We try it before you buy it, because with economic times like these, it is all about spending money carefully. We are certain you do not want to waste your gift-giving dollar on another piece of impersonal junk your loved one will want to hide in the closet. My troop of trusty testers and I have waded through dozens of packages and hundreds of products in the name of finding the right gifts to recommend to you this year. Some practical, some fun, some edible, and some weeded out for being downright unnecessary or unusable, we have selected our favorites and offer them as the best of the best. We offer items on several prices levels and in many different age groups. Most of these great gifts can be found at your local stores or conveniently on the web.
Braun Series 7 Pulsonic razor: Our tester loves shaving with this premium men’s razor. Unlike older systems with messy, hard to pour bottles of solution, set-up on this self-cleaning model is fast and easy, thanks to a fuss-free Clean & Renew System cartridge that pops right in. He finds the foil head flexible, comfortable, and smooth and the built-in trimmer convenient and easy to use. The LCD and LED displays show when his razor needs maintenance and completes all cleaning, lubricating, drying, and charging with one touch. The Braun Series charger is Energy Star certified. A Fast Clean Function will run a quick maintenance cycle in just 25 seconds, and Braun provides a hard plastic case for travel. Available at Kohls.com, Amazon.com, Walmart, and other retailers. $239 – 269
Skil Power Cutter: This multi-use cutter is great for crafters, remodelers, and frustrated parents on holiday mornings. We have been using the 3.6v Power Cutter on carpet, fabric, cardboard, window screen, and the impenetrable plastic packages so many toys come in these days. What a lifesaver! With the AutoSharp self-sharpening blade and guard, this mighty little tool weighs less than one pound and replaces our awkward, dangerous utility knives for opening the many packages of test products we receive. This wonder-tool also cuts vinyl tiles, wallpaper, leather, paper, gift wrap, and hundreds of materials up to 1/4 inch depending on the material. Skil’s SmartCharge System is Energy Star certified and allows the cutter to be stored on the lithium ion charger safely for extended periods of time, holding a charge for up to 18 months! Cutter, charger, blade, case and one-year warranty are included. Available at Lowe’s and other retail stores. $49 – $53
Husky Tough Tape: This extra wide tape measure has dual sided markings, 9.5′ standout ability, and Rare Earth magnets for easy single-person use. The powerful magnets grip steel studs or other metal surfaces for a variety of projects. Our tester says this high quality tape held up under tough testing, including bouncing back without damage after a fall onto concrete. Husky Tough Tape is specially coated to last ten times longer than most tape measures and backed with a lifetime warranty. Available in 16, 25, and 40 ft lengths from Home Depot. $13 – $25
Nivea for Men gift set: The head to toe gift set includes Energizing Face Scrub, Extreme Comfort Shaving Gel and Post Shaving Balm, and Energy Body Wash, all specially formulated for a man’s skin. Our tester finds these and Nivea’s new “Cool” and “Sensitive” body washes refreshingly masculine without being overpowering. His favorites are the Cool and Sensitive washes and the Energizing Face Scrub. The “Sensitive” formula contains no soaps or dyes. Though there is a scent, it is light and attractive. We recommend Nivea for a great gift set or mix and match stocking stuffers for your favorite man. Available at retailers including Walgreens and CVS. $3 and up
Fossil Leather Portfolio & Lamb Wallet: The sleek design of this zip-around portfolio is a hit for both form and function. Our tester is a professional writer who loves the look and feel of the genuine leather cover and is more confident than ever, trusting the many inner pockets and legal pad to keep his on-the-go lifestyle neatly arranged. The Lamb Passcase is made of the softest material and is the most comfortable wallet our tester has carried, conforming to his body while keeping his valuables secure and organized. Fossil offers classic men’s items with a sophisticated flair in an affordable price point. These two are our favorite gift items for men this year. Available at Fossil store locations including Oak Park Mall (Overland Park, KS), Jordan Creek Mall (Des Moines, IA), and Tanger Outlets. Lamb Passcase in Black $40, Leather Portfolio in Black $60
C.H.I. Irons & Nails: This professional quality ceramic flat iron heats up quickly, straightens hair beautifully in one pass, just likes at the salon, and features a swivel cord to reduce tangling.
The Black Patent CHI Sparkle or White Patent CHI Opalescent iron nestles in a matching thermal carrying case so you can just style, pack and go. A separate pocket prevents melted cords. Accented by red rhinestones on the logo, this straightener is not just beautiful and convenient but is hands down our tester’s favorite flat iron for straightening with healthy shine.
These holiday irons are packaged with the new “CHI You Under the Mistletoe” nail enamel and a 2-in-1 top and base coat (using the same durable ceramic technology as CHI’s irons) in a festive cylinder gift box ready for gift giving. Available in professional salons. $100 -139.
ittybitty Bras & Intimates: A beautiful choice for that special someone, itty bitty bras recognizes that Victoria doesn’t always have such a big “secret,” so owner Jane Hodgdon designs and offers elegant choices in bras, panties, and camisoles for smaller sizes.
