2018 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 Amazon, Netflix (a godsend for movie buffs), and Hulu (which in my opinion has the best original programming as exemplified by “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Sarah Silverman’s talk show/sketch vehicle, “I Love You, America”), key rivals to cable television providers when it comes to competing for our disposable income for home entertainment.

     Jumping into the streaming fray two years ago 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.” All Access is giving Hulu a run for its subscription money with edgy completely original fare as “Strange Angel” and “Tell Me A Story.”

      Sports fans now have their pick of streaming services as well. The WWE Network has been around for a few years serving pro wrestling fans. A European company, DAZN, has jumped into the streaming game for more “legitimate” ring sports as boxing and mixed martial arts. Finally, ESPN this year launched ESPN+ in which you can watch niche live events as Ivy League football as well as get caught up any documentary in ESPN’s sizable “30 for 30″ library.

      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.

     Technology has not only expanded television options, it has done so for radio as well. Como Audio’s Solo Tabletop Radio allows you to listen to radio stations around the world while iHome’s Voice uses Alexa voice command to let you request radio stations all over the US including Sirius XM (if you are a subscriber to it), Internet radio stations as Pop Gold Radio and Rewound Radio (free of charge), and every terrestrial radio station from CBS/Entercom and I Heart Radio.    

   Sure, you can google almost anything that you need to know these days but there is something comforting about having the facts at your fingers the old school way. The World Almanac 2019 is still the best paperback reference. Offbeat trivia buffs will enjoy Guinness World Records 2019 and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not 2019.

        Two books about the entertainment industry I high recommend are “The King Of Content” (Harper Business), written by Queens Chronicle alum, Keach Hagey, about the intriguing life of Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone, and Dorothy Carvello’s “Anything For A Hit” (Chicago Review Press) which looks at the frequently sordid, but always fun, world of the record business in the 1980s and ‘90s with a n emphasis on Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun.

        If you know someone’s size and taste, fashion is always fun. Abercrombie & Fitch (abercrombie.com) American Eagle, Vineyard Vines Lands End, Old Navy, Ace Rivington, and Haupt all make comfortable, stylish, and durable dress shirts.

      UNTUCKit has quickly become a popular brand for guys in its less than a decade in business. Founder Chris Riccobono created shirts that were not only fashionable but were meant not to be tucked in one’s pants. It’s surprising that no one thought of that concept in casual comfort before Riccobono launched UNTUCKit in 2010.

      Dockers is best known for its khaki pants but what you might be surprised to learn is that it manufactures rugby shirts which are perfect for winter leisure days.

      Hush Puppies, who had a great run in the 1960s as baby boomers will fondly recall, has been revived big time. Not only is the company still making its classic casual suede loafer but it has expanded into dress shoes for men and women but it still puts a premium on comfort.

     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. 

     Victoria Secret’s PINK brand of women’s clothing specializes in Sherpas, sweats, and pajamas which is ideal for either lounging around or running a quick errand on a winter’s day. Lily Pulitzer also makes women’s pajamas designed for cold winter days and nights.

      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.  

      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. Dove Men+Care makes holiday gift sets that include body wash and soaps.

      Winter wreaks havoc on everyone’s hands and feet. Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream, Body Shop Festive Hand Cream Trio, Korres USA’s Hydrating Luxury Hand Cream Trio, Josie Maran’s Ski Care Duo and Pure Argan Hydration Duo all help prevent and alleviate skin irritations and fissures.

      The somewhat ominously named Simply Venom (simplyvenom.com), created by a pair of anaesthesiologists, Drs. Monica Lilore and Milija Milic, is a skincare company that makes night and day creams that help eliminate wrinkles and other skin aging indicators.

      Not to be outdone, another physician, Dr. Audrey Kunin, a dermatologist, has created her own line of skin products, DERMADoctor (dermadoctor.com). One of the company’s best-selling products is Wrinkle Revenge Ultimate Hyaluronic Serum. 

      Gillette’s latest hand razor is Skinguard which purports to give the closest shave of facial and leg hair while reducing irritation and burn. Other razor options are Gillette’s Sensor 3 and Fusion Proglide and 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.

      There is no shortage of hair care products. Rahua makes shampoos from only natural ingredients and has quickly become a salon favorite. Other quality hair care products are HSI Argan Oil Shampoo and the Sun Bum’s Revitalizing Shampoo. Blazon (blazonbrush.com) makes stylish hair brushes that gently keep your strands in shape.

     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. 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. Proenza Schouler’s Arizona two-piece gift set contains a fragrance and body oil that carries a scent that brings the beauty of the Sonora Desert to mind.

     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.

      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. T.Anthony (tanthony.com) also makes high-end leather wallets as well as its famous luggage.

       Vince Camuto (vincecamuto.com) is an excellent one-stop online shop where you can find leather totes, handbags, and all kinds of clothing and fragrances from the famed designer in a wide array of price points that should fit most budgets.

      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. G-Shock’s GBD 800 line of watches will not only tell you the time but also how many steps that you have taken during the day. It retails for $99. 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. 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. Other high fashion sunglasses options are shades from Salvatore Ferragamo and Longchamp Paris. For those with tighter budgets, Polaroid has a huge selection of frames including classic aviators that rival Ray-Ban as does Maui Jim.

     A lot of Major League Baseball players wear Oakley or Nike Wraparound sunglasses and so it’s natural that their fans want to emulate them. The quality of those big names in the athletic performance eyewear market 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. A new player in the sports wraparound shades biz is Dragon Alliance.   

