2011 Holiday Gift Guide

Shopping is always stressful. Even though the advent of the Internet has theoretically reduced the need to battle it out at the mall, the age-old question of what to get someone has not changed. Here are some conventional and some offbeat gift ideas.

Many women claim that they can never have enough handbags. Vera Bradley makes inexpensive bags ranging from small clutches to overnight totes. If you are looking for a more expensive bag, New York designer Charmaine Ho (www.mecharhandbags.com) uses the same leather factories that Prada does but sells her high-end products at a fraction of the Prada price.

Luggage is another item that is frequently overlooked as a present idea. Long Island’s Briggs & Riley, while not the household name that American Tourister and Samsonite are, makes high quality pieces in all sizes.

On the topic of luggage, many of us take off from work during the last week of the year and  vacation. You’ll pay through the nose if you want to go to the Caribbean and most places in Florida. An exception to the rule in the Sunshine State is in the Florida Panhandle where it’s off-season in Panama City Beach and Pensacola. While the weather is cooler there than say, Miami, you can walk along those pristine Gulf of Mexico beaches and still go swimming since most of the hotel outdoor pools are heated. Another good inexpensive warm weather alternative is to go to San Diego where you can stay at the magnificent Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla Village.

If you want to stay a little closer to home, Boston and Philadelphia hotel room rates drop considerably because the holiday week by its very definition doesn’t draw the business crowd. Both cities have plenty of indoor attractions so you don’t have to worry about the weather.

Cape May, located at the southern-most point of New Jersey where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, is very pricy during the summer but a bargain this time of the year. Its Victorian mansions and quaint neighborhood shops are a sight to behold with their majestic holiday decorations.

Cape May is just an hour’s drive south of Atlantic City. Sure, you can enjoy its many fine restaurants and hope to get lucky at the casino, but you should also try to get in some enjoyable exercise by walking its five-mile boardwalk if the weather is cooperative.

Of course winter means ski season is underway. The Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and the entire state of Vermont have long enticed skiers and snowboarders. According to the trade association Ski Vermont, many of the Green Mountain State’s top resorts are offering bargain-priced ski and snowboarding lessons to beginners. Log onto www.skivermont.com for more information.

If you are going to hit the slopes you need the right equipment. Head, which has been making tennis racquets for ages, has quickly become a giant in the area of winter sports and has become a leader in the world of skis and boots. Sunglasses are a must when going downhill on the slopes because of the sun’s low angle and the glare that comes from snow. You might as well look fashionable when protecting your eyes. Solstice and Oakley both make a variety of stylish shades that will block out harmful ultraviolet rays.

Non-skiers in our area still have to deal with cold weather of winter and early spring. Lands End and Columbia Sportswear both make down jackets that keep you warm without being bulky, an important attribute that anyone who takes the subway from now through April will attest. Timberland makes shoes for all occasions but they are best known for getting you through snowy days. A new company, Aquastop, has introduced a waterproof lightweight “duck shoe” that is appropriate for getting to where you need to go on slushy days.

Colder weather affects your comfort when you are home. We’ve all experienced an occasional chill when coming out of a shower on a winter’s day. Luxor Linens Egyptian cotton bathrobes will certainly solve that problem. Guys will feel like Hef at the Playboy Mansion when they wear it. Both Luxor and Lands End make Egyptian cotton bath sheets that are very soft on your skin when drying off after being in the shower or tub.

There are plenty of gift options for the sports fans in your life. The Mets Clubhouse store at Citi Field is open during the off-season. Let’s hope that they don’t have to put the Jose Reyes t-shirts and jerseys on the clearance rack! Tommy Bahama, a company best known for its festive Hawaiian shirts, is now making high-end Mets and Yankees sweatshirts.

