Sony AM/FM Portable Pocket Radio


I purchased this Sony Old Timey (not the actual product name) analogue transistor pocket radio in Akiabara, Japan in 2003. Transistor technology dates back to the 1940’s but if you were born in this century you may not even realize that before people listened to music on their phones they listened to radio stations on these. Billions of these little portable devices were manufactured and sold in the second half of the 20th century.


“Gramma, what’s the long thing sticking out of weird iPod?”

This miniature plastic marvel of a bygone era can receive AM and FM radio signals anywhere in the world, as long as you’re physically close enough to the signal, and you don’t have to pay for a data plan or an Apple Music account.

As is the case with a great deal of analogue technology, it is a simple machine entirely devoid of complicated computer parts that will inevitably wear out––while I’ve run through 6 generations of cell phones I’ve never needed to replace my Sony pocket radio.


It features a tuning dial, a volume dial which also serves as the on/off switch, and a headphone jack. That’s it. Everything you need and nothing you don’t.


It’s powered by a pair of AA batteries which seem to last forever. I may have to recharge my phone twice a day but years have passed between recharging the Duracells in my Sony.


The style is clean and simple. And the sound quality is simply… Poor. Yes, there is a catch with all pocket transistor radios: Even when close to a strong FM signal, with the dial tuned perfectly, you are not going to get high fidelity sound quality. These sorts of radios are best used for talk radio and news.

However, I am strongly of the opinion that a great song is a great song, and does not require the fullest sound possible to be appreciated. Just as classic movies were appreciated for decades as viewed on low fidelity VHS cassettes; the merits of a classic song will also shine on a transistor pocket radio.

Purchased for $30 brand new, and still available on ebay, amazon or craigslist.

Kiki Salt and Pepper Mills


For a decade I scoured the land for the perfect mid-century modern style grinders. I owned several over the years but found the mechanisms to be too coarse and they always became loose over time.

Then I discovered the Kiki salt and pepper mills.


These single block, un-laminated beech grinders are eco friendly––the European production facility is situated in the middle of a beech forest managed by the Forestry Stewardship Council and has been sustainably harvested since the early 1700’s. Or so their website claims and as I have no reason to doubt them I will take them at their word.


You can choose the level of grind, from coarse to superfine. I picked mine up a few years ago at Crate and Barrel for a steal––they retail for around $50 USD now. Of course pre-ground salt and pepper dispensed from plastic shakers purloined from a Wendy’s will get the job done for less money, but a one-time purchase of mills such as these by Kiki will prove much more satisfying over the course of a lifetime.

Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not simply consumed.



Zippo Mini Measuring Tape


The Zippo miniature measuring tape is the surprisingly useful little tool you never knew you needed.


Though it looks like a tiny lighter and reads “Zippo” across the bottom it is, in fact, a measuring tape small enough to tuck away almost anywhere. I carry mine in my purse and forget it’s there until I come across some large object of desire in a housewares store; then I measure it’s dimensions on the spot, jot them down, and see if the thing will fit after I get home.


The Zippo miniature measuring tape is sturdy and made mostly of metal; only the base plate is plastic. I’ve owned a regrettable number of cheap plastic sewing department versions which invariably broke before I finally found this durable little gem.


The greatest value of a take-everywhere tape measure is that it will keep you from spending money on things that won’t actually fit in your home. The 14 dollars I spent on mine has saved me hundreds of dollars simply by preventing impulse purchases of household items better suited to a larger home.


Your best bet to find one now is ebay.

The Fisher 400 Chrome Bullet Space Pen


I’m a life-long fan of Space Age design and the Fisher Space Pen is a perfect, pocketable example of Space Age form meeting timeless function. It’s virtually indestructible under any kind of perilous situation a pen is likely to find itself in. Outside of being lost, one could last you a lifetime.


The Fisher Space Pen first went into space on the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon in 1969. It features a special pressurized cartridge that allows it to work in almost any temperature, upside down, under water and even in zero gravity.


I’ve had mine for over a decade. I carry it without fear in my purse, knowing the long cap ensures the ballpoint nib will remain sealed and not spill ink. Also, I’m the kind of gal that digs chrome; it’s shiny when new and looks cool as it wears off. It’s not too skinny and not too tiny. $25 USD for a good long life.


It’s pretty, and it works!

Buy yours here.

Laguiole Knives: Traditional French Pocket Knives (and Corkscrew)


If you don’t already own a quality make of traditional folding pocketknife then a) Shame on you, and b) Your apology is accepted and we’re here to help.

I purchased two of these knives in Paris 14 years ago in a little shop behind Notre Dame. Then I walked through Charles de Galle airport with them in my purse and boarded the plane without security so much as raising an eyebrow. That same day George Bush first bombed Iraq in misguided retaliation for 9/11.

Airport security has changed since then.


