Welcome to our annual Holiday Gift Guide. This year, in keeping with the trends, we searched out some “green” gifts. If you're the sort of person who enjoys exchanging tangible tokens of affection but dies a little inside every time you catch yourself participating in the tradition of American mass-consumerism, you're probably looking for ways to balance your holiday spirit with your guilty conscience. Happily, there are a lot of different ways to “green” up your gift selection—the first being to make a conscious effort not to gift useless crap that'll just end up lurking in the back of someone's closet or festering in a landfill by this time next year. If you wanna be really hardcore, give gift certificates for enjoyable, enriching experiences instead of more stuff (think spa treatments, nice dinners or guitar lessons). But you needn't feel too bad for wanting to give people actual things; the following are our suggestions for practical, useful gifts that we think still make the world a better place (at least for your recipient).
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If your wife/girlfriend/best friend is a fan of Orla Kiely's line of handbags and wallets, then you've probably heard her lament the fact that there aren't any shops that sell Orla in San Diego. Adorable Seattle boutique Ped sells Orla, though, and at prices under what you'd pay if you bought directly from London-based www.orlakiely.com. Bags and wallets in the cute-yet-understated “Cups” print (shown here) are made from virtually indestructible laminated canvas and come in the mellow shades of “lichen,” orange and gray. Wallets will set you back $88, but a well-constructed wallet is worth as much as what goes in it. www.pedshoes.com.
Rick Bayless is a renowned Mexican-food chef—and a renowned Mexican-food chef clearly knows how important it is to make a good guacamole. It's all in the mashing—if the guac's too chunky, the weight of the avocado bits will snap your chip in half. Bayless' avocado masher, which comes in a nice avocado green, is silicone (for grip-ability) and also dishwasher safe. $12.95 at Sur La Table. www.surlatable.com.
Know someone who's been scarred by traditional Christmas Muzak? The result: no charming holiday tunes to play during cookie baking and tree decorating. What about something like Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas? Or Christmas with the Rat Pack? There's Verve Records' Very Best of Christmas Jazz and can anyone not appreciate A Charlie Brown Christmas? If you can find it, the rum in the eggnog is Esquivel's Merry X-Mas from the Space-Age Bachelor Pad.
For the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy in all of us, behold the Book Box. Handcrafted from used books on a family farm on Vancouver Island in Canada, the hollowed-out books are the perfect spots in which to hide important documents or anything else your recipient might want to keep out of sight. Or, use the book to fake out someone who's expecting an item you can cleverly place inside, like an iPod or jewelry. Not just limited to ancient classic tomes, the books come in a wide variety of titles—from Harry Potter to The Joy of Sex—and range from $20 to around $50. www.secretstoragebooks.com.
The Aerogrow Indoor Kitchen Garden is a gift that keeps on giving—literally. Perfect for apartment dwellers who lack space and light to grow a traditional herb garden, the thing's the size of a breadbox and uses about the same amount of energy as one incandescent light bulb. There's no dirt or sunlight involved, but it seems pretty failsafe—the fluorescent bulbs run on a timer, so all you have to do is add water and nutrient pellets to the “aeroponic” root chamber every week or so, sit back and wait for the edible plants to flourish. A mere $150 gets you the whole deal, complete with light bulbs and seed kits. Additional kits are $20, all at www.cleanairgardening.com/aerogrow.
If you can't afford to buy the Aerogrow (see above), what about Potting Shed Creations Garden in a Bag? At $9 apiece, they're a little more expensive than an actual plant, but there's definitely the cute/kitsch factor to take into account. Choose from basil, lavender, parsley, feathery dill, oregano or chives. Available at the environment-friendly www.branchhome.com.
If you're close to anyone who suffers from back pain—doesn't narrow it down too much, does it?—you know how distracting and uncomfortable it can be. While a lot of fancy, high-powered self-massage tools exist on the market, the Original Backnobber II is simpler and better than most of them. The physics of the S-shaped tool provides easy leverage, allowing a person complete control over how much steady, deep pressure to apply. Plus, it doesn't involve any batteries, cords or noise—advancement in simplicity. $28.95 at www.activeforever.com.
Know someone who's received a few too many parking tickets for overstaying his/her welcome at the ol' parking meter? The city of San Diego sells pre-paid parking meter cards (in $10 and $45 denominations) at its Division of Parking Management offices (1255 Fifth Ave., Downtown) and several other locations (see www.sandiego.gov/parkingmanagement). The best thing about the cards is this: If you get back to your car and there's still time left on the meter, you can get that amount refunded.
