These gifts work well as stocking stuffers, but it's also a good idea to have a handful of small gifts on hand for hostess gifts, co-worker gift exchanges, and thank-yous for the hairdresser/mailman/babysitter/whoever.
This adorable MANATEA silicone tea infuser will tickle any lover of tea and marine life. (Also available: an orange seahorse and a clear diving helmet infuser.) He hangs over the edge of your mug with his cheerful manatee smile, and when unused, he rests on his front flippers and waits patiently. He'd be perfect to perch on the edge of a Christmas stocking! $9.74 from Amazon.
The Misto oil sprayer is handy for cooks and non-cooks alike. Fill with vegetable oil for instant (and inexpensive) non-stick spray; fill with olive oil for easy bruschetta; fill with flavored oils for fancy breads and hors d'oeuvres. $9.99 from Amazon.
Don't you hate it when you're working in a small space and you can't get the flashlight aimed in the right direction, or you don't have enough hands to hold the flashlight AND your tools? This magnetic hands-free flashlight will solve that problem. With 12 magnets faced every which way, you'll be sure to be able to get the right angle. Stick it to a pipe when you're working under the sink, to the hood or the fender when you're working on the car, or to a lighting fixture when you're changing a bulb. $5.97 from Amazon.
For the coffee-loving chemist (or general nerd) in your life, how about a mug bearing an image of a caffeine molecule? (Yes, I do have one.) It's not dishwasher safe, but seriously, what nerd do you know that does anything other than rinse out their mug once in a while? $3.99 from Think Geek.
The next gift category is great for family gift exchanges, that old friend you always see at Christmas, and for those extra small-but-not-too-small gifts you use to "even out" your gift giving among siblings or a group of friends. It's also a nice gift for your kids' teachers or anyone else who regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty for you.
Surely there's a child (or, let's be honest, an adult) in your life who would love to find this charming balloon dog nightlight under the tree on Christmas morning. Squeeze his durable silicone paw to trigger the soft LED light to glow for 30 minutes at a time. Available in blue or green. $25 from Uncommon Goods.
Any camper, hiker, athlete, or traveler on your list will love this compact collapsible water bottle. Collapsing down to just 1" thick and 4-1/4" diameter, it can easily be tucked away in a pocket or the bottom of a bag or backpack, and pulled out when needed. It expands to 6" high and has a 21-oz. capacity. $19.99 from Uncommon Goods.
Designed for schoolkids, this placemat lunch bag is handy for adults who bring their lunch to work, hikers and campers who eat on the trail, and anyone who occasionally needs a clean spot to eat something they brought with them. Made from insulating neoprene, the bag is machine washable and large enough for several sandwich-sized Tupperware, and unzips to form a generously-sized placemat. Available in an array of colors. $24.95 from The Grommet.
Have you ever been on a trip and suddenly realized you forgot your phone charger? Or your earbuds? Or your power converter? With the Ready2Go tech organizer, you can be sure that all your electronic accoutrements are in place before you leave. Available in two sizes, the organizers include slots for earbuds, power cords, adapters, mice, memory cards and sticks, thumb drives, batteries, and whatever other tech gadgets you want to bring along. $12 and $17 from The Grommet.
This is the bulk of gift-giving territory in my house. Gifts for siblings, spouses, thank-yous for your amazing assistant at work, and any kind of Yankee Swap or gift exchange with a $50 limit.
The absent-minded technophile on your list (yeah, I have one of these) might enjoy this attractive - and practical - rosewood Bluetooth tracking tag. Attach it to your keychain, your wallet, your kid's backpack, that wandering remote that always ends up between the sofa cushions somewhere, and if you can't find what it's attached to, use the free downloadable app to track it down. And if it's your phone that you're always losing, it also works in reverse by using the alert button on the tag! $40 from Uncommon Goods.
Be honest: how many electronic gadgets are you trying to recharge at your bedside overnight? And when you travel, don't you hate crawling all over your hotel room finding enough power outlets to recharge it all? With this ChargeHub charging station, you can charge up to seven devices at the same time, using just a single plug - and all at their optimal charging speed. Available in 7 different colors. $49.95 from The Grommet.
Wouldn't any of your friends who live in the frozen North love a reusable snow melting welcome mat? No, you don't have to plug it in or recharge its batteries. It's impregnated with sodium, magnesium, and calcium chloride, the same ingredients in rock salt. It releases just enough to melt the snow and ice, retaining the rest for the next wintry storm. Effective at melting ice and snow down to -15 degrees. $49.95 from The Grommet.
This amazing sailing ship kite is sure to delight all ages. Made in Bali from local bamboo and nylon, this 25"x27" really does fly! Kite comes with easy assembly instructions and even a helpful video. $40 from Haptic Lab.
This price level is the "nice" gifts, reserved for one's spouse, or for giving a nice combined couples or family gift.
These handsome soapstone and acacia wood bowls are practical as well as beautiful. Chill them in the freezer for a few hours and they'll keep your ice cream chilled to the last delicious spoonful. Bake them in the oven and they'll keep your soup, appetizers, and dips warm for hours. The 6-oz. capacity is just right for a single generous serving. $60 for two, from Uncommon Goods.
You don't have to be a germaphobe to worry about all the nasty things that get all over your smartphone - you know, the thing you touch to your face and hands all the time? The PhoneSoap Smartphone Sanitizer uses UV light to destroy most lurking bacteria and viruses. The case charges your phone while it's sanitizing, and it even has an acoustic amplifier so you can still hear all your notifications from inside the closed case. At 7" x 3-3/4" x 0.84", it accommodates almost all smartphones (sorry, iPhone 6 Plus users). $59.95 from Uncommon Goods.
