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Holiday Gift Guide

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November 24, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide

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Give the best gifts — memories BY GREG JOHNSON Frontiersman.com

To say America is the world’s great melting pot is an apt description. Replete with myriad cultures, traditions and values, our country prides itself on its diversity. When it comes to the holidays, the Johnson family melting pot takes a few entertaining — and sometimes weird — twists. Growing up in a primarily Mormon family, we celebrate all the traditional Christian holidays. Having a Jewish grandfather, however, added a little spice to the religious mix growing up, even if it was kosher. Many years, we’d find ourselves spinning a dreidel and listening to Papa tell the Chanukah story, then afterward go shopping for Christmas gifts and a quick sit on Santa’s lap. It may sound hokey, but gift-giving was never materialistic in our household. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing this energetic 12-year-old loved more than the “official” real-leather NFL football he found under the tree next to the 12-inch black-and-white television. Holy cow! My own TV! Forget that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was nearly unheard of for children to have their own televisions — and set aside the fact that I could never get any reception on the darn thing — I remember Christmas more for how our family gives gifts than what was given and received. I think that’s also the year my mother

I recall that, at the time, my decided to give all three of the parents were nearly in tears with kids a “special” present. It was laughter from our reactions, long and cylindrical, wrapped while we were just nearly at tears. neatly with bows on each end. The real gift that year, however, We couldn’t guess and could was the memory. I don’t recall hardly wait to get to them. how long the football lasted, and Finally, my younger brother, I think at some point it went Jeff, ripped into his excitedly to through the TV, so that didn’t find … A byproduct have a long life, either. … an empty wrapping paper of holiday But the dur-dur story still tube. time is a good comes up every holiday. It’s also That’s right, not one to let supply of been relived five times as each anything go to waste, mom ‘dur-durs.’ of my nieces and nephews have wrapped up the empty cardbeen introduced to this holiday board tubes and give them rite of passage. as gifts. She called them “dur-durs,” It also sparked what has been nearly because that’s the sound kids make through them when they put them to See MEMORIES, Page 6 their mouths.


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Holiday Gift Guide

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Cheaper video game options BY ANDREW WELLNER Frontiersman.com

Video games are kind of an odd phenomenon in that the second a new sequel comes out everyone stops caring about the previous iterations. But those previous iterations are actually reasonably priced. You can pick one up for $20, or less, when a new title fetches $60 to $70. So, if you’re looking for cheaper alternatives, here are some suggestions, tagged to the list of 20 hot Christmas titles from the website videogamesblogger.com. But first a quick note: with the exception of Dead Island, every one of these games is a sequel to a very entertaining game, so cheaper options are kind of built into the equation. 1. CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 3

How about Modern Warfare 2 or any of the other Call of Duty titles? If your kid is just getting into the military shooter genre, maybe start him out with something older. Medal of Honor also has a whole lot of these. 2. GEARS OF WAR 3

The first-person shooter genre has grown so large it’s fragmented in to subgenres. Here we have a futuristic, sci-fi shooter. Personally, I’m more of a Halo guy myself. Something to watch out for with these sci-fi games is that they get much more complex with each new sequel. Your kid likely won’t mind, but if

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 may be the hottest video game title of the season, but don’t discount the playability of its predecessors for those new to the game.

you want to play it with him maybe stick to some of the older iterations. Gears of War I, for instance. 3. MADDEN NFL 12

I honestly don’t understand why people buy the new version every year. Of course, updated rosters are useful. But maybe if people stopped plunking down $60 a year, video game companies would start releasing that sort of thing as downloadable content. The older Madden titles literally drop in value to like $5. You’ve probably guessed by now I’m not really a sports game kind of guy. The last

one I played seriously was Techmo Bowl. So if your kid wants this one, I don’t think you’ve got much of a choice. 4. ASSASSIN’S CREED: REVELATIONS

Assassin’s Creed has been kind of a phenomenon lately. It combines fighting with stealth, investigation and a bizarre storyline. If stealth is your thing, Metal Gear titles kind of set that standard. 5. BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY

If superheroes are your thing, the MarSee VIDEO, Page 5


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vel Ultimate Alliance titles are endlessly entertaining and have dropped significantly in price. There’s also a few more DC titles out there that are pretty good. Justice League Heroes springs to mind. If it’s the stealth part of the game you dig, we’ll toss out Metal Gear again. 6. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SKYWARD SWORD

Zelda games are kind of hard to pass up. It’s the second for the Wii, but don’t expect that to mean the previous iteration is going to be much cheaper. 7. BATTLEFIELD 3

Again with the military shooters?

8. JUST DANCE 3

Rhythm and music games kind of wax and wane in popularity. Pay close attention to the track list. If you think your kid would settle for a Guitar Hero game instead of a dancing game, make sure it has songs on it that he or she likes and that won’t drive you nuts. 9. NBA 2K12

Again with the sports games?

10. NEED FOR SPEED: THE RUN

Driving games are kind of a minefield of terrible, boring titles. Need for Speed fits into that corner of the genre that includes a story with the driving simulation. There are a few like that, but the appeal of this one, for me at least, is the crashing. The Burnout titles are great for crashing. 11. UNCHARTED 3:

Holiday Gift Guide DRAKE’S DECEPTION

This one’s a cross between a platformer and a shooter. Shooters have already been discussed but one title to add is Borderlands. It’s bizarre while still being awesome. As for platformers — a more descriptive definition would be “run and jump games” — the Mario series is great. Tomb Raider kind of fell off after awhile, but can be entertaining. 12. MARIO & SONIC AT THE LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES

I’d almost be tempted to call this one a party game, and where party games are concerned it’s hard to beat Mario Party.

