dream job popped up and the rest is history! There have been CHALLENGES, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world right now. So if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, see this answer.

More Positive Perspective - This isn't a positive of the pandemic, but perhaps keeping a positive perspective on life and the time we spend with loved ones is. One of the biggest changes for my family this past year actually had nothing to do with the pandemic. My dad passed away this past summer (I feel like I need to mention that this was totally not COVID related). But speaking of COVID, thankfully the case counts were low in our county (a positive!) and we were able to celebrate his life with an amazing number of family and friends (another positive!). He passed away suddenly the day after Father's Day, so I was able to spend, what none of us knew would the be, the last day of his life with him. I gave him a hug and said goodbye. Some people aren't that fortunate. I had a close relationship with my dad and made sure he spent a lot of time with Lennon - which I took A LOT of photos of! Looking back, the volume of support that we received after his passing was truly remarkable. Big Joe was a Big Man with a Big Squad! Death is such a weird thing to deal with, but something that we all will face in our lives (in more than one way!). When we lose someone, it’s always confusing on how to offer your support. I might write more on what I appreciated later as it could help one of you!

There are some things I’m looking forward of doing LESS of, but one thing I’d like to do MORE of is share things here again! So next up, I’ll give you some good ole Shot of Brandi gift suggestions!

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