Security, however, was quite correct to ignore my purse full of Laguoile pocket knives––I use them for picnics mostly, and very little terrorism. The third Laguoile you see is wine bottle opener which contains a corkscrew and a foil cutter, which I purchased in Toronto.


These Laguioles––but not all Laguioles––are made in France, handcrafted, and come with a lifetime guarantee. Laguiole is the name of a French town and the name cannot be copyrighted so buyer beware, cheap knockoffs of these knives abound. A close examination of the knife should make evident it’s quality or lack thereof.


The blade should have the type of steel from which it’s made stamped on the blade––12C27 or 440C stainless being a commonly used and decent steels. The blade should be perfectly straight and aligned with the handle when opened, and you should not be able to wobble the blade with your fingers. The blade should have jibbing on the back of the base of the blade you give your thumb a non-slip purchase when carving.


The handles are usually made from various precious types of wood: Desert ironwood,redwood, burl, amboina, maple, birch, oak and numerous others.


According to the Laguiole website:

•A good knife shouldn’t have any plastic parts
•The plates forming the handle should be a perfect fit between the bolsters
•The blade must slide easily back into place and not catch against the base of the spring
•A handcrafted knife will bear the name or imprint of the cutler maker
•Knives without any personal touches are not usually a good sign
•A certificate bearing the address, phone number and name of the cutler maker must be delivered with the knife
•Bargain basement prices are likely to reflect bargain basement products, not quality handcrafted artisan products from France

That last point cannot be stressed enough: Only buy a Laguiole that has been made in France. If you buy a cheap version made in China, you will get what you pay for.


An authentic French Laguiole is hardly an extravagant purchase––I paid $120 for two knives and they have served admirably for 15 years. I love the look and feel of these and they sharpen easily. The only drawback in owning one is that they are so pretty you might not want to get them dirty.

American Optical Original Pilot Sunglasses


Rayban did not go to the moon––American Optical did. How’s that for classic, durable mens sunglasses?


Here’s a picture of John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth, wearing his made in USA, military issue A.O.’s (and equally American PF Flyer sneakers––also military issue).

The Rayban Caravan may be the most popular style of squared-off aviator sunglasses but that’s probably due to the fact that Rayban, like Rolex, spend a huge percentage of their yearly budget on marketing. And they pass those marketing costs onto the consumer.


Have you ever seen an ad for American Optical products? No? Neither have I. And that may be why these high quality, American made, glass lensed sunglasses sell for almost half the price of the Italian made Rayban Caravan.


I own both and this is what I can tell you about the respective qualities of each: The Rayban Caravan has thinner, lighter frames and the A.O. Original Pilot is heavier and more durable. Lens quality appears to be identical––both are glass and absolutely clear.

The Original Pilot comes in three sizes, 52mm, 55mm, and 57mm. Staying true to their military origin they come only with bayonet arms (which may be a problem for some) and the A.O. logo stamped by the temple.


No other brand of sunglasses have more cultural cache than Rayban but for those in the know the American Optical Original Pilot represents the real deal.


Buy yours here.

Frye Arkansas Mid Lace Mens Boot in Dark Brown


The Frye Arkansas Mid Lace is a durable, full grain leather, Goodyear welted, made in USA derby style mens boot.

Cheap footwear is a false economy. You can buy a cheap pair of shoes for 50 dollars, wear them out in 6 months, throw them in the garbage and repeat the tragic cycle or you can invest in shoes that will last longer, look better and create less landfill.

The most important determining factor in the longevity of footwear is the sole––can the sole be replace by an experienced cobbler once it’s cracked or worn though? If the sole has been glued on the chances of replacing it are slim, but if it has been stitched on it can almost certainly resoled.


The Frye Arkansas is a derby style mid rise boot made in the USA with a Goodyear welt and a composite synthetic outsole. That means the sole is stitched on with a leather welt and the use of a Goodyear welt stitching machine. You can see the stitching around the edge of the sole from the top…


…and the bottom. An cobbler with experience in replacing these types of soles can do a good job for around $150 dollars, more or less. Unscrupulous footwear manufacturers will attach a fake welt to the top edge of the glued outsoles of cheap boots and call it a “decorative welt” but don’t be fooled––if the stitches don’t show through on the bottom of the sole they are most likely glued-on, not stitched-on, soles.


Of course there’s no point resoling a boot if the upper is also ruined, so buying boots made with anything less than full grain leather makes little sense. Only full grain leather provides the durability needed for a boot to endure years or decades of wear and resoling. These Frye Arkansas boots are two years old and the full grain leather upper has aged beautifully. One could certainly argue they look better now than when new, with the beautiful patina they’ve acquired though wear and polish.


The Rundown:

Full grain leather upper, Goodyear welt, composite synthetic outsole, leather insole, fully leather lined, no tongue gusset, no speed hooks, Frye does not offer a re-crafting service, inexplicably listed at over $600 US on the Frye site while most retailers sell them for a little over $400.