Page 5 But if it’s sports simulators, the Wii Sports series is great and cheap. 13. LEGO HARRY POTTER: YEARS 5-7

Literally every iteration of the Lego franchise has kept my kid’s attention for days on end. Some that kind of flew under the radar: Lego Batman, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and the fourth Lego Star Wars title. All are great and relatively cheap. 14. FIFA SOCCER 12

And yet a third time with the sports games. See VIDEO, Page 8


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MEMORIES Continued from Page 3

three decades of memorable gift-giving for our family. Anymore, it’s all about what creative way can we package the gift that counts rather than the contents. Here are some examples: • One year “Santa” brought me a real leather basketball (it was tops on my list, because all I had before was a cheap rubber one that wouldn’t stay inflated). There was little surprise, however, when he wrapped just the ball and stuck it back in the box. • Another year, I gave my sister a basic tool box (the box and an assortment of tools any young woman should have on hand). It took forever to individually wrap every tool in its exact shape and put them in the box. To this day, she still has a few still wrapped in there. • There was the year my brother

Holiday Gift Guide

November 24, 2011

“Nobody can hold a candle to mom, who set the bar to another level a few years ago when she gave my sister a Jell-O mold — which she ‘wrapped’ in lime Jell-O. That’s right, she encased the mold in five gallons of gelatin. The thing must’ve weighed 70 pounds and Cindy could hardly lift it.” snuck out and snagged the cards from grandma that were in our stockings. At the time, grandma Alice didn’t have much money, and we didn’t expect much. But she had given us each $50. At least, until Jeff got to them. Imagine grandma’s surprise when my sister and I got very nice, heartfelt cards while Jeff exclaimed, “Wow! $150! Thanks, grandma!” • Catering to dad’s love of popcorn (he would go through a couple of batches while watching a movie on the couch), my sister gave him a nice popcorn bowl and some gourmet popcorn

to pop. She packaged them in a giant box filled to the brim with popped popcorn, forcing dad to spill it all over the place while retrieving his gift. • There was the time Jeff was given a nice long-sleeved dress shirt. But it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, as it was wrapped in the exact shape of the shirt and placed under the tree. That’s OK, though, because Jeff came through by doing all his holiday shopping that year ON Christmas day. That’s right, he left and came back 45 minutes later with several discount VCR tapes he found at the corner gas station, the only place open. • But nobody can hold a candle to mom, who set the bar to another level a few years ago when she gave my sister a Jell-O mold — which she “wrapped” in lime Jell-O. That’s right, she encased the mold in five gallons of gelatin. The thing must’ve weighed 70 pounds and Cindy could hardly lift it. The best part? When, after the shock had worn off, Cindy could hardly talk through her laughter: “And you know what?” she said. “I hate lime Jell-O.” While our gift-giving gaffes have provided plenty of guffaws, the best gifts of all we share are these memories. This holiday season, make the effort to create some unique memories of your own. Contact Greg Johnson at greg.johnson@frontiersman.com or 352-2269.


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Holiday Gift Guide

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LEGGO MY LEGOS

No substitute for a classic

BY ANDREW WELLNER Frontiersman.com

G

iven my druthers, my boy would spend his weekly allowance on Legos. I can’t exactly force him. Well, I could, but it would kind of defeat the purpose of giving him his own money to spend. And the first time he looked up at me in the toy aisle — pockets empty — and handed me a box saying, “Why don’t you buy this for yourself?” was the day I stopped buying my own toys. But Christmas is different. On Christmas and his birthday, I’m the one picking out the toys. His idea of what he wants changes on a daily basis. So, I can slip in a few of the toys I want without straying too far from his wish list. At some point in the years between when I sold my giant tub of Legos at a

garage sale upon leaving Texas for Alaska in the fifth grade and when my own son was old enough not to swallow the tiny plastic bricks, Lego started doing something kind of awesome. Whereas my brother and I used to have to dream up reasonable, and sometimes unreasonable, facsimiles of tie-fighters and X-wings, kids of my son’s generation have branded Legos, tied into movies and television shows. The appeal of Legos has always been that they are infinitely customizable. You can follow the directions or build them how you want. You can mix and match from different sets. These branded sets, I find, just increase those possibilities. My son and I have staged mock battles between SpongeBob and General Grievous, between Indiana Jones and Davey Jones. I don’t usually get so excited about product tie-ins. I don’t rage against them. I think having characters drink name-brand soda in movies actually kind of adds to the realism. Legos as a company is smart, too. It’s put See LEGOS, Page 9


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15. THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM

The action role-playing game is pretty well awash in titles people take very seriously. Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts spring to mind. 16. DEAD ISLAND

Zombies. If you can’t find a decent, cheaply priced shooter featuring zombies you’re not actually in a video game aisle. Dead Rising is good. I’ve heard Left 4 Dead is also pretty good. 17. KINECT SPORTS: SEASON 2

It you’ve shelled out the money to buy a Kinect and rearranged your living room to accommodate it, chances are

Holiday Gift Guide you’re not going to accept something less than a multi-sport title like this one. Read reviews before you go searching for other Kinect titles to help you avoid what seems to be a proliferation of buggy, half-baked titles.

