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Hot Tech Gifts


Out with the Old


A Cutting Edge Christmas

Video Games for the Whole Family


Festive Food Gifts

Last Minute Shoppers Seek Perfection

* Pets as Gifts New Couple Gift Exchange Secret Santa is on the Way * * Thinking Inside the Box * Hot Toys this Christmas


Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011

PETS AS GIFTS Making a list and checking it twice Chelle Cordero,

What could be more fun than a frisky puppy or a new kitten under the tree for Christmas? Of course, if you weren't planning on adding a puppy or kitten to your household, or any other unplanned pet, you might just get a headache at the thought. Every year, shelters receive hundreds of unwanted "present pets" after the holidays. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals doesn't recommend that you give a pet as a gift, especially not as a surprise. Even when someone has expressed a desire for a puppy, kitten or other pet, it is a better idea to let the person connect with the animal and pick the companion. Many shelters offer gift certificates, which are a terrific alternative and can be given to someone when you know for a fact that he or she does want a pet. However, ask the following questions before investing in a gift certificate: 1) Has your friend or loved one expressed interest in adopting a companion animal? 2) Does this person, or any members of the household, have allergies to cats or dogs? 3) Is this person aware of the responsibility and care associated with being the guardian of an animal? Is he or she aware that both cats and dogs can live for more than 20 years? 4) Would you feel comfortable if this person gave you such a significant gift? 5) Is your friend ready to deal with the late-night crazies and other highenergy antics of a kitten or puppy? Would an older cat or dog be more appropriate? 6) Will he or she be bothered by having hair on everything – from clothes to toast? 7) Is he or she aware that cats need to scratch and dogs need to be house-

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broken? The cat will need appropriate surfaces such as scratching pads and posts. The dog will require a plan for housebreaking. 8) Do you know whether your friend's landlord allows pets? Will everyone in the household be happy to receive a new cat or dog? 9) Are there other pets in the home? Will the current pets welcome a new addition? 10) Does this person understand the financial responsibilities of caring for a cat or dog (cost of food, vet visits, medications, toys, etc.)? 11) Are there children in the household? How old are they? Consider that a rambunctious, teething kitten or puppy may not be a suitable pet for an infant or toddler. 12) Is the cat or dog a gift for a child? Getting a pet is not the way to teach a child responsibility, and the animal may be harmed if the child fails to take care of the new pet. Bringing a new pet home can be expensive, and you have to be sure the costs can be afforded. According to the ASPCA, the average first-year cost for a pet ranging from a fish to a large dog is $235 to $1,841. These costs include food, licenses, spaying and neutering, carry cases, vaccinations, training classes, grooming, toys, etc. Birds and fish are the least expensive; dogs, cats and rabbits are the most expensive. Another reason not to give a living creature as a gift along with all of the commotion of opening holiday gifts is the attention an animal, particularly a young puppy or kitten, would need. Any animal that is new to a household needs to know where the litter box or newspapers are, what surfaces are OK to jump onto, where the food bowl is. It takes time to introduce an animal into a household to avoid potential mishaps, accidental bites, nips or other injuries, and to bond with the human members of the family. If the gift is meant for a child, putting the pet in a "box" in a pile of presents sends the wrong message. A pet is a living creature that definitely deserves more care than a new inanimate toy. If a new action figure is put to the side while your child plays with a new video game, no harm is done – not so with a living, breathing being. Children can be taught to care for a pet, but they should never be solely responsible for a pet's care. This holiday season, give a gift certificate, and enjoy the quality time you spend together at the shelter picking out a pet.

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011


New Couple GIFT

EXCHANGE Personal – but not too personal – presents are a best bet this time of year Melissa Bobbitt, Finding the perfect holiday gift for that special someone in your life can be the headache that keeps on giving. Even couples who have been together for decades can falter under pressure. Though, at least that far into a relationship, each person likely has an understanding of what the other enjoys. But what about a new love that develops during these chilly months? What does one get the new suitor? Is a gift even appropriate? How much money is too much to spend on this not-yet-significant other? All good partnerships begin with open communication. The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center urges budding couples to discuss whether they even want to exchange presents, instead of assuming what the other is thinking. From there, the duo can set the parameters of price and emotional value (lighthearted, romantic, etc.). Most dating experts agree that the monetary value of the gifts at this early stage should not exceed $50. According to Relationship 411, "No one is saying you have to come off cheap, but if you spend too much money on your first gift it could cause feelings of guilt if your partner did not or could not spend the same. Expensive gifts are also suggestive of a more serious relationship, which could make your new love interest uncomfortable." Syndicated columnist Amy Alkon aka The Advice Goddess further stresses that new couples should stick to fun items that reflect each other's personalities. She recommends books as a surefire, inexpensive holiday hit – unless, of course, the recipient isn't much of a reader. It's OK to get a feel for a new partner's tastes in literature, TV shows and the like, but Alkon says to avoid listening too closely. Intimate, one-of-a-kind gifts may be heartfelt,

