Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Post 2012: Shopping, gifts, and other things



Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is one big shopping season. It is a season that retailers, mostly out of desperation or greed, keep pushing back a bit further every year. I will be blunt: Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving. Period. I do not want to see Christmas decorations mixed up with my Halloween. However, it looks like this bad habit is here to stay, so we may as well poke some fun at it and take a look.




Some advice on gift shopping

I thought some of these links might be useful to folks. What kind of librarian would I be if I did not offer you some information as well as snark about gifts?

  • Savings.com has an infographic on the best days to buy things. Some of the days are gone by now, others are to come. For example, books, music, and movies, you are better off buying after Christmas. For some that is a big deal. For a household that also celebrates Dia de Reyes, it just means we can wait to buy these things until later here in the States.
  • Lifehacker has some ideas on how to buy gifts while avoiding the cliches. I liked the idea of giving experiences. Other nice ideas here. They also offer some tips on buying gift cards, favoring branded store cards over those broader prepaid ones. The comments on the gift card post run the gamut from those who hate them to those who like them. I understand not liking the idea, but some of the haters do sound like seriously ungrateful people. If someone took the time to get you a gift, try to be nice (although I will admit there may be exceptions, usually for gifts from people who clearly did not think. See other parts of this post for examples). Personally, I do like bookstore gift cards, especially to places like Half Price Books; I can get a lot of book for not that much moolah. I think if you know a person shops at a specific place, a card from there may be good. Handing out iTunes cards just because you can't think of something else? Not so good. 
  • What would be the holiday season without a scam or two? I know, that sounds terrible. But this is a season when a lot of less than scrupulous people try to exploit everyone else. One way they do it? Grey charges, which is basically when a business sneaks something into your bill you did not want, say a subscription or trials that become subscriptions automatically (a big reason I never sign up for any trials. Canceling them is a serious pain). This is why when you shop you need to make sure you read fine print, make sure you know what your are buying and how.  Learn more in this small article out of Mashable. Granted, the post is mostly also a promo for a transaction monitoring service, but the advice is good overall: be mindful when you shop.

Gifts

I always find amusing some of the gift ideas people come up with to give to others. I can appreciate a nice thoughtful gift, but some items I just have to say, "WTF?" So, from the nice and cute to the "WTF," here are some links about holiday presents. The snarky comments are all mine.

Is this for a man or a woman? Gifts that could go either way

Some of the lists I found claim to offer gifts for one gender or the other. Some do stick to the theme fairly well. Others not so much, as this examples will show:

  • GQ is easy; this is guy stuff. GQ has their 2012 Holiday Gift Guide as chosen by their editors. Where else can you find a traditional Turkish bath towel on a holiday list? Or a Starbucks coffee machine so instead of waiting in line at the local Starbucks you can wait for the fancy coffee maker to do it in your house? The rest of the stuff is not particularly impressive, at least to my plebeian palate. 
  • The Art of Manliness has "50 Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Men." Items on this list are very classic and traditional gifts for men, some of them things that you just don't see being given as presents anymore. For instance, drug store cologne, which brings a lot of memories for me as a growing man since it was a gift of choice from my grandmother and other elderly aunts. Another example is shoe polish. Men need to have one or two good pairs of shoes, and they need to be polished once in a while. Yet you don't even see shoe polish in stores much. Now that I think about it, this topic of gifts from my younger days might make a nice blog post down the road. If you prefer to give your man a homemade gift, The Art of Manliness has you covered there too.
  • Need more ideas for the man in your life? Cool Material has a list of holiday gifts for men too. Star Wars cufflinks? Ooh yea. 
  • More gifts for men? Apparently women just don't get much of anything this year (or I just did not look in the right places). Esquire has a list of gifts for dad. However, it is mostly a highlight of various item of the month club. Sure, men may appreciate these, but I don't think they are exclusively for men or dads. They have a Popcorn of the Month Club (they send corn, not popped corn, so you can do the work yourself), and I know The Better Half is a big popcorn fan, and she is happy popping her own. So why be gender exclusive?
  • On the other hand, there is hope for women. Here are some tech gifts for mom (via Mashable). Not just any gifts, but tech gifts. However, I take it the Mashable people have little sense. Everyone knows the way to piss off a woman is to get her a vacuum cleaner as a present, so what did the guys put first on their list? A fancy schmancy vacuum clearner. How comes guys don't get vacuum cleaners as gifts? I am sure they need to clean their man cave once in a while. And before some macho guy says, "I will just have my woman do it," keep in mind part of the rule of having a man cave is that, it is a man cave. Besides, were it my mother, she would have told him to just clean up his room. Overall, the list is not necessarily gender specific to women, making the headline an example of traffic generation. 
  • Now, you may have problems telling, "is this gift for a man or a woman? Will this be OK for him? Or her?" Well, retailers (or writers of quickie online columns) have that solved in this list of "28 Gifts Online Retailers Think Are 'For Him" or 'For Her" (via BuzzFeed). Let us be honest: the sexism expressed in these choices is so predictable it stops being funny and becomes cliche. Yea, get your girlfriend that cute shopaholic wineglass. Even if she really is a shopaholic, don't do it. And by the way, if any of you get me a Bill O' Reilly book because you think it makes a good manly present, you will no longer be my friend (plus I am smacking you with the book. That notion of "it's the thought that counts" will not save you here). C'mon, be serious people. What if your woman goes hunting and fishing right along with you? I am sure she would want her own hunting knife. And if she is the kind of gal who enjoys football, dang it, get her a jersey of her own (plus in some case, she will look oh so sexy when she comes to bed after watching the game...but I digress). You get the idea.