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18. RESISTANCE 3

Might I suggest that this title fits into another subgenre of the shooter: dystopian shooter. Other, cheaper titles in that genre: Bioshock. 19. DANCE CENTRAL 2

Rhythm games again.

20. DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION

Yet another action role-playing game. I’ve heard that Mass Effect was pretty good. Contact Andrew Wellner at andrew. wellner@frontiersman.com or 352-2270.


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LEGOS Continued from Page 7

out branded advent calendars that will likely squeeze an extra $50 out of me this Christmas season since it’s so much fun to watch the boy pull out a new tiny Lego set every day until Christmas. Generally, my boy gets one big set of Legos and one big Transformer for Christmas. I’ve got my eye on a pretty sweet Optimus Prime he’s been unable thus far to save his allowance up long enough to afford. As for Legos, well, I’m kind of spoiled for choice. • The boy hasn’t been too taken with the Pirates of the Caribbean Legos, but he beat the tie-in video game in a single, week-long marathon using every second of his time not spent at school or doing chores. The Black Pearl is looking mighty tempting. Nostalgia is a factor here as well considering that my favorite set, the first one I saved up my own allowance for as a kid, was a pirate ship. • The Star Wars line has been a hit with my son. The one I’m salivating over most is the Millennium Falcon re-issue. At $130 it might be kind of pricey. Perhaps I can convince my wife it is affordable by comparing it to the $400 Death Star set. Luckily, there are cheaper options like Darth Maul’s ship or even the Star Wars television show tie-in model of bounty hunter Cad Bane’s gunship. • The boy also digs the Harry Potter sets. My expertise here is limited, but I could see maybe buying him the Hogwarts Castle, Hogwarts Express or even the more reasonably priced triple-decker Knight Bus set. • Less popular with my son, but usually packing more bang for the buck, are the generic Lego lines. My son got very excited about the Pharaoh’s Quest line, which is kind of a cross between The Mummy and Indiana Jones. He’s only missing one, though, and it’s the most expensive — the gigantic Scorpion’s Pyramid set. Also popular in the generic lines is the newer Alien Conquest line that depicts scenes from an alien invasion of earth. I like the humor of these. The abduction set I got him last year included a very confusedlooking farmer complete with pitchfork. I feel like I’m going to be spending a whole lot of time staring at those boxes trying to decide this month.

Holiday Gift Guide Legos can pair two great kid passions — building stuff and playing with big trucks.

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Star Wars continues to be a popular theme with Lego sets. They can range in price from several hundred for a Death Star (above) to just $10 for a Clone Walker (left).


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Holiday Gift Guide

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Beyond Monopoly Board games making a comeback BY ANDREW WELLNER Frontiersman.com

Think of things that people tend to geek out over — video games, action movies, comic books, science fiction, anything from Japan. Did you know there is a large and growing segment of this country that has gone geeky over board games? I didn’t either, until about a year ago. Before that the game I held in the high-

est esteem was Risk, which was second to Monopoly. I threw all of those notions out the window once I sat down to play a decent Eurogame. Having played a few now, I’m on the verge of tossing my copy of Monopoly in the garbage. It all began when a friend of mine invited me over for a game of the popular Eurogame Ticket to Ride. Apparently, from what I’ve been told, Europe in general, and Germany in particular,

is a hotbed of board game innovation. If you’re looking for a game you can play in an hour but that will make you want to play it again and again after that, look to Germany. My foray into board game geek-hood (a condition that even has its own website in boardgamegeek.com) didn’t stop there either. Whereas Ticket to Ride was based around the era of railroad barons with players buying up routes and muscling out the competition, my next geeky See GAMES, Page 11

Ticket to Ride is a big ticket to fun.


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board game session was with a game called Settlers of Catan. A lot of people who haven’t put a foot into the dark underworld of board games have already heard of Catan. The conceit is that you’re a settler on an island competing with your neighbors for resources like lumber, bricks, wool and grain. I know, it sounds incredibly dry. But it isn’t. Gameplay is swift and the board made up of little cardboard hexagons so you aren’t staring at the same board the whole time. It even held the attention of my hyperactive 9-year-old son who I was beginning to believe wouldn’t sit still for more than an hour without the intense stimulation video games provide. Next on my list was Carcassonne, another game that beginners can usually handle. In this case you’re competing with neighbors in feudal France, laying out tiles to represent settlements and roads and scoring points as you go. So where can you get these things? Of course, there’s always the Internet. But locally they’re available mostly at Bosco’s comic book shop in Anchorage. And be warned, they’re not cheap. Ticket to Ride set us back $60. But Monopoly cost half as much and has sat on the shelf for years waiting for when I’ll have the six hours required to finish a game. But Ticket to Ride comes down off the shelf all the time. I’m probably going to play a round tonight, in fact. With any luck, I’ll be able to keep my geek-hood in check enough that

Settlers of Catan, above, is one of the more popular board games that’s been on the market in recent years. It also offers an online version. At right is Carcassonne, a medieval adventure game.

it doesn’t ruin me financially. But if I can’t I’m sure I’ll enjoy the ride. Contact Andrew Wellner at andrew. wellner@frontiersman.com or 3522270.