but they serve as red flags in a relationship's infancy. "(Don't) go on eBay for three weeks and try to find the rare thing that their mother lost when she was a child, which is just very desperate and bad," Alkon warns. However, because of the unstable economy, Alkon says that hitting up one's local thrift store for gifts isn't out of the question. Depending on the recipient's own income and interests, one might uncover secondhand gold. This can be especially true, she continues, for younger couples who delight in rummagesale treasures. One may be surprised to hear that seemingly innocuous, generic items that often appear at white elephant exchanges can also be troublesome for a fresh relationship. Bonny Albo, dating guru for, writes: "Items that are only practical in nature (such as a can opener), suggest a more serious relationship than what the two of you have forged." Albo instead counts magazine subscriptions, food items and card games as new-couple friendly for the holidays. One must be careful when giving edibles. Find out whether the recipient is on a specific diet and whether the recipient has any allergies. This will eliminate much of the worry. Whether it's a homemade sweet treat or the offer to take the other person to a restaurant of his or her choice, the way to a man's or woman's heart this season might be through his or her stomach. Whatever gift – or lack thereof – that a new couple might bestow upon each other, the experts tend to agree: It's the togetherness of the holidays that really makes a difference. "It's really best to have the gift be the gift of you," Alkon says.

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Christmas Gift Guide

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011


Last Minute

Procrastinators often seek perfection Some 23 million people hit the stores on Christmas Eve last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. For some, this last-minute gift shopping is a tradition, an annual ritual of braving the mall crowds to be swept up in the holiday frenzy. For many others, though, it's the stressful byproduct of a to-do list as long as Santa's and the desire for perfection. "Many people who procrastinate use it as a mechanism to cope with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision," says Dr. Soroya Bacchus, a board-certified psychiatrist. "What's curious is that procrastinating in response to anxiety actually creates more anxiety for that person in the long run." Last-minute shoppers may have a "good" reason to postpone that trip to the mall – waiting for the sales, looking for the perfect deal online or haven't decided on a gift yet – but their hesitation likely has more to do with insecurity and perfectionist tendencies. "They worry about whether or not the person they are shopping for will like the gift they buy or that the recipient will judge them based on how much money they spent," Bacchus says. "Others have feelings of intense anxiety related to getting everything done for the holidays: the cooking, the cleaning, the dealing with the in-laws. It can be a lot to handle all at once." That drive to create the perfect holiday experience translates into the perfect storm of anxiety and stress, Bacchus says. Is this the perfect gift? What if they get me a nicer, more expensive present? What if it goes on sale next week? And why start shopping when the decorating isn't done?

"Trying to make sure everything is just right will cause you to spend too much time on one item when you have 10 things on your plate, and to-dos like shopping can be pushed to the last minute," Bacchus says. Want to avoid the gift-list stress? Stop thinking, and start doing. Forget about getting it perfect. Just get it done. Follow these five steps to get a head start on your holiday shopping: 1) Make a list. Do a bit of brainstorming a few weeks before the shopping season starts. Make a list of those you wish to buy gifts for, and come up with two or three ideas for each person, ideas you can realistically afford. "Do this quickly; don't overthink it; and don't take a break until you have at least one idea for each person," says Toni Coleman, licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach. "Let yourself really go with this, writing down anything that occurs to you. Every gift does not have to have the same monetary value – and avoid even thinking that you 'should spend' a certain amount." 2) Break it down. Make your list more manageable by breaking it down into several shopping trips or Internet sessions. Vow to grab one gift each time you run errands, or start surfing for deals on Black Friday with a resolution to purchase one item online each day until you're done. The point is to set aside specific times to tackle that to-do list. "This helps to get it mapped out in a way that there are minimal trips to the store and time spent searching online or off," Coleman says. "Put the time you will dedicate to this task on your schedule like any important appointment or event." 3) Get moving. Give the gift list and schedule some thought – but

don't over-think it. Once you have a few ideas on paper, start taking action. Make a point to make one purchase that day. "A little bit of planning can help you reach your goals, but a lot of planning and thinking tends to have the opposite effect," Bacchus explains. "By simply taking action, you are guaranteed to find yourself further down your shopping list than if you had not." Plus, you'll have an instant feeling of accomplishment. Checking off one item on your list will likely feel so good that you'll want to do it again. 4) Stand firm. Once you've made a decision, don't secondguess yourself. "Many procrastinators find themselves struggling with gift ideas and end up shopping at the last minute because they can't decide on the best gift or keep changing their minds. Once you decide on something, get it," Bacchus says. "In the grand scheme of things,

Chandra Orr,

a gift is just a gift," she says. "It's a gesture of kindness. It is not the end-all of decisions, and chances are the recipient will appreciate the thought more than the actual gift itself." 5) Make it fun. Gift buying doesn't have to be a grueling ordeal. Schedule a shopping day with friends or family, and plan a nice lunch or dinner afterward. Having others relying on you to show up will eliminate any urges to postpone, and having something to look forward to will keep your mind off the hassle of long lines and decision-making, Coleman says. If you must shop alone, reward yourself with your favorite latte, an indulgent snack or a preChristmas stocking stuffer. "When you finish buying gifts for someone else, pick up a little something for yourself as a personal high-five for accomplishing your goals," Bacchus says. "It may sound selfish, but the prospect of personal gain always incites feelings of motivation."