Geeky and/or Writer Gifts

I will highlight book lists in a future post. This would cover more things that geeks, writers, and even librarians may like.

  • Do you have a writer in your life? maybe this small list of "12 Gifts and Goodies for Writers" (via the blog Writing Forward) might inspire some gift giving ideas. I think some of these may appeal to the reader and/or librarian in your life as well. I personally endorse the idea of a nice writing notebook or two. As a writer, I do much of it on notebooks, so nice ones are always welcome. 
  • Need more ideas for that writer? The Office Supply Geek has a "Holiday Guide for the Office Supply Geek." The Star Wars Moleskine is my personal favorite in this bunch.
  • A little gift giving humor. Here are some "Gag gifts for geeks" (via Boing Boing).  
  • Popular Science has a nice gift guide for those aspiring or real rocket scientists in your life, or just anyone who likes science. 
  • It may be a bit of self-promotion, according to him, but Phil Bradley offers some gifts that librarians may like.  
  • Stephen Abram points to some geeky office supply gifts for librarians. I will be perfectly honest in saying I have mixed feelings on the use of the word "geek" and librarians. Although geeks are moving to reclaim the word as their own, the negative connotation baggage is still there. I mean, for instance, I am fairly knowledgeable in graphic novels and comics, but I am not one of those OCD people who camp out in a comic bookstore debating minutiae about Batman or some obscure comic book character three people read during the Golden Age. Actually, that is the old stereotype. The new OCD geek type are those who hang out in Internet forums making those mostly irrelevant to anyone but them comments on minutiae about Batman or some obscure comic book character three people read during the Golden Age. It's people like that why I stay away from commenting on many book and reading blogs that discuss graphic novels and comics even as I have an interest personally and professionally. I honestly do not give a shit what color Aquaman's underoos were in the third comic book incarnation and why that offends your comic geek sensibilities. But my brief digression aside, some of the items on the list are interesting. 
  • Naturally, many librarians gravitate to gadgets and other electronic toys and gizmos. So, Stephen Abram also helpfully points to some of them that librarians may find of interest. This list does look better and have a few practical things.

Gifts for your pets
Because they are family too, that's why: 

Food and Drink Gifts

This is pretty much what the title says. I think giving good food or a good bottle of a spirit is always a good option. It is something that will not just sit on a shelf someplace, but it is often consumed and shared with family and friends. Personally, I think anything you can share with family and friends is a good thing. 

  • Want to give food instead, but you do not have the time or inclination to make it yourself? Here are "31 Best Food Gifts Under $20" (via Buzzfeed). I will admit some of these look interesting, but to be honest, I have not heard of a lot of the brands presented. This is not the stuff you will find at the local Walmart (not that you should be shopping at Walmart anyhow). I had no idea I needed aged garlic. I guess I am just not enough of a gourmet.
  • BuzzFeed also has a list of "38 Best DIY Food Gifts." There are some nice ideas here if you are willing to put in a little effort and time. 
  • Drinkhacker has their 2012 Holiday Gift Guide up.  There is a bit of everything here. 
  • If you prefer more "American made," Liquor.com has an American whiskey guide along with other guides for the spirit you might favor. They do list some interesting things like a bourbon pecan peanut butter. And then there is their high roller list, a.k.a. stuff I would never be able to even get a whiff. Hey, I do live on a librarian salary after all. But a man can dream.
  • And speaking of high end indulgences, The Advocate offers a holiday guide for those who like to indulge. I will say the Crystal Head Vodka looks pretty cool. I may go out and grab a gift set. That is one thing I like about buying liquor in the holidays. Many of them come packed in nice gift sets where you get a mug, or glasses, or some other knick knack, and you pay for just the booze. What we might have called in Puerto Rico a ├▒apa (a freebie). 
  • Now, let us say you have to (or feel moved) to buy your boss a present. OK, now that you are done laughing, what can you do? Well, if the boss happens to enjoy a good drink now and then, maybe this list of "20 Bottles to Buy the Boss" from Esquire may help. This kind of article always reminds me of my father when I was growing up. My father was an industrial salesman, and he was often on the road. During Christmas season, clients and friends often gave him bottles of liquor, and I remember him at times coming home with a small gift bag or two with a nice bottle of whiskey. It was often whiskey, which my dad did admit he was not a big whiskey drinker. As he always said, it was the thought that counts, and it was clear his friends and clients did think of him well; he always got some good stuff. They have Drambuie on the list, which I remember there being a bottle of it in the house at one point, though I don't remember anyone doing anything with it; the list mentions fans of Mad Men might find it appealing. Then again, much of this list has fiction in it. I mean, you ever met a boss who buys you pints of Guinness? Exactly. 
  • Since I am a wine drinker, I have to include at least one list for wine lovers. Here are "30 Gifts for Winos for $60 or Less" (via BuzzFeed). By the way, we prefer "wine enthusiast," not "wino." Some gifts are very nice. Others not so. The wine sippy cups? Those are just wrong on so many levels. Then the bicycle wine rack is just one sudden steer or move away from breaking that nice fancy bottle all over the road. Oh, and if you get me that stupid wine challenge thingamajig where you put the bottle inside some "puzzle" to make me try to get it out, I will break the wooden thing over your head so I can get my wine bottle out. I may have said this before or not, but I loathe those kind of wood puzzles with ropes and stuff (heck, I loathe most "logic" and "teaser" puzzles overall. If you want to earn my enmity, go ahead and get me one of those).
Other Tchotchkes