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Beware of budget fatigue ARA Content

The past few years have been hard on the American pocketbook — and psyche. Just when we think we see the light at the end of the recessionary tunnel, something happens to make us pull our belts a little tighter and dampen our spirits. Many of us have had to curtail spending for quite some time, and with the holiday season (read, shopping season) coming up fast, we’re itching just to let go and spend like it’s 1999. But be wary shoppers, warns June Walbert, a certified financial planner with USAA. Don’t let what she calls See BUDGET, Page 13


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“budget fatigue” seduce you into spending beyond your means. “I think people are tired and frustrated because they haven’t been able to spend money in the ways that they have in the past,” Walbert says. “They want to kick up their heels and have a better holiday than they did last year.” More people do say they plan to open up their wallets this season. USAA’s annual survey of holiday spending found 96 percent of those asked plan on gift shopping. Last year that number was 90 percent.

Shopper, know thy budget No matter how much you budget for holiday shopping, you need to be realistic. Walbert says the way to minimize huge January bills is to make a list and stick to it once you get to a store or online shopping site. “If folks needed to be on a strict budget last year, they probably need to stay on one this year,” Walbert adds. Good advice. But how many will follow it? Not as many as in previous years, according to the USAA poll. Results show the slice of shoppers who plan on budgeting has dropped from 64 percent in 2009 to 57 percent this year, and only 43 percent plan to actually stick to their budget.

Paper or Plastic? Even with a budget and the discipline to follow it, the payment method you use can affect the actual price you pay in the long run. No matter how you pay — credit card, debit card or even cold hard cash — there can be an extra price to pay. The hardest hit can come from buynow-pay-later rationalizing. Almost half — 48 percent — of those polled said they would pay with a credit card. More than one out of four of those credit card users plan to let their balances revolve for at least several months. High interest rates and late fees could allow their debts to balloon out of control, turning a $30 gift into a much higher priced item. But not all plastic has that kind of potential. “I love debit cards,” Walbert says, “because if you don’t have money in the bank, your transaction is not approved.” But even if it is approved, that doesn’t

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Even with a budget and the discipline to follow it, the payment method you use can affect the actual price you pay in the long run. mean you can afford a particular purchase. Even if shoppers plan on paying with cash — as 83 percent of those polled do — out-of-network ATM fees can add up quickly. The average surcharge is $2.40 per transaction. The solution: Avoid ATM fees by staying in-network, or better yet, go with a bank that reimburses for out-of-network ATM fees. For those who already know what they want to buy, Walbert believes layaway shopping is a good option. “It allows you to start your shopping early, lessen the financial demands that the holidays bring, and you can still get the gift you want,” she says. There may be a small layaway fee

charged by the retailer, Walbert adds, but it’s better than paying the interest on a credit card purchase.

Are we there yet? The bottom line for many holiday shoppers is that it may not yet be time for a blowout celebration, so don’t let budget fatigue push common sense to the side. “I would encourage people to just hang in there and don’t overspend for the holidays,” advises Walbert. “Have a good holiday, but don’t go overboard, and that will make for a more pleasant January.”


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Holiday Gift Guide

Give green ARA Content

The holidays are a time for celebrating, reflecting on the past year and exchanging gifts with friends and family. However, unique and meaningful ideas can be a daunting task. Gifts that keep giving and growing are a perfect solution. Plants are not just beautiful, but also cheer up any space and even improve air quality in a home or office space. GIVE CARE

Always include care instructions for the plant gift. Even the most experienced indoor plant grower appreciates a little help. Most live goods come with suggested light feeding and watering recommendations. If the plant selected does not have these care instructions, ask before leaving the nursery so the recipient can keep this lovely gift green. See GREEN, Page 15

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CUSTOMIZE PLANT TO PERSON

Flowers, succulents, cacti, tropicals and even bulbs can make great presents. The varieties and combinations are as endless as the personalities on your gift list. It is important to match the plant to the recipient. For instance, a plant needing daily watering would not make a good gift for a constant traveler. Instead, give them an interesting cactus or succulent, which needs less frequent care. For an artistic friend, try a terrarium that can be customized to their tastes. The more sophisticated giftee may appreciate a colorful and delicate orchid. For those with asthma or allergies, plants like palms, peace lilies and ferns do an excellent job of improving air quality and filtering out toxins. CONTAINERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Those boring, plastic pots that house most plants are not very attractive or personal. Pop your plants into colorful ceramic, glass, wood or even metal containers for a more interesting and personal touch. Inexpensive terra cotta pots can be painted in bright or metallic-colored paint, large coffee cups as containers can add a quirky element or baskets can be lined with plastic and used to hold small pots. When repotting plants yourself, make sure to use a high-quality potting mix. Also, keep in mind that specialty plants like cacti, African violets and orchids may perform better in special potting mixes. When in doubt, ask the nursery for recommendations. For presentation, wrap foil, paper or cellophane around the outside of the container and use fabric bows or raffia to add a finishing touch.