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011

DIYGifts Clever and inexpensive, these stylish handmade gifts are sure to wow Chandra Orr,

When you think of homemade Christmas gifts, you might think of knit scarves or brownie mixes in Ball jars, but do-it-yourself gifts don't have to be dull. This year, mix it up with clever crafty projects that are sure to wow – such as an indulgent goat milk bath tea or a one-of-akind decoupage mirror that costs less than $5. –These projects don't require a Ph.D. in crafting, a pile of fancy tools or a lot of money. They can be completed in an afternoon, and most rely on cleverly repurposed items you can find for a steal at thrift shops, tag sales and discount retailers like your local dollar store. You might even have the supplies laying around your house


or hidden in storage. *FOUND OBJECT CHARMS –Create personalized charms for necklaces and bracelets from found objects and favorite mementos. With a little wire and a few jewelry findings, you can transform virtually any small, meaningful item into a one-of-a-kind charm or pendant. –How about a miniature pencil pendant for teacher? According to Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson, authors of "Celebrate Green! Creating EcoSavvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family," it's a simple project that makes a big statement. –Cut off the end of a standard pencil so you

have a piece measuring 2 to 3 inches from the eraser to the end. Re-sharpen the rough end, and secure an inexpensive clasp or bale to the eraser end with a bit of wire, and you have a thoughtful gift with a lot of style. It's so easy the kids can help. Have them hunt for interesting objects and take their turn at twisting the wire to secure the jewelry hardware to those one-of-a-kind charms. –A brief tutorial with more ideas – including rock pendants and bottle-cap charms – can be found at *MOD PODGE MIRROR –Transform a thrift shop mirror and maga-


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zine cutouts into a personalized "reflection" of the recipient. –"I create 'It's All About Me' homemade decoupage mirrors," says Ruthie Azarch, owner of Collagaparty, offering themed collage and decoupage craft parties. "It's a gift that costs less than $5 to make – and it promises to bring constant joy. They can't feel more loved and doted on." –You will need a framed mirror – small wall mirrors with wide frames work best – an assortment of paper cutouts from magazines or collage sheets, a paint brush and a jar of Mod Podge, available at craft supply stores. –Clean the mirror thoroughly, arrange the cutouts, and start gluing. Working in small sections, apply a layer of Mod Podge to the frame with the paintbrush, and apply the cutouts. Top with another layer of the adhesive. Let the collage dry overnight. Sign the back, and embellish with a bow for a truly unique gift that speaks volumes about the recipient. *GOAT MILK BATH TEA –Nothing beats a relaxing bath at the end of a long day, according to Anne-

DIY gifts don't have to be dull. With four simple ingredients and in four simple steps, you can create an indulgent goat milk bath tea, which makes a stylish gift that's sure to impress.

Marie Faiola, CEO and founder of Bramble Berry, a soap-making supply shop, and the face behind the blog "Soap Queen," which features how-to craft tutorials. –Her simple, fouringredient, four-step recipe transforms powdered goat milk, sea salt, cocoa butter and lavender into a decadent treat to nourish and moisturize skin. Packed in oversize tea bags, the fragrant bath tea makes the perfect stocking-stuffer. –Shave the cocoa butter using a vegetable peeler, and measure out the ingredients. Mix together, and pack the potent potion in large, heat-sealable tea bags, available at craft supply stores. –Visit for complete instructions and other easy DIY bath-related projects, such as melt-and-pour soap and bath fizzies. *GOURMET BOUQUET –"Create your own candy-filled flower arrangement that will really impress your friends and family,"

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011



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Christmas Gift Guide



Anica Wong,

Getting everyone involved is the name of the game By now, the kids are screaming that they want every toy featured in a TV commercial to magically appear under the Christmas tree. Between this new doll and that drum set that would be really, really loud, you don't know what to stuff their stockings with. You'd like something that is affordable but could be enjoyed for months to come and wouldn't end up in the toy chest, unused. –"Video games have gone wide, and everyone plays games now," says David Pava, the director of marketing at D3Publisher of America Inc. "It's assumed that families play games together." –D3Publisher is one of the biggest producers of video games for kids, and the hot new releases in the upcoming months are sure to fill your gift-giving needs. –For your rugrat tyke, "Ben 10: Galactic Racing" will allow him to jump into the world of "Ben 10," the popular series on Cartoon Network. Players get to choose different aliens to drive in various karts, allowing your kids to individualize their game experience. More than 20 racing tracks add to the fun. –If you have girls in your family, they probably are familiar with Nickelodeon's live-action comedy series "Victorious." D3Publisher gives your tween the ability to experience the school that the show's characters attend, in the game "Victorious: Hollywood Arts Debut." –"With 'Victorious,' the No. 1 thing is to bring that show to life," Pava says. "We want to put the audience in the same classroom (as the characters) and feel like what it was like to go through a high-school classroom with those stars." This game is built for the Nintendo

DS, which, according to Pava, is a strong game system for girls. If you're looking to purchase a hand-held system for your child, you may want to consider the new Nintendo 3DS. –"It offers a completely new way to play. It lets users experience 3-D games, take 3-D pictures and watch 3-D videos without the need for special glasses," says Cindy Gordon, the vice president of corporate affairs for Nintendo of America. Along with the release of the new 3DS system, several 3-D games are making their way to store shelves, including "Super Mario 3D Land," "Mario Kart 7," "Professor Layton and the Last Septor" and "Tetris: Axis." The 3-D version of "Tetris" literally adds another dimension to the game, and Gordon says that the 20 different modes deliver never-before-seen ways to play. –In addition to the newfangled 3-D options and popular titles, a big aspect to video games these days is the ability to have multiple people playing at once. "Several games provide online gaming experiences so you can play with friends near and far," Gordon says. –Being able to play "Ben 10: Galactic Racing" with multiple people, whether they be friends or family members, is especially important when it comes to the younger demographic. –"This is the game that is the 'vehicle' for delivering what kids want," Pava says, referencing that most kids want to be able to play video games with others. –The multi-player aspect of video games is even more important now, as families are trying to find inexpensive ways for everyone to stay entertained. Nintendo is

rolling out the Nintendo Selects series, which contains classic games at cheaper prices. For example, "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" and "Mario Super Sluggers" are being released at $19.99 instead of $49.99. There also will be Wii games added to the collection. –"The Wii is accessible to everyone – young and old – as it makes playing video games easy," Gordon says. So round up Grandma, the children down the street and anyone else you can think of to share in the fun of these classics. –With these video game recommendations, there is no need to pull your hair out when trying to decide what to wrap up for your kiddos this year. And maybe, just maybe, they'll let you play with them.

