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CNY Gift Guide

Creative, handmade gifts for the holidays can be found among some of our Central New York neighbors—not at their yard sales, but at their shops, studios and craft fairs. Check out creations and wares from the following locally owned businesses—just in time to avoid the crowds of shoppers at the malls while supporting some out-of-the-ordinary CNY enterprises.

Lilipad Creations

For Beth Eischen, the birth of her second child was the time to take a break from her academic career pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry. Instead of a Petri dish, she picked up a sewing needle and returned to the skills her mother taught her as a girl. She sewed clothes for her daughter and son, now 7 months old, and began making purses that combined fabrics not usually seen together.

“I really love to mix fabrics. (I use) two contrasting fabrics that don’t tend to go together. They are kind of ‘wow’—they are not conservative,” Eischen says.

The result is Lilipad Creations, named for her 6-year-old daughter, Lili. Eischen has ready-made handbags, little “girly” purses, totes and diaper bags. Clients also can design their own carryalls by choosing from among Eischen’s fabric menu. Purses go for about $24 for children’s, roughly $45 for handbags, and up to $80 for diaper bags.

But don’t expect it to look like a traditional diaper bag. The inside is lined with vinyl, and it does come with a changing pad and bottle holder. But the outside says, well, whatever the parents want it to say.

“They want to carry something that represents themselves,” Eischen says. “I don’t (personally) even carry something that’s boyish. I want it to be stylish for me.”

This fall Eischen started offering a house-party service. Arriving at the home of a hostess, Eischen showcases her purses and other creations. “It’s a great way for moms to come together and have some fun.” Guests can choose from her ready-made bags or design their own using Eischen’s custom fabric board. “A lot of people choose that option,” she says. Then their bag is “truly one of a kind.”

For the holidays, Eischen is offering gift certificates, especially with often-baffled gift givers such as husbands or fathers in mind. Receiving a Lilipad gift certificate will allow the woman in his life to “create her own bag and have something really unique to her.”

Most purse enthusiasts find her creations at craft fairs or on the Web at www.lilipadcreations.com where they can view some of her bags. She also meets with clients in her studio in the Syracuse home she shares with her husband, a software engineer.

In addition to purses, Eischen makes T-shirts embellished with crystals for girls. She plans to add a line of boys’ clothing soon, to be called Simon Sez after her son.

Right now she has holiday bags, evening bags and whatever other tote style she and her client can dream up.

Friendship Balls

How about a game of catch when you’re stuck indoors this winter? Don’t worry, it won’t break the TV screen. These fabric-covered balloon balls are lightweight and soft to touch, just right for inside play and little hands.

Annie-Laurie Hunter puts her needle to fabric to make a toy she calls Friendship Balls.

Originally from North Syracuse, Hunter moved from New York City to Syracuse three years ago in search of a house and a yard for her three bunnies. The inspiration for the soft balls came from New York City where years ago she saw a similar item in the FAO Schwarz toy store, she says.

After quilting for 12 years, she began to experiment with the Friendship Balls last winter. Looking at some scraps of fabric, she thought “Why not?” and sewed up her own version, which a troop of 6-year-old Brownies then named.

For $8 apiece, they are selling well at craft fairs and through individual sales. Each ball comes with three balloons, which usually last one month each. After that, you can supply other balloons to keep the Friendship Ball going.

Hunter may be contacted by phone at 463-6757 or by e-mail to quilt@ArdentHome Inspections.com (the name of her day job as a house inspector).

Hunter’s quilted offerings extend beyond the fabric-covered balloons; she also sells baby quilts ($50) and creates custom-made quilts for adult-sized beds—or even to hang on a wall. Among her most notable projects, Hunter designed and made seven quilts that depict specific buildings in New York City for an architectural firm there.

And for those eager to make a snowman even before the ground is white, Hunter sells ready-to-assemble fabric snowmen kits for $10. Everything you need to make a snowman wall hanging (24 inches by 36 inches) is included, from blue sky to a fluffy fleece snowman body with arms, a nose and a hat. The iron-on kit can be sewn as well.

“Add anything else you want for your snowman,” Hunter says. “That’s the final direction.”

Fly By Night Cookie Company

It’s hard to tell whether the Fly By Night Cookie Company is designed for little kids or for the little kid inside every grown-up.

Ensconced inside an old home across the road from Fair Haven Bay, the bakery’s entrance is surrounded by six hand-carved wooden poles on a porch perfect for sipping lemonade in warm weather. Once inside the door, customers who thought they were just coming in for the scrumptious cookies discover a miniature village.

Bonnie Bridson
started the shop at 14541 Fancher Ave., just down from Main Street in Fair Haven, 20 years ago so she wouldn’t have to leave the house, she says. A former restaurant cook and mother of four, she knew how to bake. Now her oven produces 65 different kinds of cookies and a few pies and tiny cakes, too.