Holiday Gift Guide PLANTS AT THE PARTY

Little gifts from nature go a long way in spreading the holiday cheer to friends, family and neighbors. When hosting a party, offer little mementos for your guests to take home. Try a small terra cotta pot painted gold and planted with rosemary or thyme and tied with a lovely ribbon. Or, maybe small, colorful pots filled with soil and a bulb to add a pop of spring to the winter months. Add a photo of the flower your guest can expect and directions on forcing the bulb to the gift tag. Whether paying a call on friends or attending a party, host or hostess gifts are another fun way to spread holiday cheer. Poinsettia, amaryllis and Christmas cactus are seasonal favorites. Plants make excellent gifts and will be a reminder of the good times you shared.

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Action adventure games, like X-Men Destiny, above, and Spider-Man: Edge of Time, right, are usually a hit with teens.

Who says teens are hard to please? ARA

Finding the perfect gift for teenagers can be a notoriously difficult task. Their likes and dislikes can often change within seconds based on the latest trends and fads. So how can you please even the most challenging-to-shop-for teen? Gift cards and cash work, but are also very impersonal. Here are a few gift ideas to satisfy

even the pickiest teen. CLOTHING

Face it, as much as you’d like to be on top of the hot styles that teens are wearing, you’re probably several steps behind what’s actually in. Give him or her a spending limit and take your teen shopping for some clothes. They will get a gift they really want and you’ll learn about what they like to wear. Plus, it gives you

the ultimate veto power over questionable purchases if you’re paying for it. MUSIC

As with clothes, most parents probably have differing musical tastes than their kids. Instead of a gift card to a music store, get a list of the music they like and gift it to them via iTunes. Plus, it also gives you See TEENS, Page 19


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the opportunity to learn what they like — even if it isn’t what you’d listen to on your iPod. TECHNOLOGY

What teen doesn’t want the latest tech toy? Whether it’s a new MP3 player, headphones, mobile device or video game system, you probably can’t go wrong. If your teen has a gaming system already, a new game is one place to turn.

Holiday Gift Guide Teens overwhelmingly favor action or adventure video games, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, and role-playing games have always been among the best-selling, most popular games available. Two new Marvel games from Activision fit both the action/adventure and role-playing criteria. “Spider-Man: Edge of Time” and “XMen Destiny” will immerse your teenage gamer into new storylines from legendary comic book writers — Peter David and Mike Carey, respectively — giving them an authentic, interactive comic book experience. You can learn more at face-

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book.com/herohq. MAKEOVER

For your teenage daughter, a trip to a makeup counter to get a makeover can be a great bonding experience — as well as a lot of fun. Depending on how old your daughter is, the trip can also serve as a great lesson for how much makeup to wear and how you should apply it. Don’t believe the myth that teens are hard to shop for. With the right approach, you can find the perfect gift for the most discerning teenager.


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Batteries not included 5 no-tech toys every child should have ARA Content

Every year, lists fly around the Internet and airwaves, parents line up in stores and everyone talks about what the season’s hottest toys will be. All the chatter can make it seem like everyone’s forgotten the single most enduring “toy” at the disposal of every child — imagination. Plenty of high-tech toys encourage creativity, but to really fire up a child’s imagination it’s hard to beat the power of timeless, classic toys that rely on a child’s interaction rather than on electronics.

This type of nostalgic toy can become a child’s best friend, and parents will be happy their children have something that doesn’t require batteries and doesn’t stop working just because it’s dropped a few times. Here are five timeless, nostalgic, lowtech toys that every child should have: A CLASSIC DOLL

Countless generations of little girls have fallen in love with a special doll. This is one toy that can serve many functions, from best friend and confidante to teacher

and even role model. If some of today’s brash, in-your-face styles of dolls leave you shaking your head, never fear: you can still find dolls that offer contemporary appeal combined with more homespun values. A WAGON

Whether it’s an old-fashioned metal one in fire-engine red or one of the modern, SUV-sized plastic numbers available today, nothing beats a wagon for getting kids moving. It’s also a toy that can keep pace with a child’s development and changing styles of play. Very young children will enjoy riding as parents tow them along on trips to the park or walks around the neighborhood. As children grow, they begin to use the wagon themselves, employing it to transport toys or other children. Turn it over and it’s a makeshift fort or castle. A BUILDING SET

Whether it’s plastic, wood or metal, a building set can fire the imagination of budding engineers. Building materials that link together have a leg up on oldfashioned blocks, allowing kids to create increasingly complex structures. With so many different construction toys available, it’s possible to find a building set for virtually any age or skill level. DRESS-UP ITEMS

Pretend play is an important way children explore their own potential. Dressing up as a doctor, nurse, firefighter or police officer helps children learn about career choices and adult roles, and facilitates creativity through role playing. See NO-TECH, Page 21

Imagination is truly the greatest toy — and tool — of childhood. Fortunately, you can find plenty of “no-tech” toys to nourish your child’s creativity and imagination, even in today’s high-tech world.


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Holiday Gift Guide

Simple gifts that encourage children to use their imaginations have withstood the test of time, like dolls and tea sets.

NOTECH

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Creating a dress-up chest is simple and low-cost. Parents can fill a plastic bin with hand-me-downs, old Halloween costumes and even a few store-bought items. AN EASEL AND DRAWING PAD

Sure, coloring books are great, but there’s something about an easel that makes a child feel like a real artist. A simple wooden frame holding a large drawing pad can become the launch pad for flights of fancy rendered in crayon, watercolor and even washable magic marker. Whatever your child’s media or favorite subject, putting him or her in front of an easel will enhance enjoyment of the artistic experience ��� and give you a bird’s-eye view of your budding artist at work. Imagination is truly the greatest toy — and tool — of childhood. Fortunately, you can find plenty of “no-tech” toys to nourish your child’s creativity and imagination, even in today’s high-tech world.

