Call me an ingrate, but the mere thought of all the unwanted holiday gifts I’ve received over the years exhausts me. As I sift through the images in my mind, the most baffling ones pop out: the big, weird teddy bear my stepmother gave me when I was thirty and single (a warm body to cuddle up with, I presume), the brown flannel pajamas I received with equestrian images and sayings all over them (I’ve never been on a horse in my life), and a bunch of dream weavers and macramé pouches from my earth-motherish aunt (which I promptly stuffed into the bottom of the drawer where I keep leftover shopping bags).
Even more bizarre than these types of gifts, however, is that their givers inevitably follow up their presentation with the statement “It reminded me so much of you.” During these exchanges, I used to smile and nod, feigning enthusiasm, but on the inside I’d be seething and thinking, You don’t know me at all, lady—until I started reminding myself that these people’s intentions were good, no matter how off target their presents were. Eventually, I learned that tactful tip-offs during the holiday season can result in a win-win situation for gift givers and recipients alike. To elicit genuine gratitude when the wrapping paper comes off, turn to the following guide.
For Entertainment Junkies: Media and Entertainment Gifts
On the Cheap: My mother still squints and holds digital cameras up to her eye to take pictures. The new 10.0-megapixel Canon Power Shot A480 was made for people like her. Its designers’ primary goal—expressed through features such as a super-simple button layout, fifteen preset shooting modes, and flexible framing—was to make this camera as intuitive as possible to use. This model is also 25 percent more compact than its previous version and starts at a mere $109.99.
Everything in Moderation: Gone are the days when people who wanted to make home movies had to embarrass themselves with video cameras that looked like they’d been swiped from a news van. With 8 GB of built-in memory, the low-profile, second-generation Flip MinoHD Camcorder fits in your pocket and records up to 120 minutes’ worth of high-definition video. When you’re ready to upload your footage to your Mac or PC, just plug the Flip’s built-in USB arm directly into your computer. Price: $229.00.
The Sky’s the Limit: Everyone and her mother has an iPhone these days, but users often gripe about the mandatory AT&T phone plan and the frequent dropped calls it causes. A less frustrating—and equally fun—alternative is to keep your regular cell phone and digital camera and purchase a third-generation iPod touch. The 64 GB device ensures that you’ll be able to check your email and stay entertained for hours, even during a grueling work commute; it holds fourteen thousand songs, eighty hours of video, and ninety thousand photos, among its many other features. Price: $399.00.
For Jocks: Fitness Gifts
On the Cheap: Who needs a gym membership or weight-training classes? The Gaiam Total Body Sculpting Bar Kit is like an entire nautilus system contained within one three-and-a-half-foot, nine-pound bar. The bar can be used as one long weight or divided into three individual three-pound weights to tone and strengthen arms, legs, and abs. Add some lunges, squats, or cardio exercises, and you’ll get a total-body workout without having to leave the house. The kit even includes a workout DVD to get you going. Price: $39.98.
Everything in Moderation: Nintendo’s signature active-play system just got a whole lot better. The Wii Fit Plus Bundle, with game software and a balance board, offers dozens of motion-based games to choose from, including yoga, aerobic, balance, and muscle exercises. The primary difference between the original Wii Fit and the Wii Fit Plus is that the new model allows users to customize the length and content of their workouts; if you identify a specific fitness area in which you’d like to improve, the system will suggest a variety of activities designed to help you achieve your specific athletic goals. Promising to improve your coordination and your core strength, the Wii Plus is even better than a personal trainer—not only is it less expensive, but you can mute it when you need to rest. Price: $89.99.
The Sky’s the Limit: Cyclists, windsurfers, and cross-country skiers alike stay on track with the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS Receiver, a powerhouse of a wrist-mounted fitness device that monitors heart rate, calories burned, and distance traveled and acts as a failsafe GPS tool in every type of terrain. Best of all, it comes with a USB port and Training Center software, so athletes can upload their workout data to their Mac or PC and watch their fitness levels improve over time. Price: $157.89.
For Chefs: Kitchen Gifts
On the Cheap: Ever scraped your knuckles on a shoddy box grater while trying to shred a pound of cheddar cheese? Save your skin with a Microplane Ultra Coarse Grater. This compact hero of the kitchen grates potatoes, vegetables, and soft cheeses quickly and uniformly with its razor-sharp blades, and its rubber base prevents it from slipping on the counter—or slicing your fingers. Price: $19.99.
Everything in Moderation: Measuring cups are so 2005—to ensure truly accurate measurements for cooking ingredients, an Oxo Good Grips Food Scale is just the ticket; it’s also ideal for people concerned about portion sizing. This scale weighs up to eleven pounds of food and features a pull-out display for easy reading, a tare function, and measurements in both ounces and grams. Price: $46.70.
The Sky’s the Limit: For cooking connoisseurs who want to have the culinary world at their fingertips, the HP TouchSmart 600 is a tantalizing luxury item. Smart-touch partnerships with Twitter, Netflix, and Hulu make this all-in-one PC a good choice for any room in the house, but its standout feature is its Recipe Box touch program, which CNET.com’s editors deem the “best kitchen app we’ve seen”; it enables users to import recipes from the Web and add their own to the box. Price: $1,049.99.
For Tree-Huggers: Eco-Friendly Gifts
On the Cheap: For urban green thumbs without a single patch of dirt to call their own, salvation has arrived in the form of the Power Plant Growing Machine. Based on a NASA-tested process called aeroponics, this device grows plants without soil by using a microjet system to strengthen seedlings’ roots with hyperoxygenated, nutrient-filled water. Add water to the nutrient mix included with the Power Plant, sow seeds on the sponge, and sit back while your garden-in-a-box grows before your eyes. Price: $58.00.
Everything in Moderation: You can spend all day turning off lights, shutting off the faucet, and biting your nails about how much your next electric bill is going to be, or you can pick up an Energy Detective 5000-G. This nifty monitoring device provides real-time data on home energy use, allowing people to predict their total costs long before they receive their bills; in addition, its TED Footprints software helps owners log and track usage on their home computers. Price: $199.95.
The Sky’s the Limit: Every laptop owner out there worries about running out of battery power at crucial moments. Instead of searching airports and coffee shops in vain for an outlet to plug your computer into, go green with a SolarGorilla Solar Charger. This portable device contains two photovoltaic solar panels that provide up to six hours of juice for most laptops, cell phones, iPods, PDAs, and handheld games. Price: $249.85.
Give and Let Give
Holiday generosity is always appreciated as a concept, but the reality of gift giving is that the thought isn’t always what counts. And you don’t have to break the bank to please people, either—inexpensive, useful presents that account for the recipients’ individual interests and personalities almost always score higher points than pricey, impractical baubles that will just end up in storage boxes. And who wants to be one of those people, anyway—the ones who induce groans every year when they hand out identical sweaters embroidered with Scotties to all their relatives? This holiday season, don’t get caught slippin’.