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Wednesday, December 8,2010

10 unique gifts

Think outside the gift box for a present they won’t soon forget

By Elizabeth Miller




Sometimes you find yourself scraping the bottom of the gift-giving barrel, struggling to find something new and interesting for your dad or best friend.


Instead of another necktie or picture frame, check out these unique ideas.

1. Gifts that keep growing:

Between the cutting, the hauling, the setting up and the sap cleanup, giving a tree could eat up a whole afternoon. But with the Arbor Day Foundation Give-A- Tree cards, you can give a tree to someone and never have to worry about pruning it away from telephone lines. With the purchase of one of their $6 note cards (which come with holiday messages or “just because” messages), the foundation will plant a tree in a national forest in honor of someone. The person gets a card announcing the planting. Everybody gets cleaner air. More information is available at www.arborday.org.

2. Purrfect presents: In a move significantly more likely to be endorsed by parents everywhere than giving children free kittens, the World Wildlife Fund sells stuffed animals to represent a species adoption. Buy one of these cuddly toys and the Wildlife Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization that works to save endangered species around the world, gives a portion of proceeds to supporting the wild habitat for the critter itself.

More than 100 species of stuffed toys, including a blue-footed booby, beluga whale, grey wolf, Sumatran rhino and tiger, sell for $50 each. Or you can adopt in bulk with the “Tub of Cubs” to get a 7-inch snow leopard, leopard and tiger cubs. More information at www.worldwildlife.org

3. For the pet itself: Getting a dog a bone is a little bit like giving candy to a kid that isn’t yours, so you want to make sure you’ve got the right owner-pet pair picked out to receive a gift like this. And, like giving fat-free muffins, it might be wise to lean toward the healthy side. For a dog, consider something like Greenies, which clean dogs’ teeth as they chew, or a hard bone and a jar of peanut butter, which makes for a re-useable treat.

4. For the lit-wit: Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, people read short stories. Given the frenetic pace of modern life and general absence of time in which to read a full novel, it’s a wonder they’re not more en vogue at the moment. Give a push toward bringing them back and get someone a subscription to a literary magazine. They’ll get a dose of essays and short fiction throughout the year, and you’ll get to feel like a member of the intellectual elite.

Some titles to check out include Pleiades ($16 for one year, two issues), Glimmer Train ($36 for one year, four issues), The Iowa Review ($25 for one year, three issues) and Zoetrope ($24 for one year, four issues).

5. Gift of gab: Holiday parties can be really good for two things: packing on a few pounds and sitting through stalled-out conversations. Provide your friends with a window into a world of dinner conversation that involves more than listening to a cousin monologue about her work woes. Several game companies make packets of cards designed to spark conversations, like Table Talk and Table Topics. Table Topics ($25) has the more mature presentation and perhaps more confessional questions; Table Talk ($6) offers the most themes (kids, sports, science, etc) and has a smaller deck.

6. Brews on: Anyone who had one of those grow-your-own crystals, a fascination with high school chemistry, or just an interest in cutting down the annual bar tab, could take an interest in a homebrew kit. Making your own beer is generally less dangerous than it sounds, though more timeconsuming than you’d like it to be.

Starter homebrew kits, which can include a handbook, fermenting buckets, thermometer, bottle filler, rack and fill kit, hydrometer, capper, bottle brush, airlock and sanitizer, sell online for about $70.

Malt extracts, grain and yeast sell separately for about another $30.

7. Home sweet someone else’s home: There’s an assortment of options for not-tooexpensive, never-going-to-buy-itfor-yourself items at places like Crate & Barrel and the Container Store. Stuff people would be unlikely to already have, but it’s possible they’d enjoy using — designer picture frames, candleholders, deluxe wine openers, magazine baskets.

Or, at stores all the way down to Target, you can find kits to grow paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs. The kits often come complete with potting soil and a pot. In four to six weeks, the bulbs produce stunning blossoms and, in the case of paperwhites, a delightful fragrance. It’s a very enjoyable, notso-permanent home installation.

8. Holi-DIYs: I don’t happen to have a lot of spare time, but I hear there are people who do. People who might enjoy something extra to do with their hands or all that creative energy they’re not getting out at work, making themselves laugh over shopping lists for other people to complete, might enjoy a little kit of something fun to do. Learn-to or starter-kits for knitting or crocheting, painting flower pots and — this one is really rustic — needlepoint are available at most craft stores.

9. I’ll be om for Christmas:

There’s nothing quite like the holidays for forcing your religion on other people. These mantra beads (technically called japa mala, but also known as prayer beads or worry beads) float around many a yoga studio or even jewelry shops, certainly the Asian-influenced gift shops. Strings of 108 beads, they’re designed for use in meditation and mantra recitation, typically of the kind of Sanskrit phrases that lead to eventual enlightenment. And really, whether you’re lighting up a Menorah or a Christmas tree, isn’t enlightenment what we’re all after? The beads, often made from wood or seeds, are pretty in their own right. Just like anything else you’d like to learn these days, YouTube videos can show you how to use them.

10. Keys to the kingdom:

Type-A traveler types often have almost as much fun planning the trip as actually going on it. Give them all the tools they’ll need to plot their next great adventure by pairing up the gift of a map and a guidebook for an area you know is on their bucketlist. You could even dip into the office supplies and add sticky notes, highlighters and, if the map is laminated, laminate markers to chart their course.

Then perhaps add a homemade bookmark that includes a photo of friends or family as a reminder of all they’ll have to come back to.

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