2017 Holiday Gift Guide

     The holiday season is certainly a joyous time but it can be stressful when it comes to finding a gift for the special people in your life. Here are some last-minute gift ideas that will hopefully inspire.        

     The Internet has made subscription web streaming services as Hulu (which in my opinion has the best original programming as exemplified by “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Sarah Silverman’s talk show/sketch vehicle, “I Love You, America” and “Difficult People” starring Forest Hills native Billy Eichner), Amazon, Netflix, and the WWE Network, competitors with cable television’s premium channels as HBO and Showtime.

     Jumping into the streaming fray last year was CBS All Access which allows viewers to watch almost any show that was ever broadcast on the Tiffany Network just as Hulu does the same for a good chunk of the Peacock Network library. CBS All Access also contains every Star Trek episode ever made. All Access is the exclusive home for the latest in the Star Trek series, “Discovery,” as well as for “The Good Wife” spinoff, “The Good Fight.”

     A fairly new streaming option is Cennarium which concentrates on the fine arts. You can watch operas, concerts, and theatrical productions from all over the world via Cennarium.

    Devices as Roku, Amazon Fire, and Google Chromecast, when plugged into the HDMI ports on your television give Internet sites the same picture quality as those from TV channels. All of the aforementioned are quite good but I believe that you get more bang for the buck from Roku which carries a lot of OTT (over-the top) television channels as well as providing original content.

   Sure, you can google almost anything that you need to know these days but there is something comforting about having the facts at your finger the old school way. The World Almanac 2018 is still the best paperback reference. Offbeat trivia buffs must possess Guinness World Records 2018.

     CBS CEO Les Moonves famously said in early 2016, “Donald Trump may not be good for America, but he sure is great for CBS!” What Moonves was saying was that Trump’s candidacy and subsequently the first year of his presidency have dramatically increased ratings for CBS News (and certainly the other broadcast networks) and it has been the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs for CNN, Fox News Channel, and especially MSNBC which was a ratings laggard for years.

     Pres. Trump has been an absolute godsend to the publishing industry. Out in time for this holiday season is “What Happened” (Simon & Schuster) by his Democratic Party opponent and still favorite foil, Hillary Clinton; “Hacks” (Hachette) by former Democratic Party chairperson and popular TV political pundit Donna Brazile; and “Unbelievable” (Dey Street Books) by Katy Tur who covered the Trump campaign from the beginning for NBC News. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who ran as a moderate in the Republican primary against Trump, gives his insights about 2016 in his book, “Two Paths” (St. Martin’s Press).

     The above mentioned trio of books all provide serious analysis of the 2016 election. For those who prefer satire be sure to pick up “You Can’t Spell America Without ME” by Kurt Andersen and Alec Baldwin, whose portrayal of Trump on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” is a key reason why that show has gotten both the best ratings in its 42-year history as well as its best reviews since the original 1975-1979 cast, Another humorous tome is “Trump’s America: Buy This Book And Mexico Will Pay For It” (Gallery Books) by Scott Dikkers.

     If you know someone’s size and taste, fashion is always fun. Abercrombie & Fitch (abercrombie.com) American Eagle, Vineyard Vines Lands End, Ace Rivington, and Haupt all make comfortable, stylish, and durable dress shirts. For those guys who don’t like fitting their shirts behind their belt buckle, UnTUCKit, makes dress and casual shirts that can be worn, as the name indicates, outside of your pants.

     The arrival of winter means that hat, scarf and gloves season is upon us. Calypso St. Barth (which also makes  fragrances), Bearpaw, and Ulu (uluboot.com) all make outerwear accessories to keep us warm on those Arctic days. 

     Lands’ End is well-known for their sweaters, jackets, and coats, and this year they are predicting that down vests will be “in” for both men and women. 

      Winter is about to begin but summer hopefully isn’t that far away. Havaianas and Okabashi both sandals and thongs that can be worn around the house as well as poolside. BBO makes swim trunks that dry fast and in the spirit of Jimmy Buffett have a bottle opener in one of the side pockets. 

