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Made in Sonoma

Our annual guide to great
gifts made close to home

Okay, it smacks of bumper-sticker sentimentality, but these days more and more people are seeking ways to think globally and shop locally. So, hey, pass the eggnog and seek out the perfect gift made close to home.

From the local color of Sonoma County showcase calendars by photographer Robert Janover (marketed by True Images; $10.99) to the simple elegance of Tony Black's custom, handcrafted willow furniture, from the comfort of Mishi Apparel's natural cotton fashions (201 Western Ave., Petaluma) to the rich bounty of locally produced wines and gourmet delicacies, there is something here for every taste and budget. Here are a few new ideas, and a couple of old favorites, to start you on your merry way.

Greg Cahill, Gretchen Giles, Sara Peyton, Bruce Robinson, and David Templeton contributed to this article.


Fun Science

Here's an attractive idea. Dowling-Miner Magnetics Corp. in Sonoma (21600 Eighth St. E.) has an array of magnetic games and kits for children, products developed as a part of the 50-year-old company's children's educational toy department. Magnetic frogs, magnetic snakes, and magnetic fish are just some of the items available in their "Wonderboard" series, which feature stick-on creatures along with a magnetic board. Other items in this series include Build-a-Bouquet--with magnetic blooms, stems, and a pot--Build-a-Bug, Build-a-Snake, and various math and alphabet sets. The science of magnets is explored in a vast number of experiment kits manufactured by Dowling, including an Electric Motor Generator sets for older whiz-kids and My Very First Magnet Set for beginners. Dowling Magnet toys--featured just last month in USA Today on ways to entertain children in business offices--are available across the country. Local stores that feature some of the above-mentioned items are The Toy Shop in Sonoma, Early Works in Petaluma, and The Toy Works in Santa Rosa.


For unusual toys, Sebastapol's HearthSong
strikes an individual note.


Smart Software

As programmers for hire, Bruce Ford and Melinda Bell of the Petaluma-based Play Again Interactive have designed the software and visual elements for numerous high-profile computer games since landing in Sonoma County two years ago. Until recently, though, all these projects were conceived by others. Now, with the unveiling of their new CD-ROM, The Night Before Christmas Holiday Crafts and Activity Center, the entrepreneurial twosome is boasting and beaming like proud parents.

"There is no other software product on the market that emphasizes Christmas and crafts in a tactile manner, like this one," Ford enthusiastically pronounces. "This is a thoroughly unique Christmas item."

Targeted for children between the ages of 3 and 10, the imaginative computer program features an animated, interactive retelling of Clement Moore's famous Christmas poem, in addition to several onscreen activities to kindle a kid's holiday creativity. Users can make "virtual cookies" in Mrs. Claus' kitchen, decorate multicolored Christmas trees, print out and construct ornaments, explore an 18th-century household on Christmas morning, and design Christmas cards and thank-you notes.

"It's great for keeping the kids busy while you're trying to get ready for Christmas," Ford laughs. The kit comes as the CD-ROM program alone ($19.95), or in a gift package including the CD, a hardback book version of The Night Before Christmas, and a Christmas craft guide ($29.95). They're available by mail order (888/66-SANTA) or over the counter at Reading, Rhythm, and ROM in Petaluma (6 Petaluma Blvd. N.); Santa also has a website.

The website is worth a peek. Kids can read each sleigh-pulling reindeer's campaign promises and then vote on which animal will lead the pack on Christmas Eve. They can even leave an e-mail for the Jolly Man himself, and Ford guarantees that the messages are getting through. "Santa has been receiving e-mails from around the country," he confirms, "and responses have been going out." Santa's trickiest message so far? "One girl wrote in to say that her Daddy needs 'guns and money.' Santa wrote back that he never delivers guns--they scare the reindeer."

Arts & Crafts

Hand Goods

You won't have a problem finding a special holiday gift at Hand Goods in Occidental (3627 Main St.) Nearly 200 local artists sell their wares in this landmark crafts store. Started by Nancy Farah 25 years ago, Hand Goods was purchased recently by longtime employee Heidi Schmidt, after Farah died last year. The current owner is committed to carrying on the tradition of supporting local artisans.

For holiday gift giving, Schmidt recommends checking out their finely crafted collection of pottery. Barbara Hoffman, Perry Lynch, Sheila Jenkins, and Linda Timberlake are among the well-known local potters selling mugs, plates, bowls, and platters. "We have people who drive up from San Francisco once a month to purchase a new mug made by their favorite potter," says Schmidt. Anita Perry creates unusual raku vases that are pit-fired and cooled quickly--a process that produces an unusual opalescent glaze.

