November 22, 2007
Our Chanukah gift guide for the <strike>weird</strike> <strike>odd</strike>
Chanukah is less than two weeks away and Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, is upon us. If you've been racking your brain trying to come up with gift ideas or putting off writing up your gift list, consider some suggestions from our inaugural gift guide.For the. . . .
. . . Saba and Savta Who Have Everything
Not another T-shirt from Acapulco, my closet is already overflowing, I beg my children and grandchildren. Not another book, I have a dozen stacked up that I haven't gotten around to reading.
So what can you give saba and savta, grandpa and grandma, who've been living in the same place for 35 years, have a house full of tchotchkes and every conceivable kitchen gadget?
I don't want the latest iPhone, videogame or computer attachment. It takes me forever to figure these things out, and I'd rather spend the time swimming.
My wife and I have been trying for years to convince our descendants that we'd love them just as much -- maybe even more -- if they didn't bring any gift for Chanukah or, for that matter, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, Father's Day or Mexican Independence Day.
For a while, I got gift certificates for Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, until I dropped a hint that I enjoyed shopping almost as much as having a hip replacement.
And how much chocolate and marzipan can one man eat?
So if you absolutely must give us something, try a voucher for a nice neighborhood restaurant. We haven't given up eating and drinking.
Even better, pool all the kids' and grandkids' contributions and make a donation to a cause that means something to us. Try The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which aids gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, or the New Israel Fund, which supports progressive causes in Israel.
Thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Buying a present for your new mother-in-law can be a daunting task. She gave you her child and, for some reason, reciprocating with a picture frame or coffee mug just doesn't seem right. There's also the message behind the gift. Too "homemade" and you might come across as cheap ("I macraméd this vest for you!"). You also don't want to make it seem that you gave little thought to selecting the gift. On the flip side, a gift that is too extravagant could look like you are sucking up -- or spending her child's hard-earned money.
The answer to the dilemma? Enter the day spa.
Manicures. Pedicures. Body wraps. Massages. A plethora of pampering is at your disposal, thanks to gift certificates from places like Burke-Williams ($75, 25 minutes of massage; $155, 80 minutes) and spafinder.com (whose $50-$1,000 gift certificates work at spas around the country). This way, even though she might not have had a say in who her child married, at least she gets to select her Chanukah present.
Ladies, if you want to make it a really enjoyable gift -- and do something nice for you, too -- book an appointment for yourself at the same time and make a bonding experience out of it.
Even if you aren't best buds with your new mom right now, don't worry. Getting a peppermint foot soak somehow manages to bring people closer together.
What do you give an entitled teenager for Chanukah?
"Nothing," my own teen, Danny, 16, said. "What could you give someone who has everything?"
Not a cellphone, not a computer; not a DVD player, not a designer hoodie. They have it all. Besides, according to Chicago-based Teen Research Unlimited, what teenagers really want is money. And if that's not an option, gift cards. After all, how could we parents -- teens, roll your eyes here -- possibly know what's "sick" in the status-conscious world of teens?
So here's my list of ideal gifts for the overindulged adolescent:
A job. Yep, a job. And I'm not talking about one of those community service, resume-building boondoggles to Costa Rica. Nope, I'm talking about bussing dishes at Islands or scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. A job where the teen has to show up, suit up and shut up for an assigned shift -- with a smile.
Some practical life lessons. Help your teen learn how to iron, stack the dishwasher and make a matzah ball. This Chanukah, register him at www.eHow.com and be sure to bookmark "How to Clean Out From Under Your Bed" and "How to Get White Socks Clean."
Improved parenting. No, I don't mean buying a DriveCam or a CarChipE/X to video record your teen speeding down the freeway while chatting on a handheld. Or investing in surveillance software, such as WebWatcher, to make sure he's not IMing predators or placing offshore bets. No, I'm suggesting you give your adored adolescent more love and guidance -- the real stuff, in real time -- that leads to self-mastery and independence, that provides the proverbial roots and wings.
But here's the catch. How do we guarantee that our teen has the opportunity to take advantage of these gifts? That he doesn't sleep away all his discretionary time?
And if those ideas won't kindle your entitled teenager's Chanukah candelabrum, there are always the gifts that were good enough for us -- pajamas, socks and furry slippers.
Very Religious Relative
Caveat: If you're really serious about this person, and their collectibles are so hideous that you can't live with them (something that takes up their entire house/all their time), do not, I repeat, do not buy your partner this gift. Also, consider ending the relationship, especially before Valentine's Day.
Persian Jewish Friends (Nothing, But Save Your Money for Purim)
While giving gifts on all the eight nights of Chanukah has become one of the most common and popular norms for American Jews, the tradition is fairly new for local Iranian Jews. Not having to compete with Christmas like most Ashkenazim, Jews living in Iran do not give gifts for Chanukah. Only recently has the community that has resettled in the United States adopted the tradition.