      Guys are just as interested in skin care as women are these days. Jack Black (not the actor), Skinceuticals (skinceuticals.com) and Kristals Aquamarine (kristals.com) make gift sets of balms, creams, serums, and hydrating lotions. Korres Butter Luxury Collection (korresusa.com) is a gift set sold at Sephora that purports to improve skin elasticity. Dove Men+Care makes holiday gift sets that include body wash and soaps.

      Here are some hair grooming stocking stuffer ideas. Xtava makes salon-quality electric products for the consumer. If you are looking for a shampoo that is gentle on your scalp and makes your hairline look fuller, try Evolis. The company is hoping to be the Rogaine of shampoos as they are conducting studies to verify whether their product can regrow hair follicles. The Food & Drug Administration has not offered an opinion yet. Biolage R.A.W. and John Frieda make salon shampoos, conditioners, and styling sprays and are available in gift sets. Batiste makes a dry shampoo and has a gift set that includes a Conair brush that allows one to distribute shampoo evenly over the scalp.

      Staying with grooming, good razors are something everyone can use. Gillette’s Sensor 3 and Fusion Proglide make for good stocking stuffers for guys as does the Dollar Shave Club Traveler for when one goes on the road. If you want to spend a little more Harry’s (harrys.com) makes a lot of shaving product gift box sets that range from $35 to $100.

     Perfumes and colognes are always popular gifts because they are easy to carry and they more often than not can be bought in gift sets where you get a lot of useful bonus items. Ulta sells a variety of Kate Spade perfumes. On top of that Ulta is offering a free bathrobe withe very $40 fragrance purchase. Actress Drew Barrymore is now dabbling in the scent world with her Flower Beauty Turquoise fragrance. Viktor & Rolf’s Bonbon and Flowerbomb fragrances are sold individually and both are also available in gift boxes that come with body cream and shower gel.

     For guys Ulta sells Dior Sauvage and Coach for Men cologne while Ralph Lauren Polo Blue EDP Collection is sold at various retailers.

     There is no shortage of handbag designers but most of them are not well known. Baggalini, Deondra Jeree, Laudi Vindi (individual spelled backwards), and Be Brilliant (bebrilliantbags.com) make clutches, wallets, and handbags in various sizes and price points.

     If you are willing to spend in the four digits on quality handbags, Judith Leiber Couture is sold in such tony shops as Neiman-Marcus, Saks 5th Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. Tyler Ellis (tyler-ellis.com) also makes pricy handbags.

     Indiana-based Vera Bradley has been around thirty years and became well-known for its patchwork-styled cloth totes. The company has expanded into leather pocketbooks, duffel bags, backpacks, as well as women’s ear muffs, gloves and scarves.

     Finnish company Marimekko sells bags, purses, and backpacks in all sizes and price ranges. The company also sells a wide array of women’s clothing.

     Buxton makes  high quality wallets, billfolds, portfolios, and many other leather goods for both men and women.

      Watches are the most popular form of jewelry. Little Neck’s own Armitron makes fashionable and affordable watches while Woodside-based Bulova makes higher end timepieces. HOH Watches, which was founded by Forest Hills High School alum Lawrence Leyderman, makes timepieces that rival Tag Heuer and Rolex at a fraction of their prices. His Bedlam line has long been popular with knowledgeable watch fans and he launched his latest timepiece, the Chronspire Basilisk, last year Art Basel in Miami. Michele is a luxury watch brand that competes with Tag Heuer, Movado, and Rolex as they run anywhere from $495 to $3,500.

       The Artisan Group (thartisangroup.org) is a great resource for finding jewelry, stationery, bath and spa products and much more.

      Most of us can’t afford a Carrera sports car but stylish Carrera sunglasses are another story. For those with tighter budgets, Polaroid has a huge selection of frames including classic aviators that rival Ray-Ban. A lot of Major League Baseball players wear Oakley Wraparound sunglasses and so it’s natural that their fans want to emulate them. Oakley’s quality is terrific but if you want to get wraparound shades without breaking the bank you should check out Tifosi (tifosioptics.com). They can sell them for far less because they don’t have expensive endorsers.  Maui Jim and Kenmark Eyewear also make stylish, reasonably priced shades. 