Soothing ceramic fountains designed for the inside of your home are something new this year. They range in price from $100 to $300. Or, if you're in a do-it-yourself mode, you can select fountain parts and make your own bubbling gift. "The other day we walked around the store with a customer to help him create his fountain from a handcrafted ceramic bowl and polished rocks," explains Schmidt. All this customer needed was a little immersible pump that can be purchased at any hardware store.

Jewelry, candles, incense holders, kites, and more--these one-of-a-kind handcrafted gifts are sure to please loved ones near and far.

Putto & Gargoyle

Not only is everything in Putto & Gargoyle made locally, but most items are created by owners, Gerrie Walker and Peter Lu. Located in downtown Sebastopol (7202 Bodega Ave., across from the library), this tiny store is one of the prettiest in the county. Look here for whimsical garden angels and gargoyles (made of cement), jewel-colored velvet berets and mad-hatter hats, pillows, handmade note cards and stationery, planters, vases, wall sconces, candleholders, and colorful dishware. One of their most popular gifts is the Big Cuppa, which is sure to delight the caffè latte lover on your list. This ceramic, giant-sized cup comes in a rainbow of colors and sells for $8. This year the artistic duo have introduced a new hot/cold two-tone tumbler, in delicious colors like watermelon and teal ($8 each). "One of the things that has inspired our work this holiday season is that we have a lot of new colored glazes," explains Walker about her creative motivations. "The hat-making is whole different thing. It just sweeps me along." But if what you really want for Christmas is a haircut, you can get that, too. Lu, who owned a hair salon in Los Angeles before moving north, has started snipping again.

Great Silkie Artwear

This holiday season there's a great new line of Great Silkie Artwear T-shirts for both men and women by Sebastopol textile artist, Karen Bell, renowned for her silk-screened images of feminine archetypes, musical fantasies, mermaids, and cloud-leaping horses. A seasonal purchase of a Karen Bell T-shirt is practically a ritual for some locals.

"Most of my work is based on personal mythologies for modern people to relate to in their own way," explains Bell. The new line of empowerment images are printed on 100 percent cotton, black, short-sleeved T-shirts. For men, Bell has chosen a turquoise and silver Thunderbird silk-screened across the front of the shirt. For women, there's an updated version of her popular image, the Healer, silk-screened in silver, teal, and purple. All shirts are $16 and available at Quicksilver Mine Co. in Guerneville (14028 Armstrong Woods Road), Natural Connections in Occidental (3641 Main St.), and the Cotton Rose in Sebastopol (851 Gravenstein Hwy. S.).

Tribal Beginnings

For those who love Native American arts and crafts, both old and modern, beautiful collectibles and affordable gifts are found at Tribal Beginnings in Sebastopol (6914 Sebastopol Ave.). Some of the finely made jewelry, crafts, and baskets have been created by local Native American artists, also both past and present. There are five traditional Pomo baskets for sale, including a beautiful small feather basket made by late master basketweaver Laura Somersal. Lightning Thunderhorse's medicine pouches from deer or elk hide are priced from $20 to $35. Each is unique. One typical example is a long, deep, deerskin-fringed pouch with buckskin ties strung with glass beads. Sonoma County's Colin Kingfisher's bone-bead chokers, $50 to $95, are made with long, thin bone-beads separated by glass and copper beads and have a center rosette of leather finely decorated with beads and porcupine quills.


Carol's Country Cuisine

Susan B. Wise used to crunch numbers. Now she's involved in a much tastier pastime. "We're making restaurant-quality sauces that you can take home," beams Wise, the marketing half of Carol's Country Cuisine (2546 Warm Springs Road, Glen Ellen; 996-1124). The sauces themselves--each formulated to be used as either a salad dressing or a marinade--are the creation of the Carol half of the business.

That would be Carol Frankenfield, the former proprietor of Cafe La Palma in the quiet west Marin hamlet of Lagunitas, who exorcised her burnout from the restaurant as a corporate accountant for several years before drawing on both backgrounds to launch the new food business a little more than two years ago.

"We thought of this business in July of '94, and two months later we had two products on the market," Wise marvels.

