Have you ever wondered why socks are the receptacle for those little gifts called stuffers?
One theory is that long ago, when passing through a small village, St. Nicholas heard about three kind, beautiful and eligible women whose father could not afford their dowries. Wanting to remain anonymous, St. Nick threw three gold coins down the chimney of this poor family. The precious loot happened to land in some socks that were drying on the mantelpiece. Word spread, and you know the rest of the story — ever since, in celebration of Christmas, socks worldwide have been stuffed with small treasures.
Coins still make good stuffers, especially gold coins, but there are a lot of other options these days. Here are some gift ideas for less than $25. Remember, stuffers sans the stockings make great Hanukkah and Kwanzaa gifts too.
The idea behind the Japanese puzzle game Sudoku is supposedly simple — every row, column and 3-by-3 box in the grid must contain all of the digits from one to nine. Actual play is not so easy. And with any trend these days, there are hand-held electronic versions. One compact model is Techno Source’s Touch Screen edition.
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The lightweight device contains more than 1 million puzzles. Players use a plastic stylus to punch in the numbers on the LCD display. The illuminated screen makes the gadget look cool, but it can be hard to read the screen at certain angles.
The price is right, but shop around. The Monday after Cyber Monday, the gadget was selling for $14.99 at Target, $17.99 at Amazon.com and $19.95 at The Discovery Store. It requires two AAA batteries, which are included.
The buzz this season, at least in Brooklyn, N.Y., is not at Starbucks but at the fair-trade cafes. And we all know, Brooklyn is now the center of the universe (formerly the honor went to Manhattan.) The hottest spot is the Gorilla Coffee cafe, which brews and pours pounds of the politically correct coffee each day. The fair-trade seal of approval means “farmers and workers were paid fair, above-market prices and fair wages,” says TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization that certifies fair-trade goods.
You don’t have to travel to Brooklyn (although it is worth a trip) for the tasty roast. Gorilla brew is available at the company’s Web site. Sumatra Gayoland, Nicaraguan Segovia and decaf Mexican Chiapas are just a few of the blends, which sell for $11.99 plus shipping.
The folding saw, which comes in red, yellow and black, costs $24 at Buckknives.com. Also check the online store listing for retailers near you.
And then there are the animal-lovers on your list. A friend of mine — who between her and her husband have six kids and two grandchildren — just visited, yet all she brought were photos of her dog. Not just a picture, a whole album.
A great gift for the dog-lover in your life is anything from the gift shop at NEADS, a nonprofit organization that trains dogs for deaf and disabled Americans. A package of eight puppy-love postcards costs $7.99; wall calendars are now $15.99, reduced from $19.99; and a bright yellow messenger bag sells for $24.99. Find them at Cafepress.com.
As for headwear, forget the scarf and hat set. The hat doesn’t work with her ponytail, and he’s not giving up his baseball hat for the winter. The alternative is a fleece headband designed especially for both genders. Her headband has a special place to put that ponytail, and his has a spot for the rim of his baseball hat and will keep his ears warm. Both headbands are available at Duluth Trading for $8 and $9.50.
Throwaway plastic water bottles are convenient, but they are far from being environmentally friendly. Metal not only looks nicer but also doesn't leach chemicals into the food or liquid, or leave the material tasting like the substance that was just contained. Klean Kanteen makes several stainless steel varieties. Available with a flat, loop or sports plastic cap, the 18-ounce flask costs $15.95 and the 27-ounce canteen sells for $17.95. (The cap is plastic to prevent tooth injuries.) There’s also a 12-ounce sippy cup for $17.95. The bottles are sold online at Klean Kanteen, REI and Greenfeet.
A copy of "Wordplay," a documentary about New York Times crossword puzzle enthusiasts, will keep the word mavens on your list entertained. But a deck of puzzles à la New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz may help extend their short-term memory. Each deck, from Chronicle Books, contains 75 verbal challenges, mind-bogglers, word riddles or brain-twisters.
The brain-teasers are not easy. Try this one: What word becomes its own opposite when you put the letters FE in front of it? (Answer below.) A deck cost $13.95. The memories saved: priceless.
What’s a stuffer guide without some socks? You can never have too many socks especially if you launder them in machines. And “snuggle socks,” so named by Life Is Good, look and feel just as they sound, although made of a typical polyester/spandex blend. The fluffy socks come in midnight, chocolate, true, raspberry, cactus, white and striped or cricket multi. “One size fits most” reads the product description of the $10 socks. Buy them online from Life Is Good, or find a store near you using the online retail locator.
My favorite stuffer this season is OXO’s mini dustpan and brush. I like the design, the $4.99 price, and everything one can pick up with this plastic wonder, from table crumbs to dust mites. I now have one in every room of my house, and you can too. Or you can buy one for everyone on your list. The portable cleanup kit is available at OXO’s Web site and theKitchenStore.com. Right now, it comes only in white.
So, what word becomes its own opposite when you put the letters FE in front of it? "Male," as in "female."
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