For the artist in your life, how about this 3D sculpting pen? It comes with 10 feet each of red, blue, and green filaments (other colors sold separately), which harden within seconds. USB charging cable can be used with the included AC adapter plug. $69.99 from Brookstone.
Remember when Lincoln Logs were made of real wood? Well, the Lincoln Logs 100th Anniversary Building Set has 111 real wood logs and even comes in a large metal tin, just like the original. Adults will enjoy reliving their childhood and kids will enjoy creating with this fun vintage toy. $70 from the Smithsonian Museum Store.
In my family, everyone received one "big gift", plus some additional smaller ones. This is definitely the "big gift" category. These gifts should be useful, memorable, and special.
Maybe I'm getting a little deaf with age, but I find that my phone is never quite loud enough on speaker. If you know someone with the same problem, maybe they'd like this acoustic phone amplifier as much as I do. Carved from beautifully patterned birch wood, the slot holds most smartphones - with cases! - and naturally amplifies the phone's own speaker. $100 from Uncommon Goods.
Drones are cool, in anybody's book. This steady cam drone features LED lights, one-button return, multiple speeds, and a 200-foot range, plus it shoots both video and still photos remotely. And it does cool midair tumbling! $99.99 from The Sharper Image.
Kids aren't the only ones who will love these illuminated building bricks! Roughly the same size as Duplo brand blocks, this set of 102 bricks in 6 colors comes with two rechargeable power bases and has three light modes including steady, flashing, and fading. Bricks shut off automatically after 15 minutes of use. $79.99 from The Sharper Image.
I wouldn't advise giving this to your neighbor (unless you get one for yourself as well), but anyone on your list who's always working on their lawn will appreciate this garden and lawn sprinkler. It covers up to 1900 square feet, the spray length adjusts from 10 feet to 62 feet, and the oscillation and spray width adjust from 13 to 56 feet, to easily avoid driveways, sidewalks, and porches. Its mechanical timer can be set to shut off after anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours. In addition, its adapter plugs into the hose, rather than screwing in, and best of all, it's tough enough to be dropped repeatedly without damage. $99.95 from Hammacher Schlemmer.
Most of us have a shower radio, but I bet it's not as cool as this Bluetooth shower mirror radio! It pairs with any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or tablet, plus it has a built-in AM/FM radio with four presets. Its strong suction cups hold it securely to the shower wall, and it has slots for two razors. The 5-1/2" square shaving mirror is made from fog-free optical quality glass. One six-hour charge of its rechargeable battery (charger included) will provide a month of high-quality audio. $99.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer.
Some gifts are so perfect that they're worth spending more on, even more than the usual "big gift." Maybe your siblings all want to go in to get something extra-nice for your parents, or maybe you want to give your spouse something really special this year. Whatever the reason you're looking for a big ticket gift this year, here are some that are sure to impress.
Does anyone you know hate trying to type on the tiny keyboard of a tablet or - God forbid - a smartphone? Through the magic of Bluetooth technology, this laser projection keyboard creates a virtual, full-sized, fully functional keyboard (it even "sees" your hand motions to create a virtual mouse) on any flat surface. $150 from Uncommon Goods.
I bet you know someone who uses one of those folding dollies to bring groceries and other heavy items in from their car. It doesn't work to go up stairs, though, does it? Well, this all-terrain stair climbing folding cart does! Its triple-wheel design can handle all kinds of rough surfaces, as well as stairs. With three different handle positions and a 100-lb. capacity, it's sure to make life easier for someone on your gift list. $129.99 at The Sharper Image.
sea serpent garden sculpture will add charm and whimsy to any yard. Measuring roughly 60" in length when installed (mounting stakes are included), this metallic monster's rusty patina and fierce expression is sure to keep the recipient's yard and home safe. $180 from Uncommon Goods.
Let's Get Crazy
Assuming that you just won the lottery or became the sole heir of a billionaire uncle you never knew about, here are the dream gifts you might want to give to some of your loved ones (or maybe your favorite blogger, hmm?).
barbecue dining boat features a built-in 24"-diameter barbecue grill, 10 place settings, 3 beverage holders, and 6 under-seat compartments for food and supplies. The 30-watt trolling motor is powered by 4 rechargeable batteries that will keep you chugging along at 2-1/2 mph for 8 hours. It even has an 11-foot diameter umbrella to keep you out of the sun. $50,000 from Hammacher Schlemmer.
genuine Italian Astoria Dual Espresso Machine, you'll always be guaranteed of a deliciously-caffeinated welcome at their home. Hiding behind its rustic Moroccan copper styling lies microprocessors to calculate the exact perfect brew, adjusting the water-to-grind ratio, softening the water if needed, and adjusting the brew strength. An Astoria technician will install the machine and instruct you on its use (although personally, I'd probably hire a dedicated barista). $8,000 from Hammacher Schlemmer.
massage chair, featuring embedded surround-sound Bluetooth speakers, LED mood lights, heated back, and 8 automatic programs to give you the best in-chair massage experience possible. $8,999 from The Sharper Image.
log cabin tree lodge, built on the base of an actual tree (oak or eucalyptus). The cabin itself is crafted from genuine Douglas fir logs and has a cedar shingle roof. The recipient can enjoy him- or herself by playing on the corkscrew tunnel slide or the swing, or climb the interior ladder to the main floor. Guaranteed to withstand harsh weather and "exuberant play" for years to come. $20,000 from Hammacher Schlemmer.
Now go get shopping!!