...Urban Improv. For the past 15 years my partner (novelist Sebastian Stuart) and I have been writing the annual benefit show for a Boston-based organization that focuses on preventing youth violence, especially in schools. Billed as a “rehearsal for life,” Urban Improv uses improvisational theater games and workshops to help kids develop creative ways to avoid falling prey to peer pressure. The two biggest issues the group deals with are homophobia and bullying. Despite increased acceptance, LGBT teens are still at extremely high risk for being assaulted and teased, and it’s estimated that LGBT youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. This organization supports kids at risk and teaches potential aggressors the consequences of their actions. UrbanImprov.org
...ukuleles. After a lifetime of dabbling with the accordion, guitar, piano, and mountain dulcimer, I finally found my instrument 10 years ago—the unassuming ukulele. It’s easy to play, and with its toylike appearance, there’s an element of irony before you even strum your first chord.
...Vitamix blender. I bought this ridiculously expensive blender because the guy demonstrating it at Whole Foods was so adorable. Now I’m happy I did. With the power of a 747, this gadget can make carrot juice, peanut butter, ice cream, and hot soup, all without breaking a sweat. Can your iPad do that? Vitamix.com
...The Closet Inc. I’ve had a thing for used clothes since I was a teen. Almost everything I wear comes from this basement consignment shop on Newbury Street in Boston. Great labels, good prices, and friendly, patient employees. ClosetBoston.com
...Koss isolation earbuds. These earbuds are comfortable and inexpensive, have great sound quality, and block out almost all noise—even on airplanes. On top of all that, they come with a limited lifetime warranty. Koss.com
...the Jane Hotel. This former SRO in New York’s West Village has rooms so tiny, you can almost touch all four walls. But with beautiful woodwork and wallpaper and built-in bunks and storage compartments, you feel as if you’re in a first class train compartment—without the annoying rattle of the wheels. TheJaneNYC.com