It is estimated that women comprise 40 per cent of the National Football League’s fan base. Therefore it’s not surprising that the league launched an NFL Women’s Apparel line last year. My favorite NFL gift item is a motion-sensor waster paper basket that has the helmet of your favorite team on top of it and is available only on the Home Shopping Network’s website, www.hsn.net.

There are a couple of  Blu-ray DVDs that should be of interest to sports fans. HBO has released “61*” in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Billy Crystal-directed film that starred Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle and Barry Pepper as Roger Maris as both were taking aim at Babe Ruth’s single season record for home runs 50 years ago. HBO has released its terrific baseball documentary series, “When It Was A Game,” on DVD as well.

Since nearly everyone’s new year’s resolution is to be in better shape, ageless Jane Fonda is back with another video, “Prime Time: Firm & Burn” in which she takes on the Jack LaLanne role.

Of course, you don’t want your body aching after a workout. Brookstone’s Personal Massager offers relief from those aching areas. It is also a lot lighter in weight than massagers that were sold at the Sharper Image just a few years ago.

Timepieces are always safe and useful gifts. There was a time when it seemed as if  the only watch aimed at the mass market was good old dull Timex. Thankfully that is no longer the case. Wenger is a Swiss company that makes affordable watches unlike most of the competition from their homeland. Long Island City-based Armitron and Fossil also make stylish watches that are within most people’s budgets. If you are a fan of colorful watchbands, Swatch and a newcomer, Rumbatime, make durable timepieces in nearly shade of the rainbow.

Livio is a Michigan company that makes Internet radios that offer you far more music, talk and sports than traditional AM/FM radios. Livio has also teamed up with the Internet’s leading music service, Grooveshark, for an Internet radio device for automobiles.

Call me “old school” but I am still a big fan of annual reference books. Among the perennial big sellers at Barnes & Nobles are “The 2012 Sports Illustrated Almanac,” “The 2012 TIME Almanac and its main competitor, “The 2012 World Almanac,” “Guinness Book of World Records 2012,” and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not 2012.” With so many cable movie networks, not to mention Netflix, “Leonard Maltin’s 2012 Film Guide” (Plume Books) is indispensable.

Skin care and fragrances are always popular gifts. Burt’s Bees has become a leader in all natural skin cremes and balms and their embossed tin set makes for a great gift. Carol’s Daughter is a New York startup that also makes top-notch skin care products.

If you want to splurge on a pricy perfume and cologne, invest in Krigler Rivera 10’s. A more budget-friendly alternative however is Demeter Fragrances whose CEO is long-suffering Mets ticket-holder and Great Neck resident Mark Crames. Demeter is a rarity in the fragrance business because of Mark’s offbeat sense of humor. Its perfumes and cologne intentionally remind you of everything from bubble gum to dirt.

The holidays are of course a time of cheer and spirits are part of celebrations. The whisky brand Jim Beam used the slogan “You can never go wrong the classics” in their print ads. That advice is certainly true when purchasing liquor. In whisky, Johnny Walker Blue has long been regarded as the champion although Macallan is a very worthy alternative. Skyy, Stolichnaya, Georgi and Grey Goose are the best-selling vodka brands; Jose Cuervo is the king of tequilas; Bacardi, Captain Morgan and Don Q battle it out in the rum market; and finally, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Cointreau are two of Europe’s most popular liquers. Ring in the new year with Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne.

Red wine has been reported to have cardiac health benefits. I enjoy a mild, full-bodied wine and that is why I enjoy Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon, Benton Lane Pinot Noir, and Nero d’Avola Syrah. I am not a huge merlot buff but Barefoot Wines’ merlot is priced under ten bucks and is just as good as far more expensive varieties that I have tasted.

Cigar aficionados will enjoy selections from such legendary brands as Macanudo, Camacho and La Palina.

If you still can’t make up your mind about a present, you cannot go wrong with gift cards from Starbucks, The Gap, and Old Navy or going online and checking out the offerings from amazon.com and beauty.com.

Happy holiday shopping!

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