"Chanukah is not a major holiday in Iran [for Jews]. We used to light candles, and maybe every family would have a special meal for only one night," said Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history. "Of course, we would light the candles for eight nights, but there was only one night of a feast."
The tradition of gift giving among Jews living in Iran is and has always been popular during Purim but has not been continued among Iranian Jews living in Southern California, Pirnazar said.
"For Norooz [Persian New Year], the Iranians have the tradition of receiving gifts from the elders," Pirnazar said. "Since this holiday normally coincides with Purim, the Jews in Iran also follow the same tradition and give gifts to those who are younger on this occasion."
Iranian Jewish parents living in Southern California have taken on the American Jewish tradition of giving gifts on Chanukah to their children but have only been doing so for the first night, Pirnazar said.
Iranian Jewish scholars said that while Iranian Jews today are using the Festival of Lights as a holiday to encourage community fundraising through events, within a few generations, the giving of gifts on Chanukah may become more commonplace.
Day School Teacher
Questionable scarves and kitschy apple tchotchkes are gifts of the past for day school teachers. Most schools have opted instead for a parental collection fund, which gets divided up among teachers, aides, maintenance staff, office personnel and the security team. That eliminates inequities in what parents give and what teachers get, and, especially when contributions to the fund are anonymous, might make it a little harder for your eighth-grader to get that A in math.
Most parents like this approach because someone else organizes the effort, and it's easier to write a $36 (per kid) check than to go shopping for nine teachers. And teachers like it because they don't get saddled with dozens of personalized tote bags and perfume that might smell really nice -- on someone else.
What teachers do get, in most cases, is a gift card to something massive, like Westfield shopping centers, Amazon.com or a Visa gift card. Now if they can get enough time off to go shopping, they won't end up like the 30 percent of Americans who let gift cards go unspent for more than a year, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports.
With the time parents save on shopping for all those teachers, they can put more effort into what underappreciated teachers really like to get -- personal, hand-written notes from students or parents, telling them what a great job they're doing. So put away those Lillian Vernon or Crate & Barrel catalogs, take out a pen and paper, and go do your homework.
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Chanukah Party Host With the Most
You've been invited to a Chanukah party and need a host gift that says, "Let's rock this Festival of Lights!" DCI Gift's Menorah Cork ($12) might be just the thing. It's a Chanukiah, it's a cork, it's keeping your wine fresh and it's dripping wax everywhere. If soda is more your thing, consider the Happy Chanukah Pack ($12.99, Jones Soda Co.), which includes the flavors Chocolate Coins, Apple Sauce, Latke and Jelly Doughnut. Each kosher-certified bottle packs a whopping 47 grams of sugar, except for Latke, which features one gram. However, the oily effervescence of Latke should be blended with the Apple Sauce to be fully appreciated. At the very least it'll make a great party dare. The Box Girls are back with the Hanukkah Box of Questions ($19.95) -- think of it as Scruples the game with actual scruples (plus two bonus dreidels). And speaking of dreidels, consider this new spin on Texas Hold 'Em, No Limit Texas Dreidel ($18). The game comes with dreidels and shakers -- think Yahtzee -- as well as bags of chocolate gelt and temporary tattoos. It's a party up in here, y'all.
Your foodie friends spend hours in the kitchen making wine reductions and slow-cooked roasts. They devote days to crafting their own cheese and gravlax. But when it comes to jotting down a grocery list, they're much too busy. Who's got time for outmoded technology like a ballpoint pen?
With the SmartShopper Grocery List Assistant ($149.95, Brookstone), all you have to do is speak the words of your shopping list and -- faster than a stir-fry -- the wall-mounted, speech-recognizing device records, organizes and prints your grocery list.
Of course, speech-recognition technology is a work-in-progress, so it's possible if you say "lamb," it will print out, as well, "ham." And "tomatoes" and "beets" might print out as "potatoes" and "leeks." The true foodie will do something with the results.
And what they make will be that much better if they use the Grill Alert Talking Remote Thermometer ($75, Brookstone). Just insert a transmitter probe into the meat, strap on a wireless belt-clip monitor and feel free to mingle. The talking remote monitor will tell you in loud, clear English when your food is done. (Hopefully, it's lamb and not ham.)
Now, if your foodie friends end up with potatoes instead of tomatoes, they'll probably want to make Euro-style chips (french fries). But eating them from a conical newspaper holder gets their fingers full of unsanitary ink. No problem! With the porcelain French Fry Holder With Condiment Server ($16, Williams-Sonoma), decorated with vintage French newsprint and finished with a durable glaze, you can get the same feeling without the mess. Best of all, it comes with a small porcelain dish that mimics the paper condiment ramekin you get in fish-and-chips houses.
