By Miraim Schwartz
Holiday spirit aside, if gift-shopping were so great, you’d look forward to scurrying through a mall, your back sweaty, looking for that perfect way to say “This gift means I am really thoughtful.”
Gift-giving says more about the giver than the giftee, and a gift certificate, while the last resort of the procrastinator or the unimaginative, just doesn’t say “awesome” loud enough. Here are a few gifts that scream it.
For the young
Mary Jane Boots – Because splashing in rain puddles is not only fun, it’s practically mandatory. These shiny rubber galoshes, available with pink or white “tights,” are the see-through umbrella’s best friends. Available in three sizes from uncommongoods.com.
Guidecraft Floor Puppet Theater – Because nothing on television beats making up your own fairytales. Set little thespians’ imagination free with this easy-to-assemble rubberwood theater. Ever known children to turn down costumes and silly hats? Find some in your attic or make your own out of some old clothes, fabric scraps and loose buttons. Your drama queen (or king) can dress up for a play or put on a puppet show. Colorful cloth curtains and a blackboard add versatility.
Tot Sports Bowling Set – Because it’s never too early to teach your precious ones to quote the Big Lebowski. Make sure your little dude abides with this seven-piece bowling set. Six pins and a junior-sized ball can make any room in your house into the Bowl-A-Rama. Leave the chips and beer to the grown-ups and make a day of it with popcorn and chocolate milk. But that’s just like, our opinion, man.
Green Hooded Monster Towel – Because even monsters should scrub between their toes. Too-cute photo opportunities aside, great bath accessories make bath time into party time. This 100 percent cotton towel from mahardrygoods.com won’t keep kids from fibbing about washing behind their ears, but it will keep them dry, warm and let’s face it: adorable. Also available in purple.
For the young at heart
Guitar Hero II – Because air-guitarists need love, too. Available for PlayStation 2 everywhere games are sold, this addictive sequel adds more than 50 new tracks to the game’s repertoire. Armed with the guitar console (sold separately), your wannabe Hendrix can play lead, rhythm or bass and play with or against friends, dueling-banjos style. While the song list isn’t as impressive as the first Guitar Hero game (what, no Boston?), your treasured shredder will have you yelling “Freebird” in no time. Groupies not included.
ThinkGeek Bluetooth Retro Handset – Because phones need to go back to looking like phones. For the man who’s more Maxwell Smart than James Bond, there’s this wireless wonder. With a 30-foot range, it allows you to speak into an old-fashioned black handset connected to… absolutely nothing. With wireless accessories getting so small they become choking hazards, it’s kind of nice to go back. Way back. Charges through USB connection. From thinkgeek.com.
Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset – Because no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. This 16-disc, 1,749-minute collection of British absurdity at its finest will delight even the most avid PBS watcher. Culled from the show’s four-year run, the set also includes Monty Python Live, filmed at the Hollywood Bowl. Visit the cheese shop, argument clinic, and hear the funniest joke in the world. Contains a lifetime of quotables to amuse and annoy friends with, possibly forever.
For the spoiled kitten
Vera Wang Princess Perfume – Because smelliness is definitely not next to godliness. Famed wedding dress designer Vera Wang branches out with this sweet, sophisticated perfume. Notes of vanilla, dark chocolate and pink frosting are tempered by hints of amber and lady apple. Bound to become the coquette’s signature scent, the whole luscious thing is packaged in a heart-shaped, jewel-cut bottle topped with a little gold crown. Natch!
Louis Vuitton Groom Porte-Monnaie Rond – Because Louis Vuitton’s Monogram Vernis Houston bag is $1,390. This porte-monnaie—that’s coin pouch for you commoners—is a tasteful way of wearing the designer’s ubiquitous LV monogram without buying a knock-off. Available at select retailers and at eluxury.com, the small, leather pouch is screen-printed with a design inspired by a 1921 advertisement. The golden chain and hook transform it into a key holder or bag charm. So what if the purse is from Wal-Mart?