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Holiday Gift Guide

Personalized items, like books with their names in them, make great baby gifts.

November 24, 2011

Let’s get personal, baby ARA Contenet

Gift-buying season is just starting and will soon be in full swing. You may have a few new names on your list with newborns joining your family and friend’s families. More than any other gift-buying task, finding unique baby gifts can be a challenge. For adults, teens or even children, you can find out what the recipient likes and tailor your gift purchase accordingly. But babies are a clean slate. So what guidelines can you follow when choosing a gift for them? Personalized options are unique baby gifts that delight parents and provide kids with plenty of playtime enjoyment. Seeing their own name or image on a beloved possession helps reinforce children’s sense of self and encourages them to interact with their environment. Here are five ideas for personalized baby gifts that you can give at any time of year: 1. Make her the star of her own story. Celebrity moms Brooke Shields, Courtney Cox and Jessica Alba have all purchased personalized books from children’s publisher ISeeMe.com. The site offers a large selection of colorful, appealing, age-appropriate books that can be personalized with a child’s name. Some books include the child’s name on the cover, others throughout the story, and still others feature rhymes and text about the spelling of the child’s name. “Personalized books increase a child’s self esteem and celebrate their uniqueness,” says Maia Haag, author and cofounder of ISeeMe.com. “The goal is to show each child how absolutely unique and special he or she is, to teach the child how to spell his or her name, and to build vocabulary skills.” 2. Help him grow into his personality. Kids love growth charts. Being able to track their own progress helps anchor children to their past while encouraging them to look toward the future. Personalizing growth charts can be as simple as adding the child’s name to the top of a See BABY, Page 23


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Choose the gift of giving ARA Content

The holiday season is an important time of year to celebrate with loved ones and show them how much you care. It is also a great opportunity to help those in need by considering gifts that give back and help those in need. Your gifts can do more than make you and your recipients feel good. The value and impact can be immeasurable to the lives you’re affecting. Here are some ways you can help those in need this year: • Find out what nonprofit organizations your loved ones support and make a gift donation in their names. Many nonprofits will provide a gift donation “thank you” card for the recipient to open on the holidays. It’s a nice way to honor your loved ones and the charities they support.

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wall-mounted chart. You can also find plenty of options that elevate the level of personalization. For example, Redenvelope.com offers a growth quilt. Hung on the wall, the quilt’s tree design features 12 circles that can be personalized with the child’s handprint, allowing parents to chart every month in one year of a child’s life, or stretch the fun over 12 years. 3. Let her make her mark on the world. Craft-making has an almost universal appeal for children, and when the crafts involve personalization, kids enjoy them

Your gifts can do more than make you and your recipients feel good. The value and impact can be immeasurable to the lives you’re affecting. • Purchase gifts from companies that donate part of your purchase price to a nonprofit organization. • Sponsoring another family’s holiday is a thoughtful and easy way to give back this season. Choose a community organization that will identify a local family in need and help provide some of the gifts on their holiday wish lists. Personalizing these gifts to the local family connects your family to theirs, and brightens the season for all. • Volunteer and/or give to local seasonal

groups, like the Special Santa Program, which provides thousands of gifts to Valley families each year, or the Christmas Friendship Dinner, which feeds thousands on Christmas Day. Choosing gifts that give back this season can really help put you in the holiday spirit, while also benefiting those organizations that rely on charitable donations this time of year. As your loved ones unwrap their gifts, know that the joy they are experiencing goes further to help others in your community and across the country.

even more. It’s easy to find stepping stone kits that can be personalized with a child’s name, handprint or even footprint. Young children will enjoy making the kit with a parent and putting their handprint in the finished product. Parents of infants can also cherish the project when they create it themselves and press their baby’s footprint into the clay. 4. Protect his “lovey” from all challengers. It’s not unusual for babies and very young children to have a favorite stuffed animal or security blanket. A “lovey” helps them fall asleep, and can provide comfort and even companionship. Personalizing a child’s security blanket or stuffed animal with her name can help

reinforce her sense of self and understanding of the concept of possession. 5. Pictures are worth a thousand words. It’s easy to find online software and photo websites that allow you to create highquality photo books with your own images. Parents will love seeing their pride and joy featured in a photo montage. Babies love looking at pictures of faces, something that helps stimulate their brain development. Younger children also love picture books and it’s easy to tell them the tale of their young lives using pictures of themselves and loved ones. Personalization is a great way to make unique baby gifts even more precious, for children and their parents.