      Harry & David’s (harryanddavid.com) 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. The company also has a subscription Fruit of the Month and Veggie of the Month club fort hose who want a healthy surprise arriving in the mail a dozen times a year.    

      Popcorn aficionados can order gift box sets from Double Good (doublegood.com)

     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 all kinds of gift packaging then try MarieBelle (mariebelle.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.

      A non-chocolate guilty pleasure is Amy’s Wicked Whoopie Pies from Maine (wickedwhoopies.com). Amy has gotten 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.

     It is easy to find quality American wine at bargain prices that rival undrinkable (in my opinion) budget brands as Barefoot and Yellowtail. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay should please red and white fans both aesthetically and in their wallets as it retails for $8.

    Rock guitarist Dave Matthews started Dreaming Tree Wines a few years ago. It was easy to dismiss Matthews as yet another celebrity who dabbles in the world of vino but his wines have won serious competitions. In addition, Dreaming Tree contributes a portion of all proceeds to environmental conservation organizations. Befitting of a company with an owner who is a well-known musician, Dreaming Tree has put out a gift set that includes a bottle of its Crush Red Blend with a wine cork that doubles as a bluetooth speaker. 

      Joseph Carr, the founder of Josh Cellars, may not be a celebrity vintner but his Lake County, California vineyard produces terrific Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.   

     Wine connoisseurs might be interested in Naked Wines (nakedwines.com). It uses the Costco business model where you have to pay to join and by doing so you get discounted prices on wines from independent vintners from all over the world.

    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 Redbreast 12 Year-Old, Craigllachie 17, Aberfeldy 16, Grant’s Family Reserve, Glenlivet Founders Reserve, Chivas Regal Ultis, Chivas Mizunara (think whiskey with added Japanese spices), Aberlour A’bunadh Batch No. 54. Johnnie Walker is arguably the best-known brand in the world of scotch whisky. This year Johnnie Walker is introducing its White Label to go with its Red, Black, and Blue Label scotches. Ketel One is quickly approaching both Smirnoff and Stolichnaya in terms of vodka popularity. Country music artist and NBC “Voice “star Blake Shelton has bucked the trend of celebrity vintners and has launched Smithworks Vodka.

     For rums, you can’t go wrong with Bacardi or Captain Morgan. Tequila aficionados will enjoy Patron (the Patron 2018 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 last year 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 Beefeater, 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 Espresso Creme Cream or Kahlua original Coffee Liqueur . 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.

      Joining the aperitif market is the cleverly-named Macchu Pisco from Peru. Pisco is a popular brandy-style liqueur found in the northern parts of South America.

     Sparkling liquors are always popular for New Year’s Eve parties. A bottle of Maschio Extra Dry Prosecco retails for around $14. If you want to splurge, Meiomi Coastal California Wines is debuting a sparkling wine for $27.

      Staying hydrated is important for health. SodaStream’s Fizzi transforms tap water into seltzer. SodaStream also sells fruit flavor drops for those who prefer their seltzer to not be as bland.

      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 Night Before 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. There are many, many other floral options at 1800Flowers.com.

     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.

      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. The Hollywood Silk Solution sells silk pillowcases which the company claims is better for both your hair and quality of sleep.

      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.  

      Athletic apparel and equipment make for great gifts and they tie into everyone’s New Year’s resolution of exercising more.

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

     TaylorMade (taylormadegolf.com) is one of the largest players in the golf industry and it manufactures drivers, wedges, and putters for everyone from the novice duffer to the scratch golfer. It also makes the bags for lugging your clubs around. Interestingly, Bed, Bath & Beyond has a furniture stand in which you can place your golf bag out inside your home so that you don’t have to use up valuable closet or garage space for it. Don’t forget to use their ubiquitous 20% off coupons!

     Buying gifts for the teen and tween markets isn’t easy but here are a couple of suggestions. Balfour Backpacks are ideal for carrying backs and clothing and they come with customized patches to add personality. Smartphones have become so omnipresent that it often seems as if they are surgically attached to one’s hands. PopSockets (popsockets.com) makes small discs that attach to ones phone so that it’s both easier to hold and text. The company has licensing agreements with most of the professional sports leagues so that you can show off the logo of your favorite sports teams. The actress Zendaya has also created art work for PopSockets.

     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.

      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.

      New York Sports Tours (newyorksports.tours) is the Gray Line of the Big Apple for sports fans. It began operations this year and it transports guests on a small chartered bus to various historic locales that have had a great impact in sports history. After the tour concludes guests can enjoy a dinner at Keen’s Steakhouse, which itself possesses a ton of sports memorabilia while chatting with a sports celebrity such as former Yankees outfielder Mickey Rivers, sportscaster and Douglaston native Mary Carillo, and former New York Cosmos goalie Shep Messing.

      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, located 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.        

     If you are looking for both warm weather and value during Christmas to New Year’s week then forget Florida and think about Southern California instead. This is a very slow time of the year for hotels there. If you want to be in the heart of everything in Los Angeles, then stay at Ramada Suites in West Hollywood located right on Santa Monica Boulevard, Just down the road in San Diego, the Hyatt Regency La Jolla located in the bustling University Town Center neighborhood right off Interstate 5, has a heated Olympic-sized pool and Jacuzzi among many other amenities. Queens’ hometown airline, JetBlue, offers frequent service from JFK to both Los Angeles and San Diego.

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