Cashmere Knit Scarf – Because keeping cozy doesn’t have to be itchy. This winter staple is thick, luxurious and will feel unbelievably soft against her shivering winter skin. Go berry to celebrate the season or classic black so she’ll love you forever. At least until spring.
“In the Name of Honor: A Memoir,” by Mukhtar Mai – Because even the flightiest fashionista should put down her Vogue. Mukhtar Mai, a 32-year-old Pakistani woman, is courage personified. After being condemned by her village council to be brutally raped in 2002, Mai fought back from suicidal despair after her assault, sued and won damages that she used to open a school for girls in her native country. Mai’s sheer defiance of oppressive tradition has earned her worldwide respect. Available in bookstores now to encourage other acts of bravery.
For the other kitten (and pooch)
Pillow with a Heart Pet Bed – Because nothing is too good for your little shmooky-pooky. This unique pet bed, available at Petco, simulates the beating of a heart to soothe and comfort your wittle dog-breath while you’re away. The heartbeat sound piece is encased in a water-resistant pouch and is nestled deep within the overstuffed bed. Available in a variety of colors and sizes, the pillow has a warm, furry side for winter snuggling, and a cool summer side.
A Dog’s Life Charm Collar and Princess Mini Pet Feeder – Because having a pet shouldn’t cramp your style. Between the generic and the just-plain-silly, there’s this brown, pleather charm collar from Target. Even though he can’t tell you, your dog, too, likes to look good at the park. The five dangly charms include a small photo frame, perfect for an identification tag. The pink stoneware pet feeder raises your kitty’s (or doggie’s) bowls off the ground. It’s great for your best friend’s posture, muscles and joints and also minimizes the risk of choking.
RedBarn Premium Food for Dogs – Because wolves never ate chicken-flavored meat byproducts. Dogs (and cats) need protein to maintain their health. RedBarn’s dog food comes in a giant roll, much like salami, that you slice and serve. With quality cuts of fresh meat, the food is easy to digest, and contains no harmful artificial preservatives. It keeps in your fridge or freezer and can be used as a treat or as a complete meal. Visit redbarninc.com for other slobber-tastic dog treats.
For the curious
Ant Works Ant Habitat – Because hard work can be fun to watch. This completely self-contained ant habitat from Sharper Image is an up-close look at one of nature’s most incredible creatures. Ants tunnel through and feed on, a translucent nutrient gel lit by a groovy LED light. Based on a NASA experiment, the habitat is a terrific gift for the budding architect or entomologist. Also a good way for reformed anthill stompers to atone.
Smithsonian Magazine – Because knowledge should be a buffet. Apes, Marie Antoinette, Chilean economic reform and the 1946 elections are but a spoon’s worth of the broad topics covered in this monthly mind feast.
“In Patagonia,” by Bruce Chatwin – Because you don’t have to go there to be there. Did it all really happen as it’s written? Only Chatwin knows and he’s not telling. A seasoned travel writer with a vivid imagination and a penchant for tall tales, Chatwin’s travel through the “uttermost part of the earth” is part travelogue, part biography of a region most remote and splendid.
For the epicureans
Play & Freeze Ice Cream Ball – Because if you work out before eating, you won’t gain weight. It’s almost too simple: to the plastic ball add ice and rock salt in one end, and ice cream ingredients in the other then kick, roll, throw, or let the dogs have at it. In as little as 20 minutes, you can serve up delicious, homemade ice cream. Use the included recipes or invent your own. Unfortunately, pepperoni pizza sorbet only sounds like a good idea.
Bacon of the Month Club – Because it’s bacon, ‘nuff said. At gratefulpalate.com, they understand people, and people love their bacon. Members receive 12 artisan bacon selections, a little rubber pig, access to the Bacon Strip, a members-only comic strip and much more. Giving the gift of bacon is like donating bone marrow: someone will be eternally grateful, maybe enough to invite you for breakfast.