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Holiday Gift Guide

November 24, 2011

Safeguard privacy shopping online ARA Content

With each passing year, more Americans turn to the Internet to do their holiday shopping. In fact, more than 52 million people (37 percent of American consumers) shopped online from work during last year’s holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. While many consumers are familiar with shopping online, it’s still important to take some necessary precautions to protect your privacy, according to FindLaw.com, an online source for legal information, and to ensure that what Shopping online is easy and quick, but experts have some advice for how to best you buy arrives before Santa does. Here are seven tips from FindLaw. protect your personal information. com about shopping online this holiday season: • Shop early and save. The best way to avoid the holiday shopping rush, even online, is to shop early. This may sound crazy, but write up a holiday shopping list as early as possible - and start shopping right away - months before the holiday season begins. You’ll not only find more bargains (reducing your overall holiday expenses), but you’ll spread out your shopping so you won’t face a major credit card bill in early January. Plus, you’ll know that your holiday gifts will be there on time, which will allow you to avoid holiday stress. • Shop reputable online retailers. Shopping online with major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, Barnes & Noble and Amazon poses little risk. Organizations such as eBay, Yahoo Shopping and Bing Shopping make some effort to check out and rate merchants who do business through their sites. If you’re shopping with a lesserknown retailer, look for reviews and ratings on Google about the retailer before shopping. • Secure site. When you place your order, make sure the site where you’re See ONLINE, Page 24


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entering your credit card or PayPal information is secure. Here are a couple ways to tell: Look in the Web address bar. If there’s an “s” after “http” and a closed padlock icon to the right of the browser address, the site is secure. • Privacy policy. Most consumers ignore or overlook a vendor’s privacy policy. A privacy policy states what the vendor will do to safeguard your credit card and personal information. If you don’t see a privacy policy on the vendor’s website, or you don’t like what it says, shop elsewhere. • Return policies. Regardless of whether you’re shopping for a holiday gift online or from a catalog, make sure

Holiday Gift Guide you understand the retailer’s return policy. Because you’re buying an item that you can’t see or touch, and because it’s being transported, the product you buy online may not meet your expectations. Make sure you know if and how an online retailer handles returns and exchanges. • Keep your receipts. When you buy a product online, print out the receipt at the time you’re ordering the product. Save it and make sure to compare it to the receipt that comes with the product when it is delivered to your home or office to ensure that you received everything you ordered, and that you were correctly invoiced. • Coffee shops and airports. Many people like to head to their local coffee shop and peruse the Internet on the shop’s free Wi-Fi. What many may

Page 25 not realize is that person sitting next to you sipping a double latte may actually be a hacker attempting to capture your personal data. As tempting as it is, never shop while using a public WiFi network at the coffee shop or in the airport, and never leave your computer unattended, even for a quick trip to the bathroom.


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Find the perfect gift for that special someone — you ARA Content

The holiday season is a time to enjoy family and friends, but you probably have felt the stress that comes with preparing for guests, planning get-togethers and buying gifts. In all of that commotion, you tend to forget about some of the most important people in your life, including yourself. When making your holiday shopping list this year, why not reserve a little of the time, money and energy you put into gift-giving and add yourself to that list? Whether you have a passion for cooking, music or a little bit of everything, you deserve to spoil yourself this year. And you know that quality counts when buying gifts for others, so don’t skimp on your self-gifting. BON APPETIT

Many people enjoy creating and trying new recipes, but are hesitant to purchase high-end kitchen appliances. So this holiday season, treat your inner chef to a machine found in professional kitchens and restaurants, like a food processor or mixer. LISTEN UP

Music has greatly influenced people for centuries and it may affect you more than you realize. To create the

A nice meal or some personal time is a good way to recharge those batteries at holiday time.

best soundtrack for your life, consider a full digital sound system for your home. Digital systems provide lifelike sound whether the tunes are playing from a computer, iPod, CD or radio, and wireless packages give you total

control from any room you choose. As any music lover knows, a quality sound system can make all the difference when listening to your favorite song or movie See YOURSELF, Page 30


November 24, 2011

Technology gifts for the whole family ARA Content

Buying holiday gifts can be a fun and easy experience when you go to the right place, and there is a certain joy that you get when you see someone opening a gift they’ve been waiting for all year. No matter the age of the person you’re buying for, there is one kind of product that is perfect for everyone: technology. Whether it’s new headphones, a USB flash drive for See TECH, Page 30

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November 24, 2011

Find the perfect gift for grandma and grandpa ARA Content

With the holidays approaching, shoppers are making their lists and checking them twice. Undoubtedly, there are some blanks, as buying for grandparents often stymies children and grandchildren alike. Today’s grandparents are a unique bunch, with a number of traditional apple-pie bakers, knitters and chess players who are just as likely to be tech savvy or connected to their children and grandchildren on Facebook. In fact, according to a survey by Consumer Cellular, 67 percent of consumers 50 or older are on Facebook and desire a smartphone for easy Web access; 60 percent want to download financial apps, travel discounts and other offers. If the grandparents on your list enjoy the latest gadgets, consider these holiday gift ideas: • Share the memories: Pre-load a digital album with the best photos from the past year, including holidays, birthdays, celebrations, vacations and everyday moments. For grandparents who live out of town, such a gift bridges the distance and keeps children and grandchildren connected. • Stay in touch: Select a cell phone that grandparents can use to keep in touch

Consider ideas that bring grandparents closer to those they love most — family.

with loved ones, and consider paying for a plan for the first year. It doesn’t have to break the bank. Some providers offer nocontract plans for as little as $10 a month. For grandparents who are less technology oriented, think about these alternatives: • Plan a night out (or in): Pick up

vouchers to a movie, concert or other special event that grandparents can enjoy. Or, as kids’ schedules are packed these days, consider planning a family outing to ensure some quality time with grandparents. Homemade certificates for a classic See GRANDPARENTS, Page 29


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The cure for LCD TV viewing-angle issues ARA Content