After some trial and error, they now have four: Roasted Garlic Balsamic, White Balsamic Cilantro, Ginger Citrus, and Lemon Curry--perfect additions to a gift basket of locally produced foods. All are free of cholesterol and sugar, as well as low in saturated fat, and the last three are also saltless. The ingredients are fresh, all natural and top quality, Wise stresses, pointing with particular pride to their use of imported Italian white balsamic vinegar, something rarely used in competing products.

The delicate balance between flavors makes Carol's sauces suitable for baking, sautéing, and grilling, as well as for marinades and dressings. "You can do anything in the world with them with anything," Susan says.

Now carried at "a hundred Bay Area stores and some wineries" as well as outlets in Southern California, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, Carol's sauces are also available at such local independent grocers as Fiesta Market, Oliver's, Community Market, and the Glen Ellen Village Market. Typical prices are $4.99 for a 12-ounce bottle and $5.95 for 16 ounces.

Hot Pepper Jams

Red and green are traditional Christmas colors. Same goes for the county's best pepper jams. You might have to chase these down at a local farmers' market, but they're worth the search. A sassy gift to send to a friend or bring to a party. Perfect for friends who love chilies, dancing, all things from New Mexico, and cream cheese and bagels, too. William Adamson, the owner of Happy Haven Ranch in Sonoma (1480 Spering Road), has been making and marketing his spicy red and green hot pepper jams since 1984. "It has a different flavor than jelly," Adamson explains. "It's all natural, and I don't use any food coloring." A 11-ounce jar is $3.50; three jars are $10. Make an appointment to visit the ranch by calling 996-4260.

The Mushroom Pot

To show your family and friends how much you care, give them the gift of fungus this Christmas. Gourmet Mushrooms in Graton, a leading grower of exotic mushrooms for 19 years, now offers an appealingly offbeat gift idea: a do-it-yourself mushroom farm. Elegantly named The Mushroom Pot, this unusual item is a deceptively small, six-inch pot, seeded with spores in your choice of three varieties: Sonoma Brown, Pom Pom Blanc, and Golden Oyster. These are thoroughly gourmet-quality mushrooms, ready to eat within two weeks. The chef on your holiday list will be giddy with culinary good intentions, and science-minded youngsters will be tickled by the overwhelming ooeyness of growing mushrooms, on purpose, right in their own rooms. The Mushroom Pot ($14.95 to $19.95) is available by mail order only. Orders made soon will arrive in time for the holidays. To place an order, call 829-7301 or 823-1507.

Purely Personal

Mr. Music

It doesn't get more homegrown than Jim Corbett's Songs of Christmas Joy CD. Recorded at Cotati's own Zone Studios and featuring a veritable plethora of backyard genius, this snappy 23-song compilation of favorites and originals just about puts the tree up all by itself. All you have to do is sit on the floor and untangle all those lights--while you sing along. Featuring such local artists as Norton Buffalo, the late Jim Boggio, Michael Bolivar, Nina Gerber, the Wildflower Band, Bill DeCarli, and Zone's own Blair Hardman, this tour of musical styles--traditional holiday tunes are given every possible treatment ranging from polka to reggae--is professional, polished, and a whole lotta fun. The Cool Kids Chorus (every musician's kid chorusing) chimes in for a long sampling of sing-alongs, but the "Silent Night" rendition by Wildflower, Keith Allen, and Doug Harmon ends the disc with a quiet beauty. Available at all local record stores or by mail order from Diamond Universal Music Co. in Sebastopol (823-5849).

Outdoor Massage

Bountiful relaxing body treatments are available throughout Sonoma County. One favored way to unwind is with a full-body massage. Osmosis (209 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone), renowned for its unique enzyme baths, has something new to offer just in time for the holidays--outdoor massages in Japanese-style pagodas along Salmon Creek in Freestone. A combination enzyme bath and outdoor-massage gift certificate may be just what a loved one, a friend, or even your boss really wants this Christmas. The enzyme bath, or heat treatment, is a 20-minute dip in a dry bath composed of fragrant cedar fiber, rice bran, and enzymes. Heat is generated biologically through the natural fermentation. The 75-minute outdoor massage takes place in one of two fully enclosed light-filled pagodas. It's like receiving a massage in your own private greenhouse. Swedish/Esalen, shiatsu, polarity, acupressure, and deep-tissue massages are available. An enzyme bath and outdoor pagoda massage is $125. Individual gift certificates for bath, garden massage, or indoor massage are also available.

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From the December 5-11, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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