No mall hauls. No fighting for parking spaces. We tested dozens of gadgets and gimmicks and gizmos, and ending up with the best gifts for house and garden. Remember the prices are suggested retail prices. Never pay those; simply check a few trusty sites for better prices and values. Here, our choices in part one.
For the record: Vinyl is making a comeback. Marry records and retro and you get an ingenious phonograph! Crosley has made those ’50s briefcase-style record players that feature a three-speed portable turntable for your listening convenience. The phonographs are lightweight and portable (they are constructed of wood and bound in a leatherette material) and the belt-driven turntable mechanism plays 3 speeds: 33⅓, 45 and 78 RPM records. The dynamic full-range stereo speakers offer pretty good sound. There are RCA and headphone jack outputs and the phono is ready for your audio device or MP3 player. The toughest job? What color to pick. There’s pink, turquoise, green, black, pink, orange, red and tweed. Time to revisit the Velvet Underground. $99.95.
Noted Mexican architect and engineer Luis Barragan once said, “A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.” That’s exactly we feel whenever we peruse Gardener’s Supply catalogs. No wonder they are our favorite. This year, we sampled three items, and give all of them five stars! The Lavender Spa Gift Basket will delight your senses with the soothing, calming scent of lavender. The reusable copper wire basket is overflowing with lavender-scented treats. It includes the GS’ exclusive lavender essential oil and Monet Diffuser to delicately scent the air; lavender essential oil spray (ideal for refreshing linens and bedding); roll-on lavender essential oil (perfect for on-the-go use or to help relax at bedtime); a French lavender-filled sachet, just right for tucking in a drawer, among linens or even beneath a pillow and savor the calming aroma; and a bar of rich and moisturizing triple-milled French lavender Shea butter soap with exfoliating botanicals. A Gardener’s Supply exclusive and ready-to-give aromatherapy kit that’s sure to delight. $39.95.
Fungi as a gift? Yep, when you consider fungi is a more proper term for mushrooms. The Giant Portabella Mushroom Kit is a fun and foolproof way to grow your own huge portabella mushrooms. Giant portabellas can reach up to 8-inches across and are perfect for grilling. With this easy-to-use kit, you can expect to harvest your first batch of giant portabellas in about four weeks. You’ll get several crops over an 8- to 12-week period, with a total harvest of about four pounds. Just add filet mignon. $44.95.
Not into growing mushrooms? Opt for the Copper and Glass Gazebo Terrarium, a 17-faceted glass panes and lustrous copper-finished metal that combine and create a striking display. At 12-and-a-half inches tall, the terrarium (another Gardner’s Supply exclusive) gives your plants a new home, an eye-catching size for tabletop or mantle. A hinged door makes planting and watering easy, and closes to maintain the humidity that many plants need to thrive. (We planted GS succulents in ours.) Or choose to use this romantic terrarium to showcase small curios, holiday ornaments or found objects like pebbles or sea glass. Padded feet protect your furniture. An extra note: The terrarium is not watertight, so we recommend protecting surfaces with a plant tray or saucer. Gardener’s Supply also sells a set of charming tiny succulents in a variety of shapes and forms, a perfect choice for the terrarium. These easy-care succulents bring intriguing textures and hues; they love bright light and dry soil. Each succulent collection includes six plants hand-selected by our growers; actual plants may vary slightly based on seasonal availability. $39.95.
Want a way to grow succulents and show them off in a new, different way? Try the Classic Mini Magnet Succulent Garden a set of three-inch magnetized ceramic pots that attach to most metal surfaces, bringing instant smiles at home or at the office. Dress up a refrigerator, office cubicle or filing cabinet with living art. Among the easiest plants to grow, succulents prefer bright light and need only occasional light watering. Grower’s choice of succulent varieties and pot colors (assorted white, black, gray and striped). Plants may differ from photo based on availability. You’ll receive three pots in three different colors. $34.95. gardeners.com
This Conair hair-cutting kit is a cut above others. The powerful magnetic motor will last a long time (we cannot guarantee as long as Crystal Gayle’s hair) and 17 long-lasting, self-sharpening stainless steel blades—and 45 total settings for all your custom cuts—perfect for all your home hair cutting and grooming needs. There are also styling clips, a comb, cleaning brush and oil and long-lasting, self-sharpening stainless steel blades. The kit is housed in a deluxe hard storage case, and a steal (only at Walgreens) at $15.99.
Identity thief is increasing. We can’t think of a better way to help stop it (or at least put a huge dent into the problem) by destroying any and all paperwork that has private and personal information. Tossing such material into the garbage = trouble. It’s time to wed yourself to shred yourself. On paper. The Fellowes 79Ci is undoubtedly the best on the market. The machine features a patented 100% jam-proof system that eliminates paper jams and powers through tough jobs in ultra-quiet shredder performance. The heavy-duty cross-cut blades can handle up to 16 sheets of paper per pass in addition to staples, paper clips, credit cards, junk mail and CDs. The built-in safe sense technology automatically stops shredding when hands touch the paper opening. An extended 20 minute run time for increased productivity and the energy savings system maximizes shredder energy efficiency 100% of the time, both in use and out of use. Stay anonymous has never been easier. $239.99.
Whether it’s a family affair or a holiday soiree, a generously-sized platter with a selection of cheeses is a welcome addition to any gathering. That’s where the Le Creuset’s simple and simply stunning round platter with cutting board makes its entrance. Place hard or soft cheeses on the beech cutting board surrounded by crackers or bread slices; want to serve some salsa or dips? Just remove the cutting board and pour dips or salsas into the center well. Le Creuset spares no expense: The dense stoneware blocks moisture absorption to prevent cracking, crazing and rippling and beech has a nonporous grain and natural antibacterial properties that reduce the risk of contamination. The wood is also strong enough to resist cuts and gouges, but retains enough flexibility to be gentle on knives. The platter is dishwasher-safe; the cutting board needs to be hand-washed. $100.