In lovely “signature” or “couture” looks, these fashionable undies are BIG on style! While our testers like the signature pink bra, couture polka dot bra, and matching leopard panty and camisole set, they love that the band and straps offer more adjustability than most brands!
And unlike most other intimate apparel lines, these give those who feel “less blessed” plenty of loving attention by adding fanciful but tasteful rhinestone and lace details. We recommend these for blossoming teens and petite ladies of all ages. No worries if you do not know your recipient’s size – a gift certificate ensures just the right fit. Available at ittybittybra.com and select retailers. $14 – $55.
Fossil Organizing Wallet & Horseshoe Necklace: While reviewing many of Fossil’s latest offerings, we have narrowed our selection to two lovely and elegant items for women.
The standout choices are the Travel Luxe glove finish and patent leather wallet in black and the sparkling silver and crystal horseshoe necklace. These simple yet elegant pieces are our testers’ favorites for the ability to carry or wear with many different looks, casual or formal, day or evening. The wallet’s two-material finish, contrast stitching, and patterned lining has proven to be eye-catching design with everyday durability, with or without a purse.
Available in eight color schemes, this wallet includes 15 card pockets, a zipper pouch, and an ID card window. The 16″ horseshoe chain with lock and key ends is dainty yet sturdy and is alternatively available in gold tone with Colorado crystals. We especially appreciate the holiday gift tin in which the necklaces arrive, no wrapping necessary. Just close the tin and hang by its ribbon on the tree! Available at Fossil store locations including Oak Park Mall (Overland Park, KS), Jordan Creek Mall (Des Moines, IA), and Tanger Outlets. Necklace $25, Wallet $35.
Hershey’s Holiday Collection: Never one to be without new holiday flavors and styles, Hershey’s has done the unthinkable – sent me a sampling of their delicious new treats! Well, I don’t know how I could NOT recommend these, unless it’s to save more for myself! The new “Hershey Bliss signature milk chocolate with mel
taway center of crème de menthe” isn’t just a mouthful of a name but a mouthful of sinfully smooth indulgence. Given a bag of these, I will upgrade even the naughtiest to my nice list. Though initially reluctant to try the next choice, as I am not typically a white chocolate lover, I was almost equally impressed with Hershey’s new Limited Edition Candy Cane Mint Kisses, a candy cane bits and red stripe combo that brings to mind homemade almond bark treats from Grandma’s kitchen. And speaking of the naughty and nice, Hershey’s offers holiday kisses gift bags marked for each inclination, wrapped appropriately in black or white with corresponding flags for the bad or good on your gift list. Available at mass merchandisers and grocers. $2 – $3
Pier 1 clutch wallets, jewelry, mirrors: Bright sparkly bangles and rings and slim line, patent leather look clutches from a bold palette are just a few of the fabulous stocking stuffers gathered from across the globe and available from Pier 1 this season. We recommend the goldtone bracelets and glittery mirrors, handsomely packaged in shimmery pouches for instantly wrapped last minute gifts for your favorite fashionista. Available in a wide spectrum of fabulous finishes and colors from Pier 1 stores. Prices vary, most under $20.
Sandra Lee “Made from Scratch”: This is Sandra’ Lee’s biography, an inspiring story of perseverance and success. Sandra has overcome so many ups and downs to become a stronger, determined businesswoman with so much savvy and offers a powerful must-read from which we can all learn. I recommend this book for your sisters, moms, daughters, wives, and friends. From her early days in family turmoil to her business ventures, chance encounters with rock stars, a failed marriage and current success, Sandra shares with us her amazing story in touching detail. Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers and booksellers. $13 – $17
Monopoly Here & Now – World Edition: Our teen testers appreciated the bigger board with more properties, new continent-related movers (kangaroo, pyramid, and more), and paperless digital banking. Updates include properties featuring cities around the world. Water Works and Electric Company are now Wind Energy and Solar Energy. The same objective and general rules still apply, but Hasbro’s focus is definitely a modern and global approach. The electronic banking system will appeal to kids of the gaming generation. Moms will also appreciate the disappearance of messy paper money, which usually ends up anywhere but in the Monopoly box anyway. Though the “ATM” requires 2 AA batteries, we recommend rechargeables to keep this game as green and modern as intended. Ages 8+. 2 to 6 players.
Trivial Pursuit 25th Anniversary: Hasbro continues its promotion of family game night with an updated version of another old favorite. Easy, medium and hard question levels may be chosen by a roll of the dice or prior to the start of the game. The redesigned board offers new strategies like bonuses and steals to add to the fun! No batteries required. Age 12+. 2 to 36 players.
Both Hasbro games available at mass merchandisers, including Target and WalMart. $30 – $38
Oral-B Pulsonic & Vitality power toothbrushes: The Vitality Precision Clean’s round spinning head removes plaque at the gum line better than any brush we have tried.