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011


OUTwith the OLD Tidy up the toy box before Santa's visit and make a difference

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Chandra Orr,

They beg for weeks and write letters to Santa, and when your kids finally unwrap that mound of toys under the tree, it's sure bliss. But once the high wears off, many of those must-haves drift to the bottom of the toy box, never to see the light of day again. Before Santa stops by this year, free up space for your children's new favorites by donating the gently used toys that no longer grab their attention. You'll teach kids the spirit of giving, brighten someone else's holidays and help keep the season green. According to, of the 40 million toys thrown away annually, 13 million are put into the trash, destined for the landfill. Forget recycling. Because toys are typically made from a mix of metals, plastics and electronic components, they are incredibly difficult to recycle and not typically accepted at recycling facilities, according to the site. To ensure that your donation makes the biggest impact, be creative and think beyond the usual options. Thrift shops run by nonprofits, such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army, readily accept donations of gently used goods, but they likely have a steady influx of toys around the holidays. Instead, consider sending your stash to smaller and possibly overlooked thrift shops that benefit local community groups. Many will even haul away your donations for free. To find charities in your area and to schedule a free pick up, visit Don't limit your sights to thrift shops. From your pediatrician's office to local police and fire departments, there are plenty of other groups that could benefit from your child's unwanted toys. Contact local churches, libraries, grade schools, day care centers, children's hospitals and foster care programs – or post an ad on the website of The Freecycle Network (, a green grassroots collective that acts as a digital curbside. Members list items they wish to part with, but with one catch: It must be free, and it must be local. A few more giving options: –Loving Hugs accepts donations of new and gently used stuffed animals to send to children in war zones, orphanages, refugee camps and hospitals around the world. The nonprofit also sends stuffed animals to areas affected by natural disasters such as the 2009

flood in Manila, Philippines, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Visit for a list of accepted stuffed animals and shipping instructions. –Stuffed Animals for Emergencies chapter members collect new and gently used stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to be redistributed to emergency organizations, children's services, hospitals, homeless shelters and other places that help children during times of crisis. For information on how to donate and a list of local chapters, visit –Second Chance Toys rescues unwanted plastic toys, which don't biodegrade in landfills and distributes them to children in need through local community organizations. The nonprofit collects toys twice a year – during Earth Week in April and during the holiday season. They only accept plastic toys that are clean and in working order. Visit for collection dates and locations. –In the current economy, shelters are in high demand and often strained to meet the basic needs of their clientele, let alone provide extras such as toys and stuffed animals. During the holidays, your child's hand-me-downs will find a welcome home at a single-parent shelter, women's shelter or temporary housing for at-risk teens. To find a shelter in your area, visit –Don't overlook your local animal shelter. Though not all children's toys are acceptable for dogs and cats, durable stuffed animals and basic plastic toys such as balls and Frisbees make great playthings for pets. Visit for a list of local rescue groups. Before donating, be sure to inspect toys thoroughly for signs of wear. Stuffed animals and other plush playthings should be clean and in good repair. As a courtesy, give them a quick run through the washing machine and dryer before sending them on to their new home. Those with lingering odors, stains, holes or loose stitching should not be donated. Plastic toys should be clean with no broken or loose parts that could pose a choking hazard. Be sure the batteries work in electronic toys, as organizations that accept donations may not have the funds for replacements.

Before you hit the stores to stock up on the season's must-have toys, clear out the kids' room clutter and donate those gently used playthings to groups that make a difference.

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011


Holiday sugary sweets that travel

DiAnne Crown,

Along with the winter holidays come hostess gifts, holiday presents for schoolteachers and longdistance care packages for friends and family. For these occasions and more, festive foods are just about perfect, but finding time to cook, bake and wrap is challenging during the busy holiday season. Two popular, family-owned food retailers specialize in holiday gifts that travel well and taste as good as they look when they arrive. Here's what's cooking this holiday season at The Swiss Colony and Pease's Candy. "Our goal is to make seasonal entertaining and gift giving a joy," says food marketer Becky Henke of The Swiss Colony. "Exclusive recipes developed by our European master bakers and hand-decorated novelties are some of the reasons customers include us as part of their holiday traditions year after year." The Swiss Colony offers a wide assortment of cheeses, pastries, sausage, candies and more, including several new delicacies from The Swiss Colony's bakery. Among this year's highlights are bonbon cake balls, penguin yule cake, peppermint candy bites, coconut macaroons, ancho chili cake balls, holiday mini cupcakes, Bavarian cream torte and bonbons, and chocolate snowflake cake. Three featured treats this year are charming ganache snowman truffles ($24.95 per box), breakfast petits fours, which are layers of tender cakes filled with flavorful butter creams and jellies ($17.95 per box), and gingerboy cakes, rich, spicy, frosted cakes perfect with a cup of warm cider ($19.95 per box). Each looks too pretty to eat, but all melt in your mouth, leaving you begging for more. Or, for the crowd who likes candy without frills, consider the mini butter toffees packaged in a decorative holiday tin ($19.95). Again this year, The Swiss Colony will donate 10,000 gingerbread houses to children staying in

