Shopping With Purpose

Shopping is a necessity that none of us can avoid.  There always seems to be something that you have to obtain and clothing presents one of the biggest challenges.  It always helps to take a friend to give you advice and make it more fun.  But the price of clothes can put you in a tailspin and finding bargains is just too labor intensive if  you shop normal retail stores.  Fortunately Pittsburgh has a trio of swanky, tasteful consignment stores that are run by my favorite non-profit – The National Council of Jewish Women.  Their most upscale store is the Designer Days Boutique in Squirrel Hill at 5873 Forbes Ave.  You will be thrilled to find labels like Chanel, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Louis Vuitton at a fraction of normal retail prices.  They also have a knowledgeable sales force on the floor that are keen consultants for fashionable finds that they can hand pick just for you.

Once a year they have a huge Designer Day event at the Monroeville Expo Mart where you will find a warehouse of merchandise that is the equivalent of at least ten outlet stores combined.  I bought my husband a Ralph Lauren leather jacket there last year that feels like butter.  They also had a huge selection of barely worn tuxedos but I couldn’t persuade him to try one on.  But I plan on dragging him to enough black tie events this year that he will change his mind next time around.  You will also find formals, wedding gowns, children’s clothes, jewelry, luggage, coats, etc.  In fact, you could probably do all your shopping for the whole year under one roof if you just planned properly.  There is such a generosity of donations that it is impossible to sell everything so the leftovers are sent to their Thriftique store in Swissvale.  It is located at 7400 Church Street and their phone number is (412) 271-0544.  Since the Designer Day’s items have been hanging around since November, they are eager to find them good homes and marked everything down 75% today!  This is an awesome deal and you will actually feel good about spending money.

Your dollars will go to improve the quality of life for women, children and families by supporting their Women’s Center, Children’s Rooms in the Courts, Silent Witness Program and many more non-denominational projects.  They have been improving the lives of our residents for generations and are the best group of advocates I’ve ever encountered.

When you have completed your clothes buying spree at Thrifique you will want to check out their Home Goods store that is practically next door.  ImageThis upscale consignment store has everything from antique to modern designs to turn your home into a real showplace.  Mary Ann is almost always on the floor to share her expertise and eye for detail.  She is also a savvy at furniture refurbishing and can give you great advice on creative techniques.

DDB luxury items


The Schwan Man Cometh

We are back home mere hours from our road trip with a deluge of luggage to unpack and packages to unfurl.  There is nothing quite like returning back after a quest into the outer reaches of the world.  First and foremost is the acquisition of food which involves a lot of foraging through  shelves and cupboards.  We always return with various culinary delights picked up during our travels but there always seems to be a much needed item that has somehow been overlooked.

But what to my wandering eyes did appear but our regular Schwan man with food items near.  It was a complete surprise when he arrived although he was right on schedule with his alternating Friday stop.  Somehow the holidays make you forget what day of the week it actually is.  I first became acquainted with the Schwan home delivery truck years ago living in Charlotte, N.C.  I used to run out of my apartment to apprehend the truck to buy fresh cream for my coffee.  I had not thought about this company for years until moving to Shadyside and seeing a truck squeeze down the alley in front of my house.  Yes I did say in front instead of behind but that is another story.

They offer more than 350 high quality products frozen at the peak of flavor and freshness.  What more could you ask for.  You can order online and it will be delivered at your convenience.  You can even save $10.00 on your first order if you enter the code NEW at checkout.  I truly do swear by their  breaded haddock squares which make an excellent fish sandwich  and the biscuits are to die for.  It is a true luxury to have food delivered to your door and they have a point reward system that rivals Giant Eagle by far.  You get 5% back from every purchase to use on a future order.  And just to stay current they have added a mobile app.  Life could not be easier.

It all started back on Tuesday, March 18, 1952 when 23 year old Marvin Schwan packed up his beat up 1946 Dodge panel van with 14 gallons of his family’s signature ice cream to deliver to rural families.  He quickly sold all 14 gallons and that historic trip started his home delivery business.  It is still family owned and they are constantly finding ways to make buying food more convenient.  You can request regular visits to your home, freezer bag drop-off or mail delivery.

Their website  contains great nutritional advice, menu suggestions and healthy recipes.  The live smart selection contains items that are low in calories, sodium and fat with minimal additives or preservatives.  It helps simplify eating healthy with a hectic schedule.