This is pretty much other stuff I was not sure where to put. It may also be stuff that made me say, "WTF?"
  • Did you procrastinate? What do you mean you did not rush out the door after almost choking on your turkey to do your shopping? Did not even bother doing it online, and now you are stuck? Here are "32 Awesome Last-Minute Gifts" (via BuzzFeed). I am not so sure how awesome or not some of these items are, but they certainly are unique in some cases. Texting gloves, really? Hey, at least they are made in the U.S.A.
  • Need to put stuff on those stockings? If you have a bit of artistic bent and some ability with your hands, maybe you'd consider making one of these "50 Tiny and Adorable DIY Stocking Stuffers" (via BuzzFeed). 
  • And if you are totally out of ideas on what to give, why not try one of these kitchen gifts, which seem more like gifts from "Seen on TV" hell (via BuzzFeed), Seriously, who really needs a banana baker? These are the things I find amusing: someone actually thought someone else would need these things. However, you know they sell, or else they would not be making them. 
  • Not quite a tchotchke, but I am listing it here. Interested in fair trade products? Here is "Gift Guide: These Fair Trade Gifts Give Back" (via Good.is).
  • Maybe you like calendars, or you want to give calendars as a gift. Calendars tend to be a popular gift option this time of year. For the book lover in your life, Book Riot has some calendars for book nerds.  And if you like the idea of buying something and some of the proceeds go to charity, maybe one of these "Six Wall Calendars that Benefit Nonprofits" might interest you (via Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog).
  • You've got to wrap your gifts. Maybe of of these "Rad Wrappings" would look nice on your presents this year. Via Web Urbanist

 Some Gifts for the Adults

 Hey, I enjoy sex and the good that comes with it as much as the next guy. So, naturally, we have a small section of things that may be a bit more risque. As usual, if this is not your thing, if you offend easily, you are religious, have issues, etc., then you can stop reading now. Otherwise, go right along.
  • This falls under gift purchase with proceeds to charity or a "wtf is that thing on the Christmas tree?" Orchid, a British organization for male cancers advocacy, has created some very nice Christmas ball sac tree ornaments; they call them "bauballs." I think it is a cheeky campaign, and I would not mind putting it on my Christmas tree, but here in the States I can predict the reactions. Some will freak out because heaven forbid you show a pair of testicles. And others will see it as some tacky thing like those really tacky truck balls that douchebag males put on their trucks. (hat tip to BuzzFeed). 
  • If you want something sexy to share with your partner, or yourself, Good Vibrations is a good go to source. Compared to other sex shops out there, these folks have a good reputation and they are friendly. As The Better Half would put it, they are not intimidating. They have a simple guide of ideas for the curious shopper in their blog. Also, the blog is pretty informative on various sexual health and fun topics.  
  • Mashable has a list of "20 NSFW Products that Will Make You Blush." I don't think they are that big of a deal, but your mileage may vary.  A few of these are more politically incorrect than anything else, one or two are amusing.
  • On the other hand, you can still offer good sexy things without things. My Sex Professor offers "My Non-Thing Holiday Guide."  Though the blog does have adult content, the post itself is not just for those of us with a bit of a risque inclination. For instance, the professor writes, "So, maybe less generic glassware and more hugs. And fewer gift cards and more lazy lunches with friends and family. In some ways, life is long and there’s much time to do the things we want to do." 
  • My Sex Professor also offers a list, this one has "Eight Holiday Gifts for the Sex Geek in Your Life." If you have friends who work as sex educators, or they are just, well, knowledgeable sex geeks, they may appreciate some of these. 
  • And again, you may need to wrap your presents. If you are giving a bit more adult presents, this may be fun to use. Here is some "Raunchy Wrapping Paper" (via Incredible Things).  Don't worry, just in case, the paper is reversible. 

Photo credit: Flickr user alliecreative (Allie Towers Rice). Used under terms of Creative Commons share and attribution license. 

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