children's hospitals across the United States. Send the special box of 72 petits fours to someone on your gift list and The Swiss Colony will send a gingerbread house to a child in your region at no extra cost. Visit or call 800-544-9036 for a complete catalog, including sugar-free items and order information. For more than 100 years, boxes of fresh, handmade Pease's candies and nuts have filled Christmas stockings, treated New Year's party guests, comforted homebound neighbors, thanked mail carriers and surprised friends and family across the miles. Customers return for both the candies and nuts as well as the tradition. To this day, says co-owner Rob Flesher, "Our candies are made like they were 100 years ago, using the same recipes and, in some cases, the same equipment. "Probably the most unique (product)," continues Flesher, "is the sweet salt coating we put on our nuts. We buy raw nuts, roast those and then add the coating near the end of the cooking process. It's unlike anything I've found anywhere else." One pound of deluxe mixed nuts (without peanuts) sells for $18.45 and features equal portions of cashews, almonds and pecans. The regular mix, with peanuts, sells for $17.45 per pound. Gift wrapping for nuts and all Pease's products is free. One of the most popular gifts for the holidays is the 2-pound candy-and-nut box, which includes 1 pound of mixed nuts and 1 pound of assorted chocolates for $35.40. "It has something for everyone," says Flesher. "It makes a good office present and is the best choice when you don't know what someone likes or you want to give a good variety." In addition, if you want a pound of one type of nut and a pound of one type of chocolate, the 2pound box is easy to customize. "That's one of the

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things I'm most proud of; customers can get exactly what they want. Whether you want one box or 100 boxes, they can be individually packed with your favorite pieces. You don't have to get a box of assorted chocolates just because that's what's already packed." A perennial Pease's favorite for the holidays, decorated Mint melt-a-ways are a hit for during the season. They are sold in tins and boxes, added to trays and sprinkled in assortments, but the best seller is the half-pound 15-piece box, which goes for $9.75. "They are incredibly popular. We will sell 1,500 boxes in the first three weeks of December," says Flesher, "and thousands of pounds before the holidays are over." One of Pease's newest and most popular items is the chocolate high-heel shoe, adorned with chocolate lace. It can be decorated for any special occasion and then filled with other candies. (If you're curious, says Flesher, it's a women's size 8 1/2.) For stocking stuffers, Pease's sells homemade double-stuffed Christmas Oreos and Lincoln logs, which are pretzel rods dipped in caramel and then dipped in chocolate (milk, white or dark). For a look at Pease's candies, nuts and sugar-free items, visit or call 8883Peases. Both The Swiss Colony and Pease's Candy take great care in packing boxes for shipping. Padded and double-boxed, fresh candies are shipped quickly in cold weather, but not shipped at all when there is a risk of melting. So be sure to treat yourself this holiday season when you order. Whether you open a beautiful foil box from The Swiss Colony or the familiar pink and brown Pease's gift box, you'll enjoy a treat, a tradition and a temptation to eat just one more ... or two.

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011



CHRISTMAS Say goodbye to the necktie or sweater and give these unique gifts instead

Vicky Katz Whitaker,

Partridge in a pear tree? Too bulky to ship. –Five golden rings? At today's prices? –Three French hens? Vegetarian. –Although finding notso-ho-ho-hum presents for those on your holiday shopping list can be a challenge, you can choose from plenty of options, from fun to fabulous, quaint to quirky. Here are a few to get you started:

––Sole food: A pair of handmade, plush fleece slippers that look like salmon (orange) and tuna (red) rolls will satisfy the sushi lover on your list. The machine-washable slippers – with extra batting and no-slip, waterresistant soles – are available in sizes extra-small through extra-large, from Uncommon Goods at $34. A toddler bootie version is $28.

A solution to easy home entertaining may rest with the Puzzle Party Platter

Rollors, a new outdoor game for individual players and teams.

––Day camp for budding fashionistas: A hands-on day camp for teens interested in fashion may be perfect for that style-conscious child or grandchild – provided you're ready and able to spend a few days in New York City next summer. FashionCampNYC, based at the LIM College campus in midtown Manhattan, gives teens an opportunity to learn about fashion merchandising, retailing, design and more from industry insiders. They'll also get to come up with their own brands and learn about fashion blogging. Enrollment is limited to 75 campers per session, with four five-day sessions offered for summer 2012 (July 16 through Aug. 10) at $1,295 per camper. For information, go to or call 866909-6911. ––Dazzling drinks: The lucky hostess who gets the Barmaid, a hand-held drink rimier, and the spices that go with it will be thinking of you every time she creates a professional-looking margarita, mojito, martini or piÒa colada. In fact, you might get an invitation to the next party! This $30 bar tool dispenses cocktail spices to the rim of the glass at the press of a button. Additional spices