Is this the year you buy a flat-screen TV? Prices have dropped dramatically on high-definition flat screens in the past few years, and with retailers still competing fiercely for your dollar, chances are you’ll be able to score a good deal before the holidays arrive. Before you buy, you should know a few basics about flat screens, including the different types (plasma and LCD), sizes, advantages, disadvantages and mounting options. Here is the 411 on flat screens. There are two types of flat screens: plasma and LCD. While you may see some models advertised as LED TVs, they are actually LCD models that use LED backlights. Both look similar, offering sleek, thin profiles and wide, crystal-clear screens capable of doing justice to a highdefinition signal or DVD. Before you buy, look for an online calculator that will help you decide what size is best for the space you have. Each type of flat screen has advantages and drawbacks. Plasma TVs offer a great picture from virtually anywhere in the room, but can generate a lot of heat and hence, consume a large amount of power. LCD TVs offer a larger variety of screen sizes and are better suited for viewing in bright rooms with a lot of reflection. However, viewing angle has been a concern for some LCD buyers who find that the picture degrades depending on where you’re sitting in relation to the screen. It may not be practical to arrange seating so

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movie marathon or a game night are an affordable way to enjoy each other’s company at home. • Dinner, on you: A special dinner is always appreciated. For grandparents, a gift certificate to one of their favorite restaurants is a good way to ensure a great meal without the hassle of cleaning up! • Create brag books: Use an online photo book site to create brag books for all of the grandparents. Make several copies of one version to save time, and you may even cross some aunts and uncles off your list, too. If grandma loves to brag, keep the album small enough for her pocketbook so that she’s always prepared. Any of these ideas — or your own special variations of them — are sure to bring smiles to grandparents at the holidays.

that everyone is viewing an LCD screen from straight-on. Movable wall mounts can be a better solution, offering you plenty of options for adjusting the viewing angle. Full-motion mounts allow you to extend, tilt and swivel a flat screen in all directions. You can find mounts that will support TVs that are 42 to 63 inches, that extend nearly 26 inches from the wall, or that allow the There are a lot of great deals on big-screen televisions this year. When giving one as a gift, also consider how the TV to sit virtually flush recipient can display it. against the wall. Many allow you to hide cables touch it, you can opt for a remote-conwithin the moving arm. trolled motorized mount. These mounts Tilting mounts allow a TV to tilt down make it easy to achieve the perfect viewing toward the floor, or up toward the ceilangle without leaving the comfort of your ing, similar to how you can adjust your sofa. desktop screen. They’re a great solution Movable wall mounts can help alleviate if you’re dealing with glare from lights one of the most common caveats of ownor windows, or if you would like to wall ing an LCD, putting these cost-effective mount your TV and watch it while lying flat screens well within reach of virtually down. If your TV is mounted out of easy reach, anyone who wants to add a knockout TV to their home decor this holiday season. or if you prefer to minimize the need to


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a stocking stuffer, or an e-reader, there is something for everyone. Digital lifestyle expert and TV personality Mario Armstrong suggests making the shopping experience easy by finding one place shoppers can turn to for all their technology-gift-shopping needs. Here are some of Mario’s must-have picks for this holiday season: • Tablets and e-readers: Smaller and more portable than a laptop, the tablet has become the ultimate tool for anyone who wants the functionality of a computer on the go. It can serve any purpose, whether you need an easy alternative for a business presentation, a great tool to play games or a movie-player to keep your kids busy when you’re traveling. Depending on what feature you’re looking for there is

Holiday Gift Guide a wide range of models and accessories to meet almost any price point. With another great portable device that is all the rage this year, e-readers, paper books are a thing of the past. Now, the best way to get into your favorite book is to download it, the new Kindle Fire has a 7-inch color touch screen that can download countless books in addition to movies and TV shows. • Stocking stuffers: There are some fun tech items that make great stocking stuffers. These days everyone has multiple flash drives in their life, but they don’t need to be those basic, boring black cubes. Now, drives come in fun shapes, colors and themes such as animals and even Looney Tunes characters. • Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be time-consuming; once you find the right place that has everything, you get the gifts that will make everyone in your family smile this holiday.

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soundtrack. If you’d like to spoil your ears this year, give yourself the gift of crisp, clear, lifelike music with a digital home system. NIGHTLY LUXURY

You pay attention to the quality of your clothes. You spent time searching for a quality car. But what about something else you use every day — your bed sheets? Ask anyone who has upgraded to luxury sheets and you’ll likely hear they only wish they had done so sooner. Sleep affects all other aspects of your life, so spending a little extra money on comfortable sheets can have a bigger impact than you might think. Treating yourself to high-threadcount bed linens this holiday season is more than a material present, it is also the gift of restful nights and more positive mornings. CAPTURE THE MOMENT

Vacations, birthdays, concerts ... the list of fun-filled moments you enjoy throughout the year goes on indefinitely. You are constantly making new memories with the people you love, but the pictures you save in your mind can fade over time, and photos taken with old disposable cameras don’t fare much better. Keep your special times as clear as ever with a high-quality digital camera. Choose a model with at least 12 megapixels, built-in stabilization technology and HD video recording to capture your personal moments with professional quality. Also, look for models that feature easy exporting and fun finishing effects so you can revisit those memories any time and any way you like. This year, don’t forget to show appreciation for yourself with the perfect gift. You’ve earned it.


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Gift Guide