Women have a lot to do in the time between getting out of the shower and getting dressed—they've got creams and lotions to apply, hair to pluck and style and makeup to put on, and then there's the whole what-to-wear fiasco. Heavy robes can be cumbersome; and tucking a towel around one's chest is rarely a workable solution. That's why the perfect thing for her to wear post-shower is a spa wrap. Roughly the size, weight and feel of a bath towel, it stays in place with Velcro or snaps. Victoria's Secret's spa wrap ($26.95) comes in three different colors: www.victoriassecret.com. The wrap from Internationalrobes.com ($29.95) comes in six different colors, can be monogrammed, has a pocket and comes in a guy's version.
Rachel O'Rourke, the woman behind Lucky Loo Loo jewelry, takes her inspiration from vintage designs—sometimes literally, by incorporating old jewelry in new pieces. O'Rourke has a penchant for ravens, sparrows and carved resin, and her series of pendants, earrings and rings based on those themes are quite stunning. Items range from $25 up to $120 and can be found at www.luckylooloo.com. They are also sold locally at Synergy Salon, 4318 Voltaire St. in Ocean Beach, 619-222-0129.
Few things are cuter than a little kid in a hat. Daylee Designs animal hats are crocheted from a soft chenille and will keep delicate noggins warm and well-dressed. For boys, choices include an owl, bear or puppy. The girls' version of the owl comes with a little flower behind her ear, or there's a yellow chick or white lamb. Buy a hat online from the San Diego Hat Company (www.sandiegohat.com) or in-store at Kids & Co. at the Hotel del Coronado, Hillside Artisans (827 West Washington St., Mission Hills) or Leaping Lotus in Solana Beach (240 S. Cedros Ave.).
Tea and/or coffee are daily necessities for most people, but instead of buying your favorite caffeine junkie a gift card for that obnoxious, waste-producing coffee stop, consider gifting them a French press or a cast-iron teapot. French presses are easy to use, easy to clean and don't require coffee filters. Cast iron teapots are beautiful in and of themselves, come in a range of sizes, keep tea hot and bring its flavor to life. Presses, pots and a bewildering assortment of loose teas are all available at Pannikin Coffee and Tea, 675 G St., Downtown, 619-239-7891.
Magazine subscriptions make great presents—they're inexpensive and your recipient will receive your gift throughout the year (and can recycle when they're done reading). Paras News (3911 30th St. in North Park) has a giant selection to peruse, but here are a few ideas to get you going: Aspiring writers will find no shortage of inspiration while trying to keep up with the The New Yorker (www.new yorker.com, $47 for 47 issues) or Harper's (www.harpers.com, $17 for 12 issues). If there's a young lady on your list, forget about all that Teen/Cosmo schlock and check out Bitch for “a feminist response to pop culture” (www.bitchmagazine.com, $15 for four issues) or Bust, “for women with something to get off their chests” (www.bust.com, $20 for six issues). Your ultra-progressive political friends will enjoy fueling their fire with Mother Jones (www.motherjones.com, $10 for six issues) or the Utne Reader, dubbed the thinking person's Reader's Digest (www.utne.com, $15 for six issues). Mental Floss is perfect for the guy who likes to spout off random facts at dinner parties (www.men talfloss.com, $22 for six issues). Domino is like Martha Stewart Living for the younger, hipper set (www.domino mag.com, $10 for 10 issues), and Tokion is perfect for the globally minded pop-culture fan (www.tokion.com, $25 for six issues). Arthur magazine boasts regular contributors like Thurston Moore and periodically releases pretty mind-blowing compilation CDs (www.arthurmag.com, $30 for six issues and your choice of CD).
Everyone's got a cell phone, most people have some kind of MP3 player or digi-cam and few people are without a laptop. So ask yourself, what are your electronic-media-carrying loved ones lugging their stuff around in? And, more important, can it charge all their goodies for free? If not, consider giving them a solar bag. EarthtechProducts.com has a nice selection of washable messenger bags, backpacks, bike bags, camera bags and totes that all have removable solar panels made from recycled soda bottles, and they look pretty cool to boot. They're not cheap—$115 to $260—but for that price, your pal never has to worry about a dead battery and there's the cool factor that comes from being on the cutting edge of the solar-panel-toting trend.