The Face Mug, with space for cookies or a doughnut

sweet mint; chocolate raspberry sugar; tangy lime: spicy chili: Hawaiian black lava salt; and gourmet gingerbread – are about $10. Available from or at select retailers. ––Puzzle Party Platter: Totally Bamboo's Puzzle Party Platter makes another great entertainment-oriented gift. Designed in the shape of a puzzle piece, it has an elongated handle on one end and an open notch on the opposite end that holds any size wine glass, allowing a guest to wander around the room with drink and snack in hand. When connected together, the Puzzle Platter becomes a handsome buffet piece. A set of two Puzzle Party Platters sells for about $15. –– Mug and more: There's nothing common about the Face Mug, an exclusive with Uncommon Goods. In addition to its distinctive face, it has a cubby for cookies or a doughnut – perfect for anyone who likes to keep his or her munchies close at hand. The $18 ceramic mug is oven-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe. –– Hanger Hamper: Neatniks and recyclers will love it – and so will the dry cleaner. This triangleshaped, collapsible hanger-storage unit with a handle stacks and stores up to 100 hangers. In addition to keeping the closet organized, the Hanger Hamper makes it easy to carry and return collected hangers to the dry cleaner. Available in eco-green, khaki, leopard and plaid, the

Hanger Hamper sells for less than $10. It's available online from or at selected retailers, including The Container Store, and various catalog sites. –– Hot seat: For the outdoorsman or cold-weather sports fan on your gift list, there's the Chaheati All-Season collapsible canvas chair. Laced with cordless-fiber non-wire heating elements to keep its occupant snuggly on the chilliest days, the chair can be set to four temperatures (98 to 145) and heats up in less than 20 seconds. A high-efficiency lithium-ion rechargeable battery provides up to six hours of heat per charge. Its oversize seat accommodates any body type up to 280 pounds. The chair retails for about $90 and can be ordered from . –– On a roll: Rollors is a new outdoor game, in which players roll

oversize-hockey-puck-like hardwood discs toward a color-coded goal 25 feet away. Points are awarded to the player or team that positions the discs closest to the goal. Housed in its own carrying case, Rollors runs about $26 and is available at major retailers, or you can get it online at

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Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011


GIFTS Cool gadgets this holiday season Ginny Frizzi,

Even the humble pen has gone electronic. Livescribe manufactures "smartpens" that record audio and match it up with what is being written. The Livescribe Pulse records notes two ways. It creates digital copies of everything written by hand while recording audio. The Pulse also links the two together. The user can access audio quickly by tapping parts of his or her notes. All of this is uploaded to the user's computer, where Livescribe software archives and makes the notes fully searchable. Other features include a calculator, a translator and a paper piano that plays a mini-piano drawn on paper. For a student or professional whose pen needs aren't that complex, Livescribe's Echo (about $100) records everything the user writes and says. The written and audio notes can be

Regardless of age and interests, most people have at least one electronic gift on their holiday wish list. Manufacturers are up to the challenge, with a variety of gift possibilities for you to consider. Not surprisingly, many involve music. An Orb music player is an affordable way to enjoy music – whether it be from an Internet radio station or service, iTunes or another source – on any stereo. The player is controlled by a smartphone and plugs into a home stereo. It retails for $79. Aspiring musicians no longer have to settle for playing air guitar, thanks to the Fretlight guitar. It teaches how to play through video guitar lessons that drive a series of lights embedded in the instrument's neck. Ranging in price from $499 to $799, the Fretlight guitar comes in various models and colors, including red and blue.

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uploaded directly to a personal computer for saving and searching or to online destinations, including email, Facebook and Google documents. Need a gift idea for the techie who has everything? Then consider Ravi Ratan's USB flash drive cuff links, each of which contains 2 gigabytes of functional storage. Most can be engraved and cost between $195 and $225. Those looking for a small but impressive electronic gift should look into RadioShack's Looxcie, the first wearable camcorder that records everything the user sees. Looxcie, which sells for $199, is optimized for mobile use. The device fits comfortably over the ear and points where the user looks. Looxcie continuously records video as the user experiences it, and clips can be shared instantly via email, text, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. RadioShack's Pocket Copter ($34.99) is small but fun. It has been recognized as the smallest remote control helicopter in the world by Guinness World Records. Three-D glasses are the perfect Christmas gift for someone who likes to spend time in another dimension. Ingri:Dahl's line of 3-D glasses is affordable ($29.95) and useful, and it includes clip-ons for those who

already wear glasses. The glasses can be used both in movie theaters and for 3-D television watching. Earbuds that get tangled can be annoying. Eliminate this problem with the gift of Zipbuds, tangle-resistant earbuds that come in a variety of colors. Zipbuds are compatible with iPhones, iPods and most other media devices. Packages start at $39.99 and include Zipbuds earphones, three custom-fitted ear tip sizes and two sport ear clips. Another possible gift for the iPhone user on your list is Iomega's SuperHero. It sells for less than $60 and backs up the phone's contacts and photos every time it charges. Even some traditional Christmas gifts are being made in electric versions. One is Remington's Touch Control beard and stubble trimmer. It is the world's first grooming tool with a touch-screen interface, aimed at tech-savvy travelers with its USB charging capabilities. It retails for about $50. If your gift budget is really tight, check into Applecore's apple-shaped cable managers, which keep cords untangled. They sell for less than $5 and are available in a variety of colors. The techie on your list will be plugged in and ready to go.

Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011




Start a new budget-friendly tradition Sharon Naylor, In these challenging financial times, the idea of a long holiday shopping gift list can be overwhelming. That's why many groups of gift givers are choosing to enact a "secret Santa" plan, in which each person chooses the name of one recipient and buys only for that person. Everyone buys one gift; everyone gets one gift; everyone's happy; and the spirit of Christmas giving soars without scorching credit card bills. *WHO'S PLANNING 'SECRET SANTA' GIFT GIVING? The first and most obvious group is the large family, one with many branches to the family tree. With three or four generations gathered together to celebrate, the gift list might have included presents for dozens of people. Now more families are putting an end to "get something for everyone," still buying individual gifts for the kids but creating a "secret Santa" arrangement for each of the adults to buy a present for just the one chosen recipient. "We were all vastly relieved when my mother suggested this plan," says Alan Larkin of his 40-plus-member extended family. "Not only is it a big savings to everyone's budget but also the presentopening session didn't last four endless hours, and we each got a quality gift we

could really use." Other groups choosing "secret Santa" plans this year: large circles of friends who have long had a tradition of sending one another gifts, colleagues in big companies who now find it wonderful to buy for just one co-worker, and roommates on tight budgets for whom buying for many people is a stretch, including people in sorority houses, retirement homes, etc. "I am not as close to some of my housemates and always found it hard to buy for them with my limited funds," says retirement community resident Ellie Montgomery. "So when we were told that we'd do a 'secret Santa' this year, it made Christmas shopping fun again." *HOW TO ESTABLISH A 'SECRET SANTA' PLAN All it takes is one person in authority, such as the family matriarch or the boss, to agree to your suggested idea, and you can help that leader draft an official email to everyone in the family or group. For example, "This year, we've decided to try something different! With our 'secret Santa' gift-giving arrangement, a secret drawing will pair each of us with the name of one other person, and you then buy only for that person. Everyone buys and receives a meaningful gift," and so goes the "how this will work" portion of

the letter. Be sure to request confirmation that everyone has received the news of this new gifting plan. Complete agreement and participation is what makes this plan work well. Seeing as this is a change to the group's tradition, expect to be asked questions about how this plan will work. Share the method: –Print a list of all family/group members' names on a master list, making sure to include any significant others expected to attend the holiday dinner. –Print a second copy of this master list, and cut out each person's name on a little slip of paper. Then place each slip of paper into a hat or bowl. –Next, you or a volunteer draws names one at a time and writes them down next to the names on the master list, recording who is buying for whom. –If you pull the same name for giver and receiver, just drop that slip back into the hat and try again. –In the end, you have a completed master list of "secret Santa" buyers and receivers. And you keep that list secret from all. –As soon as possible, contact each person on your list via phone or in person – or through text or email, if necessary – to let people know whom they will be buying for. Everyone then chooses a gift specifically for the person whose name he received, and in the notification letter, everyone is told to spend only up to a set dollar amount that the family/group has agreed to. It could be $25; it could be $40.

It's whatever your group decides when you put it to a vote. "We discussed this plan during Thanksgiving dinner," Montgomery says. "And we let democracy rule; $20 it was." *NEW TWISTS ON 'SECRET SANTAS' Add an extra dash of fun to your "secret Santa" arrangement by leaving little notes for your recipient during the weeks leading up to Christmas. "We wanted to make it fun, so everyone was getting notes with hints about who their 'secret Santa' is or what their gift is. Some people left their recipients little cups of chocolates or something from the dollar store a few days before Christmas, all building up to the big reveal," Larkin says. The gift-opening session is then magical for the kids and even more smileinducing for the adults when they discover who their "secret Santa" is. Everyone revels in the spirit of giving in a different way, and many groups agree to make the "secret Santa" plan a new annual tradition.

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Christmas Gift Guide

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Inexpensive toys will entertain kids this Christmas Diane Schlindwein,

Unlike the years when parents stood in long lines to grab up the almost-unobtainable Tickle Me Elmo or a tiny Zhu Zhu Pet, so far toy experts aren't predicting any one toy to take the 2011 Christmas selling season by storm. In fact, Christopher Byrne, known throughout the country as The Toy Guy, says in the third sales quarter, manufacturers were still "waiting for some indication about where the season is going to go." "Fortunately, we talk to kids, as well as retailers and manufacturers, and we see several things that are going to be really great and on trend," says Byrne, who is director of content for "One of the benefits of prices being down is that the 'price of entry' for a hot toy is comparatively low versus previous years. That means a lot more kids will be able to be involved in what's hot, for things like $14.99 dolls and $11.99 cards sets (such as Redakai by Spin Master)." For parents who are willing to spend a little more for a gift that is both fun and educational, Byrne recommends LeadPad Explorer by LeapFrog ($99). "It is an educational toy that looks like an iPad," he says. "Very cool!" Pre-schoolers won't be disappointed if Santa drops by with two fun new Fisher-Price toys, says Brenda Andolina, director of public relations and brand marketing for Fisher-Price. The Little People Zoo Talkers Animal Sounds Zoo ($39.99) is a fun Fisher-Price "learn while you play" toy. The interactive play set features animal recognition technology that brings animals to life. "Play with animals continues to be a top-ranked play pattern for kids, and the Zoo Talkers adds so much more context to animal play that really sets it apart from competitors," Andolina says. Little photographers will love the Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera ($69.99) that was introduced at Toy Fair 2011. "This camera offers a new dimension in the digital camera market that makes it easy to get a picture of yourself, among other things," she says, explaining it's