With the premium Pulsonic, the lightest, slimmest rechargeable sonic brush ever, we like the alternate precision tip head, included for cleaning between teeth. These rechargeable toothbrushes have 2-minute timers to indicate the proper brushing time. We get a straight-from-the-dentist clean feeling from both.
We love the easy setup and maintenance and space-saving chargers for both! As we are all for saving the planet and for saving time, we also loved that the batteries cannot be overcharged and the brush heads are so easy to replace. Available at Target, Walmart, Kmart, Sam’s Club, and other retailers. Vitality $20 – $22, Pulsonic $60 – 70.
HoMedics Shiatsu Massage Cushion: This Therapist Select Shiatsu unit does not just massage the back. It also reaches tense shoulders and massages away the aches of the day while providing soothing heat.
We love it because of its versatility, used in almost any chair and on shiatsu or rolling massage, with or without the heat setting. I personally use this in my office chair to relax while reading email or surfing the web. Available at Bed, Bath & Beyond and homedics.com. $200.
Strawberry Hill’s Povitica (specialty bread): When I first saw an ad for this dessert, I wondered aloud if this funny named but beautiful looking bread was as good as it looked on paper. This delicious specialty passed down through a family of Croatian immigrants who settled in Kansas City’s Strawberry Hill district is still handmade in Overland Park, KS.
Swirled sweet dough and filling, baked to perfection, then wrapped and gift boxed for shipping, four flavors of Povitica greeted us this week for several savory rounds of testing. We all love the English Walnut, Apple Cinnamon, and the seasonal Cranberry Nut gently warmed in the microwave. I prefer to eat the Strawberry Cream Cheese variety straight from the fridge, where a loaf of Povitica keeps for up to two weeks.
We long for seasons to change, so we can sample the Blueberry Cream Cheese, as well. Available in several other flavors, including a reduced sugar variety, these 2 ½ pound loaves are a great hostess gift or make a wonderful breakfast treat for overnight holiday guests. Orders can be shipped directly to gift recipients, also. Available from povitica.com in single loaves or mix and match cases of up to 16 loaves. $25 – $270
Sandra Lee’s “Money Saving Meals” & “Fast Fix Family Favorites”: These are so much more than cookbooks, with tips for easy entertaining and cooking once, eating three times. Using Food Network’s semi-homemade cooking maven Sandra Lee’s philosophy of using 70% pre-made ingredients and 30% from scratch, anyone can create wonderful meals with a homemade, comforting feel. Ingredients can make or break a recipe, and Sandra does not endorse any particular company, though she does list exact brands of ingredients as she finds those to best suit the taste and need of each affordable, timesaving recipe.
Inside these wonderfully planned books, we find hints for keeping a well-stocked pantry, feeding unexpected guests, and creating fabulous desserts with minimal effort. Offering ideas for Italian, Mexican, and Chinese entrees, appetizer/drink pairings these handy guides will get anyone through the holidays with no “what to fix” worries. Sandra Lee books are available at Barnes & Noble, Target, and other bookstores and retailers. $13 – $18
Crock-Pot eLume Programmable Slow Cooker & FoodSaver V3840 with SmartSeal: Using tasty but simple recipes like those in Sandra Lee’s cookbooks, it’s not a sure bet guests will leave any leftovers, but a little planning and the right equipment can help to provide a bounty of goodies.
I have found that using the Crock-Pot eLume for my favorite white chili recipe means I can practically cook for a small crowd while I am at work! I throw in four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a cup of water, and a 4oz can of chopped green chilies when I get up in the morning. I use the easy touch screen feature to set the power to high for 2 hours. When I’m about ready to leave for my workday, I just toss in four 15oz cans of Great Northern beans and a packet of white chili (or chicken chili) seasoning. I change the power setting to 4 hours on low, which will automatically switch to the warming feature when the cooking time is over.
This Crock-Pot model continues to warm food for six hours, so if I run late, my food stays at a safe temperature without the worry of overcooking. When I arrive home, I use two forks to shred the chicken and serve with corn chips.
This is by far
the easiest Crock-Pot I have used and just adore that both the lid and stoneware are dishwasher safe. I love cooking up a large batch of seasoned chicken breasts, shredding them and dividing and packaging for safe storage with the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer. The new FoodSaver senses the bag when inserted and does all the work! Try this with cheaper cuts of beef, cooked with sliced onion and green pepper for great flavor. Any tougher cut easily tenderizes in a slow cooker. Keep enough out for the evening meal and vacuum seal the extra portions to freeze for future quick-fix meals such as enchiladas, stir-fry or soup.
The FoodSaver has a new space saving profile, a wider sealing strip, and allows me to buy in bulk and preserve leftovers to save more money in a rough economic time. I will definitely be using these handy kitchen appliances for holiday prep and cooking.
Crock-Pot eLume includes an 80-recipe cookbook and is available at Bed, Bath & Beyond for around $99. FoodSaver v3840 in stainless steel is available at Foodsaver.com for $174. Other FoodSaver models are available at Walmart, Target, and other retailers starting at $99.