Getting the perfect gift for an environmentalist/social-activist type isn't always easy, especially when they argue vehemently about how they don't really want a gift (when we all know full well they really do want one).
The best of both worlds could be a symbolic Sheep ($45, Oxfam America Unwrapped) in their honor. You give money to help raise the fleece animals, whose wool is fundamental for its local economy and gives women the opportunity to make their own income. If a sheep doesn't seem right for your activist mensch, maybe a camel, donkey, goat or even a crocodile is a better match. They're all available.
For the bookworm, two titles might be of interest. "The Way Into Judaism and the Environment" by Jeremy Benstein ($24.99, Jewish Lights Publishing) looks at what Jews have written and thought about environmental issues, while TorahTrek retreat founder Rabbi Mike Comins' paperback "A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism" ($16.99, Jewish Lights Publishing) offers 40 sensible exercises on how one could apply spirituality in the natural world.
And if your intended recipient really fights you on the gift thing, you can always get them a little irresistible something. An eco-friendly alternative to gelt, Dagoba Organic Chocolate ($1.99-$3.99, Whole Foods) is KSA certified, its label uses New Leaf recycled paper and the company practices full-circle sustainability with a focus on quality, ecology, equity and community. The product line includes classic bars, dark blends, fusions and milk blends.
--Sara Shereen Bakhshian
Geek (All Varieties)
Geeks come in various forms: computer, science, sci-fi, horror, comic book, gamer, film, theater and music, to name a few. But buying a present for these picky types is overloaded with backfire potential. They probably know their subject matter better than you do, and unless you're shopping from a recipient-approved list, you might as well slap a gift receipt on whatever you buy.
The one constant I've found among them all is a passion for laughter. But their sense of humor is nuanced and often falls outside of the mainstream, typically sustained by a steady comedy diet that might include Monty Python, "The Colbert Report," The Onion and Non Sequitur or Bizzaro comic strips.
I follow the three Ts when it comes to buying affordable geek gifts that never fail: T-shirts, toys and tech gifts.
T-shirts are a perennial favorite. For some reason, geeks can never seem to have enough of them. One of my favorite destinations is ThinkGeek.com, which features shirts for men, women and kids. While most of the choices are broken down by subject matter, their generic geek shirt selection is impressive: the Wi-Fi Detector Shirt ($29.99), which features glowing bars that change based on wi-fi signal strength; the Geek Inside Tee ($14.99-$15.99), which riffs on the Intel logo, or the simple yet elegant I'm Blogging This shirt ($14.99-$16.99).
Toys are usually welcome additions to any geek desk. Paizo.com carries a variety of plush Monty Python toys, including the Rabbit With Big Pointy Teeth ($17.96) and the Dead Parrot ($8.96). While Archie McPhee has everything for your sick-and-twisted geek, like Horrified B-Movie Victims ($14.95), Avenging Unicorn ($12.95) and Sky Diving Sigmund Freud ($14.50).
Tech gifts can be tricky, given issues of brand loyalty or hatred. For computer users, consider Mimobot designer flash drives (mimobot.com) that feature "Star Wars," "Halo," Domo and other fashionable approaches to quick data storage. ThinkGeek.com features a USB Rocket Launcher ($39.99) for office warfare, and for the geek grrrl in your life consider the Fuse Ladder Necklace ($32.99) or the glowing crystal Fuze Necklace ($24.99).
It isn't easy for TV lovers to get to the gym these days. Sure there's TiVo and other DVR systems, but in order to stay up to date with the water-cooler gossip, the statute of limitations on viewing hot shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "CSI" is two days. After that, you might as well just go online for a recap. So in order to maintain couch potato status -- without actually looking like a potato -- the Mechanical Core Muscle Trainer ($1,499.95, Hammacher Schlemmer), might be just the thing.
In 20 minutes, this low-impact machine develops strength in your tush, upper thighs, abdomen and lower back -- all while sitting down. The only time you have to stand up is when you are moving from the couch to the machine and vice versa.
The saddle-like apparatus -- which just plugs into the wall -- comes with stirrups designed to simulate the riding of a horse but without the flies and height issues. So anyone who needs to maintain low-target heart rates can get a basic aerobic workout. Or try for something a little more intense by changing the speed (there are nine levels).
Sure it's not cheap, but consider the cost of gym membership, the rising gas prices, the stress of traffic and the hassle of buying the right workout clothes. Plus, this way you get to watch your shows, not what the gym dictates. And to the couch potato, that's critical.