      Harry & David’s has long been a major player in the gift basket industry. Their Grand Christmas Gift Basket contains pears, fruitcake, and arguably its most famous product, Moose Munch Premium Popcorn. You can add a bottle of wine for an extra price.   

      Savannah Bee and Stonewall Kitchen make a variety of upscale bath products and they also have great gift baskets. 

     Godiva and Ghirardelli both make fine confections, but if you worry about allergens but still want great taste, try Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (vermontnutfree.com). If you want top quality chocolate products that come in a gift tin visit Chocolate Stars USA website (choclatestarsusa.com). If kosher candy is a consideration log onto tobitobin.com. Tobi Tobin is a younger version of Martha Stewart as she also makes fragrances and candles and she’ll undoubtedly expand into other lifestyle products.

Amy Bouchard, owner of Wicked Whoopies in Freeport, Maine, stands for a portrait.

      A non-chocolate guilty pleasure is Amy’s Wicked Whoopie Pies from Maine (wickedwhoopies.com). Amy is getting some local competition these days from a New Yorker, Elizabeth Fife, who gave up investment banking for a career in whoopie pie baking. She started a company called Batter And Cream and the good news is that they will ship her delicacies anywhere. 

       Adults with a sweet tooth who like to imbibe should try the wine-infused chocolates from Fredericksburg, located in Texas Hill Country (fbgwinery.com) which is quickly rivaling Napa Valley when comes to producing quality American wines.

     Speaking of American wines, Dreaming Tree, ONEHOPE, Mark West, and Woodbridge by Mondavi are inexpensive but quality brands. Vintner Lot 18 signed a licensing deal with “Saturday Night Live” impresario Lorne Michaels to create wines based on famous SNL characters. Among the first bottles rolled out were Stefan Beaujolais, Debbie Downer Chardonnay, and The Californians Monterrey County Merlot.

    For those who prefer harder liquor, Dewar’s 25 (Dewar’s 12 is also available for those wanting a less expensive taste of the brand), Oban 14 Year Old, Macallan, McIvor, and Highland Park are fine mid-priced scotches but if you are looking for more expensive top-shelf whisky you have to go with Craigllachie 17, Aberfeldy 16, Grant’s Family Reserve, Glenlivet Founders Reserve, Chivas Regal Ultis, Aberlour A’bunadh Batch No. 54, or Johnny Walker Blue. Ketel One is quickly approaching both Smirnoff and Stolichnaya in terms of vodka popularity.

     For rums, you can’t go wrong with Bacardi or Captain Morgan. Tequila aficionados will enjoy Patron (the Patron 2017 1-liter bottle has an art deco design comprised of pewter), Tequila Don Julio 1492, Jose Cuervo, Altos Anejo or any of the three choices from Cazadores: Blanco, Reposado, Anejo, and Astral which has just hired actor Jonathan Goldsmith,“the world’s most interesting man” in those fun Dos Equis beer ads, for their TV and print ads. Gin aficionados will enjoy Hendrick’s and Tanqueray No. 10.

     Gin has slowly been making a comeback in the liquor marketplace. Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin has a touch of fruit in it to reduce bitterness.

     Aperitifs are understandably popular this time of year. Bailey’s Irish Cream is a safe standby but if you want to try a liqueur with a little more spicy pizzazz, go with Bailey’s Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream Liqueur or Kahlua Chili Chocolate. If you want to have a bit of artistry to go along with you liqueur, Disaronno has a new eye-catching label designed by the Italian fashion designer, Missoni. Braulio and Solerno are other good liqueur options from Italy.

     Sparkling liquors are always popular for New Year’s Eve parties. A bottle of Machio Extra Dry Prosecco retails for around $14.

      Woodside native Jim McCann is the founder and CEO of the most successful floral retailer in the world, 1800-FLOWERS. This year the company is promoting a Merry Little Christmas Holiday Flower Tree which is an arrangement of roses and white carnations that is sculpted to resemble a small Christmas tree as the name indicates.