Bialetti Cappuccino Maker – Because expensive and multi-buttoned doesn’t equal quality. Sure there are cooler colors, frothier frothers and more Italian-sounding names, but this brushed-aluminum cappuccino maker has simplicity on its side. No levers, timers, or kidnapped Starbucks barista required, just a stove or hot plate, ground coffee and milk. Also available in cow print though Bed Bath & Beyond. Molto bene!
Wusthof Classic 8” Cook’s Knife – Because anything less is as graceful as a chainsaw. A good knife is more than just a cutting instrument, it’s an extension of the chef’s arm. Think the bad guy from Terminator 2, but with perfectly sliced carrots. This starter knife is forged from a single blank of steel. It feels substantial and balanced, letting the weight of the knife do the cutting. The hollowed edge lets extra-thin slices slide right off. Just like fingers, so careful!
For the style-conscious
Wooden Briefcase – Because going to work should make you a little bit happy. Remember when you got a new outfit and couldn’t wait to go to school the next day to show it off? Brighten up someone’s case of the Mondays with this pale wood briefcase. It doesn’t matter if it contains three pens and a Pop Tart. Designed by Takumi Shimamura for MoMa and available at its on-line store, the briefcase is handcrafted of Japanese cedar. Very Zen.
Jonas Damon LED Alarm Clock – Because time is really what you make it. Time is mostly comprised of three or four digits, indicating hours and minutes. Jonas Damon takes the ordinary, an alarm clock, and turns it on its head. Or rather, breaks it into four pieces, each cube showing one digit. Arranged in the correct order, the cubes tell time. The hipsters at charlesandmarie.com mention something about abstracting time and breaking it up. We just think it would look cool on a dresser.
Bin Bin Waste Paper Can and Eclipse Lamp – Because the mundane can be beautiful, too. And cheap! This wastebasket is anything but trashy. Made to look like wrinkled-up paper, it adds whimsy and style on a smaller scale. The Eclipse lamp, designed by Brazilian Mauricio Klabin, is an ingeniously shaped, coiled shade, made to open and shut to varying degrees. From Klabin’s 1982 “cocoon” series, the lamp can be altered, expanded and bent due to a single polypropylene strip and delicate metal frame. Both items from Design Within Reach (dwr.com), both elegant, both under $100.
For the unconscious
Luxury Hotel 600 thread-count Sheets – Because sleep is its own pursuit. Enough of those burlap bed sheets your boyfriend’s been hoarding since college. It’s time to graduate to slipping into something a little more comfortable. Dillard’s offers these hotel-quality linens in oh-so-soft-you-won’t-want-to-get-up cotton. Alas, big-boy sheets mean no more Ninja Turtles pillowcases. Sorry.
Discovery Chillow Cooling Pillow Insert – Because the cool side of the pillow is a pursuit, too. At one time or another, we’ve all felt like Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick, turning our pillow over and over, desperately searching for the cool side of the pillow. Technology had to take over eventually. This flat insert is filled with water and slips into the pillowcase where it absorbs body heat while keeping the insert cool to the touch. Perfect for preventing night sweats and also because it’s what we’ve always wanted.
Hotel Collection “ColorBlock” Cashmere Blend Throw Blanket – Because curling up in something soft is a need, not a want. This Australian wool and cashmere blend throw from Macy’s is like being wrapped in a teddy bear and hugged by a kitten. Don’t you know somebody who really needs that?
Whether you’ve found some much needed inspiration here, or are even more confused about what to get for whom, consider the words of Public Enemy: Don’t believe the hype. For all its bells, whistles and hefty price tag, a PlayStation III doesn’t say “I love you.” Nobody is treasuring his or her used-up gadgets in a keepsake box. If you’re broke this holiday season, write letters, the heartfelt kind. Write about a favorite memory, include a recipe for your mother’s gingerbread cookies, or write a song. What makes a gift memorable is not its price tag or exclusivity. Somewhere there are thousands of Tickle Me Elmos slowly shedding their orange fur. There is only one of you. Give that, and you’re golden.