a kid-proof digital camera/video recorder that's designed especially for little hands. With its rubberized sides and wrist straps, it's easy to grip but will keep working even when it is dropped again and again. Plus, it comes in different colors for boys and girls. Older girls that want to be camera-ready will be enthralled with Mattel's Barbie Designable Hair Extensions ($31.99), Byrne says. "It's hair play meets high tech." Speaking of Barbie, she's as popular as ever, says Bret Ingraham, a public relations representative for Mattel Brands. The traditional and collectible Holiday Barbie retails at $39.99 and wears a floor-length gown with a golden lame underskirt, embroidery and sparking jewel accents. Also new is Barbie I Can Be ... Architect doll ($13.99). Girls ages 6 and up will be asking for Radica Figit Friends Interactive Toy ($49.99), predicts Ingraham. Mattel is calling them "every girl's best friend this holiday season." Figit Friends can talk and laugh, and are made of tactile skin that enables lifelike movements. Oh, and they can dance, too! Older girls might prefer a different kind of doll that just happens to make both Mattel's and Byrne's "top" list. "The Monster High Dead Tired line are great ghoulish dolls that are appealing to older girls," Byrne says. Another selling point – they retail for just $11.99 each. Boys who love the excitement of World Wrestling Entertainment will be thrilled with the new WWE Flexforce Colossal Crashdown Arena Playset, says Ingraham. The $39.99 arena will really come to life when kids use it with the Mattel Flexforce Figures ($12.99). But hey, who says Christmas is just for kids? Byrne believes the holidays are a great time to buy a gift that the whole family can enjoy. In 2011, he's recommending the Logo Board Game by Spin Master ($24.99). "It's a new family game that celebrates advertising," he says. "It's really fun."

Christmas Gift Guide

November 20, 2011





How to pick a gift box that's a present in itself Sharon Naylor,

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When you pick out the perfect gift for those on your Christmas list, package that item in a pretty gift box that they'll want to keep and use again. We're not talking the thin, cardboard gift boxes you see in some card stores; we're talking sturdier, keepsake boxes that are meant to last, holding treasures such as love notes, engagement cards and other precious items. A good gift box isn't just two times the present. It's also smart for the environment. "Always consider the waste that you may be creating when you buy and wrap a gift," says Sophie Uliano, author of "Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life." "It's amazing to realize that half of what ends up in the landfill is paper, most of which is packaging and (paper). Landfills have been closed all over the place because they are chock-full." Even with the advent of wrapping paper made of repurposed and recyclable materials, it still takes time for the paper to decompose. An alternative is a gift box that is never discarded. Here are some of the top gift-box options to consider: –Card keepsake boxes: A cottage industry has recently emerged around decorative boxes created by theme and fashionable design. Originally marketed as a more ornate way to present wedding greetings, these boxes make the perfect keepsake containers. At Michaels Stores, you'll find a sizable black-andwhite damask card box with an attached 4-by-6-inch photo frame that sits atop the box on display and can fold down. Owner Marni Gold says that the hot colors for her two- to three-tiered card boxes, which suit holiday gifting but are very displayable all year long, are silver, gold, metallic purple and especially Tiffany blue, her top seller. –Hat boxes: All things 1960s, retro and heirloom are in style right now, and Victorian or modern-style hat boxes have emerged as a top display item. They also work as storage pieces for hats, wigs and love letters or special greeting cards. "I visit antique shops and vintage stores to find hat boxes, often getting them for less than $5, and I use those as my

gift packaging or as the gifts themselves," says budget shopper Katie McCardle. –Photo keepsake boxes: Storage is very important for homeowners, and many are buying leather or decorative keepsake boxes with a slot on top for displaying a photo. Find these at budget-friendly stores, such as Target. –Jewelry boxes: Although some are crafted with mahogany and can get pricey, you'll find affordable, colorful, fabric-covered jewelry boxes at Pier 1 Imports for $19.95. The best part? These soft-textured boxes are gifts in themselves. –Multimedia boxes: Many organization shops, such as The Container Store, offer colorful storage boxes made for storing CDs, Blu-ray Discs and other media. In bright candy colors or neutrals, these boxes provide your gift recipient with secondary use of a well-chosen storage box after the enclosed gift has been revealed. –Natural canvas boxes: Be ecofriendly for the holidays. Lidded boxes made of organic canvas materials are available in neutral tones of tan or brown, and they double as multi-use storage bins suitable for anyone on your gift shopping list, male or female. Find these at home decor stores, for example Bed Bath & Beyond, for $17.99 to $19.99. –Wicker boxes: The natural look is in, and many recipients will take a lidded wicker box and add it to their bathroom decor as a place to store magazines or extra toilet paper. A wicker box can also hold crafting items, catalogs or any number of sundries that require attractive storage in the home. Because wicker is neutrally colored – most often Earth tones – it's a style that's sure to work in some area of the recipient's home. –Heirloom boxes: One of the best ways to give a keepsake box that's friendly to the environment is to hand down something that has been in the family for generations. When you give a grandmother's treasured hat box to your daughter, for instance, it's a sentimental gift. When you fill it with your favorite mementos from your daughter's childhood, the sentimentality increases exponentially. And in this financial era, nothing could be more pleasing to you than not having to pay for such a priceless present.


November 20, 2011

Christmas Gift Guide

2011 Christmas Gift Guide  
2011 Christmas Gift Guide  

Local guide for Christmas gift giving.