     Decorative scented candles have become a popular domestic item. Chesapeake Bay Candle and Yankee Candle both have a wide array of jar and pillar candles that will freshen up any room.

     History buffs will love Gettys Gear (gettysgear.com). Gettysburg, Pennsylvania will forever be known for being the site of the most famous battle of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s speech about its significance. What is not as well-known is that Gettysburg is home to the USA’s oldest continuing cigar manufacturing plant that also opened in 1863, the same year that the Gettysburg Address took place. Gettys Gear sends out gift sets of these handcrafted cigars. In addition you can purchase t-shirts, hats, mugs, and just about anything else imaginable relating to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. In a complete aside, Gettys Gear sells bags of top-quality coffee beans that you have to grind and bottles of sarsaparilla soda, a favorite soft drink of the mid-to-late 19th century.

     Speaking before of coffee, Starbucks is known for its decorative holiday mugs and its gift cards are perfect as a present for anyone who has done small favors for you during the past year.

     Coffee aficionados will appreciate Keurig K-Select Coffee Maker, Illy’s Y3.2  Espresso & Coffee Machine, and the Russell Hobbs Retro-8 Serving Coffee Maker.

     There are a number of gift items that are terrific for anyone who likes to cook. Chef N’s (chefn.com) VegiChop Pro is a food processor that allows you to manually mash up vegetables, nuts, and spices to prepare sauces and dressings without risk of cutting one’s fingers. Black + Decker’s Chalkboard Slow Cooker, Electric Pressure Cooker, and Purifry Air Fryer are all ideal for those who like to entertain at home. The George Foreman Multi-Plate Grill allows you to barbecue both indoors and outside.

       Getting a good night’s sleep has become crucial for maintain good health. Bedgear (bedgear.com) makes numerous ergonomically correct pillows that maintain their shape and stay cool during the night. The Long Island-based company also sells premium mattresses, sheets, and blankets.

       You can’t sleep well if there is dust and other irritants gathering in your bedroom. Black * Decker, Bissell, and Dyson all make cordless vacuums and sweepers that allow you to clean tough places without impediment.  

       Boxing has become a popular workout option because of its cardiology benefits. Everlast has long been synonymous with ring sports thanks to its training equipment and apparel which are available at Sears.

      Franklin Sports, best known for its batting gloves, makes sports equipment, apparel, and indoor games for all ages.

     St. Jude Hospital in Memphis treats children with serious diseases without ever charging one cent to their families. One of the ways that the hospital sustains itself is by selling a variety of items which are all made by well-known manufacturers. Please log onto giftshop.stjude.org In a similar vein, the Pablove Foundation (pablove.org) teaches photography to kids living with cancer and sells their prints. All proceeds go to funding cancer research.

      I can’t think of a place that has more to offer both its residents and visitors than New York City. A great way to enjoy the beauty of our area as well as take in a great meal with top-notch entertainment is to sail with either Spirit Cruise or World Yacht.

     CityPASS (citypass.com) is a ticket booklet that allows you to see a lot of New York attractions (including a boat ride around NYC on the famous Circle Line) for one fixed price. The catch is that you have to do it all within nine days. CityPASS is available for other American cities.

      While it’s nice to travel to warm climes, air travel and hotels during the holiday week tend to go through the roof in most places that have palm trees. There are bargains however at many nearby places. The Sands Casino & Hotel in the Lehigh Valley town of Bethlehem offers both gaming, nightly entertainment, and many gourmet restaurants. Philadelphia, just 100 miles southwest of Queens, obviously has many historic sites but the City of Brotherly Love now rivals New York when it comes to being a foodie destination thanks to its many hip restaurants in Center City. The National Museum of American Jewish History, located a block from Independence Hall, is a great way for all to learn about the Jewish experience in the USA from even before the birth of this country until now. Be sure to visit Philadelphia’s newest museum, the Museum of the American Revolution which is a block away from the NMAJH.

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