Her best-selling and best-known cookie may not be for kids, officially. It’s the PMS cookie, a combination of chocolate cake-like cookie with mint green icing. It hits the spot any day of the month, though. Another big seller is the “bird turd”: cranberries, raisins and sunflower seeds in white chocolate. “That’s been successful since little kids like potty humor,” she explains.

Other cookies bear fun names, too, like chocolate snowballs or buried treasure.

Cookies sell for 70 cents each or $8 a dozen, and can be shipped around the country to surprise family and friends with a sweet tooth. For long-distance orders, it’s best to call (947-5588) or drop in the old-fashioned bakery. In the shop, it’s self-service, with bags and boxes ready to be filled with cookies stacked in glass jars or glass cases.

While deciding which cookies to get, visitors can peer into the windows of the miniature village known as “Minimally.” Despite its name, the tiny box-shaped rooms fill up an entire wall.

“The miniature village has been a big amusement in my life,” Bridson said. “And it also entertains children who come.”

The second printing of the Fly By Night Cookie Company cookbook also is available. Bridson doesn’t mind sharing her cookie recipes. “I could die any day and then they would be gone.” The cookbook features recipes for more than just cookies, too.

Neighbors from down the street stop in to fill up a box of cookies to go. When asked for a favorite cookie, the gentleman in the group grins and says, “PMS, but don’t quote me.” They point out the woodcarving, too.

“My son, John, is a wood carver,” Bridson says. He did all the carving on the elaborate porch, of which she seems as proud as she is of her whole bakery.

The shop and especially the Village of Minimally will be decorated for the holiday season. But visitors shouldn’t wait until after Christmas to take a peek. The cookie season ends Dec. 24. After that, cookie lovers will have to wait until Bridson reopens in March for spring in Fair Haven.      

More Offbeat Ideas

One kind of locally made product requires a child’s participation to produce: a short video to air on WCNY-Channel 24, Central New York’s public broadcasting station. 

Known as KidVid, the 15- to 20-second video can be made to recognize a birthday or any special event, says Jean Moffit, director of member services. One group of children taped a Halloween greeting to their schoolmates.

The station films an individual or group greeting and airs the video twice on the special day, once during morning children’s programming and again during the afternoon children’s programming. The fee is $30 for each child, and a DVD copy of the video can be purchased for an additional $10.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in it and we just started it this summer,” Moffit says. Grandparents have found it especially appealing.

The idea for KidVid came right from the station, which is based in Liverpool at 506 Old Liverpool Road. “It was just something that we talked about. We were trying to think of other revenue streams,” Moffit says.

The station hopes to eliminate on-air pledge drives by the fall of 2007.

The video segments appeal to the age range that generally watches PBS children’s programming, ages 3 to 10, she says. But even some 11- and 12-year-olds have stopped in to make a KidVid.

And Moffit’s family? “My children are too old,” she says, chuckling.

To schedule filming for a KidVid, contact Moffit at the station at 453-2424. Taping sessions are usually held twice a month, about four weeks before the airdate.

For those interested in finding a world of gifts in Central New York, there is Fair World Marketplace in DeWitt, which offers eclectic products made by hands from around the globe. Maurine McTyre-Watts started the gift shop in 2004 to help sell products from poor countries while bringing unusual items to this region. As part of the Ten Thousand Villages Partner stores, the shop’s goal is not necessarily profit but sustenance for artisans from poor nations.

Children’s desires can be fulfilled among the many reasonably priced cloth dolls, wood puzzles, Nepalese wool mittens and hats, and ornaments available in the shop. Some favorites are handknitted finger puppets ($4) from Peru and wire and cloth pushtoys from Kenya, featuring an animal, bird or bicyclist, for just $6 or $7.

Each item features a tag listing the country of origin and the store’s motto:  “Fair World Marketplace: Creating jobs, building hope ... one purchase at a time.” About 30 countries are represented in the store, which also sells Fair Trade coffee.

Some girls go right for the $10 cloth doll from Peru that holds a baby. About 6 inches tall, it fits right into a small child’s hand. Soft booties from Guatemala sell for around $12. Wooden puzzles turn into animal shapes or even Christmas trees.

Big feline eyes stare out from red leather cat purses, made in India, next to elephant wall hooks and bookends. There are hand-painted fish pictures and quilted wall hangings and wooden height charts, both decorated with animals. Putumayo CDs are available as well.

Located at 4711 E. Genesee St. at the intersection with Erie Boulevard East, the shop offers gifts that benefit more than just the receiver. These gifts bring a child fun as well as a connection to another part of the world.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York