The best gifts are the ones you can open and use that day—especially the gifts that give everyone something to do between present-opening activities in the morning and the slow-moving hours leading up to dinner. Baggo is the answer to Christmas afternoon boredom. The outdoor game involves the seemingly simple act of trying to throw a beanbag into a hole but has managed to spawn its own lingo, fan club and tournaments. You can even have the game boards custom-designed just for your recipient. Check it out at www.baggo.com. $90.
It's called the Mini Vegetable Chopper, but its usefulness comes from the way it handles one very necessary ingredient—garlic. If your favorite cook suffers from “garlic fingers” (the lingering, nothing-gets-it-off smell that comes from chopping garlic), this handy tool produces neatly diced garlic with minimal effort. Just lay the clove atop the stainless-steel grid and push down. A plastic tray catches the bits. It's so handy, you'll buy one for yourself. $18 at Williams-Sonoma. www.williamssonoma.com.
For someone who's got cassette tapes of, say, every Duran Duran album, won't throw out the tapes, but can't justify the expense of replacing them with CDs, the Ion USB Cassette Deck ($150)—which is both Mac and PC compatible—allows the user to import his or her favorite cassette tapes directly into iTunes. It's even got two cassette decks for old-school dubbing (ah—those were the days!). If you're lucky, maybe your giftee will reward you with an extra-special D2 mix tape. www.thinkgeek.com.
San Francisco recently passed a law that forbids plastic shopping bags at supermarkets and chain pharmacies. San Diego's not likely to follow, but grocery stores like Henry's give you a five-cent-per-bag credit when you supply your own canvas tote or the like. Find a variety of reusable grocery bags for your eco-minded pals at www.reusablebags.com, like the EarthTote ($14.95) made from recycled plastic containers. Or, call up a place like the San Diego Bag & Supply Co. (www.sdbag.com) and custom-design your own series of canvas totes for everyone on your list.
Switchrings take you back to the days when Cracker Jack prizes were worth keeping, à la Breakfast at Tiffany's. For around $10 (www.switchring.com), you get two plastic “outer” bands and two interchangeable wedges. Snap the wedge into the band for four different mix-and-match combos. Wedges come in 18 different “themes” (like pets, flowers and one called “danger”). Pick the theme that best suits your giftee and, as the website puts it, “fate alone will determine what colours and prints you get.” It's the perfect stocking stuffer for your 9-year-old niece or your hipster girlfriend—after all, plastic is the new platinum.
Skip the mall
Get your shopping done at these local events
Toxic toy scares keeping you away from chain stores? Check out the Trunk Show of Toys, put on by the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park on Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days). Proceeds from the sale go to building toys for local charities. Keeping with the wood theme, on Sunday, Dec. 2, Cut & Dried Hardwood (241 South Cedros Ave., Solana Beach) will sell wares made by more than 50 woodworkers. www.cutanddriedhardwood.com.On Saturday, Dec. 1, from noon to 4 p.m., the Red CalacArts Collective hosts its second annual holiday art bazaar with original art, jewelry, books and coffee for sale (502 Rose Drive in National City, www.calacapress.com). With its dozens of vendors selling clothing, accessories and other hip “lifestyle” gear, Thread is back at Balboa Park's Aerospace Museum on Sunday, Dec. 2, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door, but RSVP at www.threadshow.com to get in for $7.Enjoy music, drinks and the chance to tell “Bad” Santa all your deepest wishes at the North Park Craft Mafia's Holiday Hit List craft fair. It happens at Bar Pink Elephant (3829 30th St.) on Saturday, Dec. 8, from noon to 6 p.m., www.sandiegonorthparkcraftmafia.com. And Mary Lou's Vintage Couture hosts a Vintage Trunk Show at Magpie Gallery & Boutique, 2205 Fern St. in South Park. Enjoy holiday refreshments while you browse top-quality vintage fashions and accessories—plus, get 15 percent off regular store items. It happens Thursday, Dec. 13, from 6 to 10 p.m. www.marylousvintage.com.
Read. Watch. Listen.
Book, DVD and CD gift ideas
Know someone who's struggling to pay the mortgage but wants to spiff up their place? The new book DIY to the Rescue (based on the TV show of the same name) explains how to do everything from building a headboard to installing carpet. On the decorating tip, “anti-designer” Lisa Quinn practices what she preaches in $500 Room Makeovers—she used a lot of the same techniques described in the book to decorate her Northern California home.
Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine The creator of the popular comic-book series Optic Nerve adds another excellent entry to the graphic-novel genre. Tomine's protagonist, Ben, struggles with being Asian-American and generally dissatisfied with life. The book received high praise from New York Times Book Review patriarch Charles McGrath.Twenty Grand and Other Tales of Love and Money by Rebecca CurtisIn her debut short-story collection, Curtis—one of today's more respected young American authors—writes in that simple, straightforward way that's easy to follow and easier to fall into. The Red Cat CookbookNew York City is dotted with charming neighborhood restaurants and one of the most popular is Chelsea's Red Cat. The Red Cat Cookbook includes 125 recipes from the famous eatery known for its twist on Italian food. Recipes include things like the restaurant's signature zucchini sauté to slightly more complicated creations like a peach and pancetta risotto.Sesame Street: Old School, Vols. 1 (1969-1974) and 2 (1974-1979)This isn't your kid's Sesame Street—because it's your Sesame Street. The times, they've a'changed. In fact, each set contains a disclaimer: “These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child.” Yup, these are the good ol' days, when Cookie Monster smoked a pipe (before eating it), when only Big Bird could carry on his special relationship with Snuffleupagus, and before that little bitch Elmo was born. Relive your youth, but after the kids are in bed.
Berlin Alexanderplatz (Criterion)There's no better gift to give your film-buff buddy than Criterion's massive take on Ranier Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Fassbinder was a freakishly prolific director who made more than 35 films before dying at age 38 in 1982. The poster-child for New German Cinema, Fassbinder's magnum opus was the 15-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, taken from the 1929 modernist novel. Originally produced for German television, this is a serious tower in the history of filmmaking, depicting the immense struggle of the average Joe in an uncommonly cruel world. The collection contains seven DVDs, a new hi-def transfer and scads of supplemental material. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Complete Series (Warner Home Video)After the success of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin put together a sharp little program about all the behind-the-scenes action at a weekly sketch-comedy show. No, it wasn't called 30 Rock. That's the other show with the same premise that doomed Studio 60 to a single season. But the series was smart and clever and cluttered with Sorkin's trademark dialog, as Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford struggled to put on the show week after week, dealing with obstinate stars and flagging ratings. There's certainly something ironic about a TV show about a show that's in danger of being canceled actually being canceled, but even though Studio 60 qualifies as a one-season wonder, it was really more of a prime-time-not-ready-for-it situation.
Futurama: Bender's Big Score (Fox)The executives who canceled Futurama, the red-headed alien stepchild of The Simpsons, have a recurring role in Bender's Big Score, the first new episode now that the show has been renewed by Comedy Central. The perfect segue for old fans and a great introduction to new ones, in the feature-length film, our hero, Phillip J. Fry, goes back in time, followed by his robot buddy, Bender (the formula for time travel is conveniently located on Fry's right buttock). Al Gore, who stars as his own head, has the best line as he blows up a pimped-out Death Star: “Finally, I get to save the earth with deadly lasers instead of deadly slideshows.” Commentary with the entire cast included, paradoxes explained, classic sci-fi lampooned. It's good to be back to the future.
Paris Je T'aime (First Look)A love letter to the City of Light, this two-hour picture is a collection of 18 short films made by the likes of Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Wes Craven, Tom Tykwer, Gena Rowlands and Alexander Payne, who have cast folks like Gerard Depardieu, Elijah Wood, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nick Nolte, Willem Dafoe, Juliette Binoche and Steve Buscemi. Not every film works and some are stronger than others, but the entire experience is not unlike a trip to the city that inspired it.Bedtime Beats: The Secret to SleepBased on research that found that certain types of classical music induce sleep, this two-CD set comprises music from guys like Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. For the chronic insomniac or that person who Just. Needs. To. Mellow. Out. www.bedtimebeats.com.Rhythms del Mundo, various artistsFor fans of the documentary Buena Vista Social Club, Rhythms del Mundo comprises collaborations between the same group of Cuban musicians and bands like Radioheard, Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys. Purists might find it a little jarring, but for open-minded music appreciators, it's a fun take on alt-rock. The CD also includes songs by Cuban icons like Ibrahim Ferrer.I Know What You're Up To, WilloughbyA little Elliott Smith, some Nick Drake, a touch of Wilco and a dash of The Eagles is the best way to describe this very excellent debut from the L.A. band. It's moody yet accessible music for thinking people.