ENTICINGS™ Strawberry Fruit BarsDark Sweet Cherries - Limited AvailabilityTilapia LoinsBreaded Blue HakeTriple Berry Blend "All Natural"

I have built up a great relationship with my personal deliveryman Bill.  I’ve watched him lose weight and get healthier.  He noticed my new Maine Coon cat and I was impressed that he immediately identified the breed.  Life is all about relationships and it nice to have people you can count on.  The Schwan man is one of my most consistent entities and my most reliable food source.  It is a small reprieve from the grocery conglomerate.  However, they no longer carry fresh cream.

British and German Holiday Treats

Pittsburgh is a diverse city with a vast array of  international flavor.  There is an endless supply of exotic and hard to find items that you would be hard pressed to find in many other cities.  Growing up in a small southern town makes me truly appreciate the convenience of buying special ingredients for unique culinary concoctions locally.  You would never find marzipan cake, oblaten lebkuchen, Christmas berry preserves or sugar mice in any store within a 50 mile radius of where I grew up.

I became a tea afficionado after moving to Pittsburgh which led me to discover Maragret’s Fine Imports in Squirrel Hill.  You will often see a table set  up outside their store front with sale items and seasonal fresh produce.  Every trip to this store is a different and delightful experience.  You will find the most exquisite loose teas along with an extremely knowledgeable staff.  The holidays are a great time to introduce someone you care about to the unexpected joys in life that they may have overlooked.  There is nothing better than a perfectly brewed cup of Golden Pu-erh Five Year Old Rare tea.  There is such a huge selection that you are bound to find a blend to satisfy the most finicky of palettes and are sure to convert even the most die hard coffee drinkers to an occasional cuppa.

While the tea is the speciality, the German and British holiday sweets are a true treasure that should not be overlooked.  The christoeleen and wicklein nuernberger allerlei are great with any hot drink and the chocolate Santas make great stocking stuffers.  Wicklein Nuernberger Allerlei Christollen Christmas Assorted Chocolate with SantaIt would be a great surprise for anyone with a German background and a heartwarming treat for recent transplants.  We have to be one of the most transient cities in the world.  The Christmas berry preserve is great with scones and the Christmas Cracker Poppers from England will liven up any party!  But my all time favorites are the authentic Christmas pudding and sugar mice.  The latter are a must for anyone who has been extra nice.  Christmas Berry PreserveChristmas Pudding    Sugar Mice  Christmas Cracker Poppers, England 12pc

You can avoid last minute panic by sending an electronic gift certificate that can be redeemed in the Squirrel Hill location or on the huge online store.  There are lots of other delightful items  that really make the selection process fun and easyTea Infuser Fun Character such as the character tea infusers are great for kids and adults alike.  And the floating ducky tea infuser will be sure to make anyone smile.  Be sure and give one to the crabbiest person you know and watch the transformation.  Floating Ducky Tea Infuser


Midatlantic Mercantile Eases Shopping Stress

When the stress of holiday shopping is getting you down it is time to shop small.  Boutiques are comforting retreats compared to crowded malls and big box stores.  There are a many to choose from in Pittsburgh and one of my favorites is Mid-Atlantic Mercantile in Lawrenceville.  Emily Slagel is the  knowledgeable proprietor and will personally guide you toward the right gift.  Her entrepreneurial vision pays homage to the industrious spirit of the Mid-Atlantic region.  You will find unique  handpicked items from independent local designers sitting among a well-edited mix of vintage clothing and antique housewares.   Everything is made in America and reeks of proud quality.   The shop contains a carefully curated collection of heirloom quality goods.   The brands you find here represent the union of craftsmanship and innovation.  One of my favorites is the Whiskey After-Shave Splash made with sea minerals that pamper the skin with nourishing natural ingredients.  It is just one in a line of products containing a magical scent that transports you to a place of tranquility.  Picture relaxing below deck at the end of a long day on the wild ocean with a favorite Scotch in hand.  You will also find Cone Mills raw selvedge denim jeans that will transport you straight back to 1972 with pants so stiff you couldn’t sit down for two days.  This trend has returned and the trick is not to wash them.  That way you break in that lived in look that reeks of personality and character.  You will also find hand poured candles from Ohio with scents  like elemental winter, hearth and roasted coffee bean.  The latter turned out to be the perfect gift for my daughter’s two awesome male teachers.

A visit to the store is an experience that evokes the casual comfort of visiting a good friend.  The hardwood floors and antler decor have the feel of a lodge in the woods that is enhanced by the welcoming scent of the hand poured candles.  It is a great place to escape when you need time to think.  You will also encounter friendly and eclectic shoppers.  I have met some very interesting people here.  It encourages a sense of collaboration in your shopping quest.  The checkout process is topped off with the delightful surprise of a sturdy cloth bag bearing the store logo.  You can’t help but leave in an ebullient mood that wafts you on to your next destination.