Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unique Christmas Gift Ideas ... With A Twist!

Since I haven’t blogged in a while and Christmas is coming up, I thought I might recommend some last minute Christmas gift ideas.

1. Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide To American Consumer Culture
Edited by: Carrie McLaren and Jason Torchinsky

I am half-way through reading this book and I love it! Originally I almost decided not to purchase this book because I discovered that it was a compendium of material from Stay Free! magazine, which I had never read nor heard of for that matter. I assumed that this book would not be appropriate for me as I am unfamiliar with the magazine, but I am extremely glad that I took the chance and bought it. I especially enjoy reading it now in the month of December – somehow reading a book about the tactics advertisers use sell products and the negative affects the media can have on society feels a little bit like rebelling against the commercialization of Christmas! price: $15.16 price: $11.49

There are probably many other books that are enlightening about advertising and the media.  I would recommend buying such a book for someone, but as this is the only such book I have read, this is the only one I can recommend by name.  Maybe you can even find one that talks specifically about the commercialisation of Christmas!  Somehow, a book about the media and advertising seems like an appropriate, albeit a tongue-in-cheek, gift to give.

2.  Humanitarian Gifts

World Vision is a humanitarian organization that focuses on emergency relief, education, healthcare, economic development, and the promotion of justice.  It is one organization through which individuals can sponsor children, and during the holiday season, people can buy a gift for individuals and families in need.  Many of these gifts such as goats, pigs, and chickens, can allow families to become self-sufficient.  Other gifts besides animals and agriculture involve healthcare, education, shelter, water, and business.  The gifts vary in price range, and some will multiply, as businesses and organizations will match your donation.  You can give this gift yourself, or if a friend or loved one is willing, you can give the gift in their name.  You can even make a request on your Christmas wish list for a friend or family member to buy such a gift in your name.
For more information, and to browse the Gift Catalogue, visit the following website:
World Vision is not the only humanitarian organization that is accepting gifts this holiday season.  If you would like to find another organization, you can try UNICEF, OXFAM, The Red Cross, and probably many others.

3.  The Lump of Coal and The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming
Author:  Lemony Snicket
Though I am an adult, part of the reason I love Lemony Snicket’s children’s books is because they are unlike ANY books I read as a child.  Not only are they hilarious, but he is the first writer I have ever read that really does the unexpected and challenges conventions – not just in terms of plot or characters, but in what the audience expects.  For example, I once read a book by him in which I discovered that there was something funny written in the small print of the copyright page.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t think to read the copyright page of a book to see if there is something funny hidden in it, and that’s why I think it is such a brilliant idea!  It’s like a DVD Easter Egg, except in a book!  When it comes to subverting the reader’s expectations, these children’s books are no exception.

An Excerpt from The Lump of Coal:

“The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.” 

Written by:  Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by:  Brett Helquist Price:   $10.82 Price:  $10.39

An Excerpt from The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming:

“It is very frustrating not to be understood in this world.  If you say one thing and keep being told that you mean something else, it can make you want to scream.  But somewhere in this world there is a place for all of us, whether you are an electric form of decoration, peppermint-scented sweet, a source of timber, or a potato pancake."

Written by:  Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by:  Lisa Brown Price:   $10.47 Price:   $6.11 and up

Both storybooks are humourous and appropriate for the holidays, the second even teaching about the history of Hanukah, despite its label as a Christmas story.

4.  Think Geek
 Stuff For Smart Masses

I discovered products from Think Geek when I was doing an online search for products I’d seen on The Big Bang Theory.  I love the things Leonard and Sheldon have such as a shower-curtain with the periodic table of elements – very appropriate for two physicists!  I should note that I haven’t yet purchased anything from this website, so I am not recommending these products or the website from personal experience; I’m simply recommending them as products I find interesting and unique.  For example:
Gingerdead Men Cookie Cutter  $4.99 

5 inch gingerbread cookie cutter with skeleton impression!  This could be a fun gag gift for doctors, nurses, surgeons, chiropractors, physiotherapists, X-ray technicians, or maybe just someone you shop for who can appreciate something out of the ordinary.

Caffeine Mug  $6.99 

 8 oz coffee mug with a diagram of the caffeine molecule!  Obviously this would be appropriate for coffee connoisseurs (and by that I mean addicts).  This would be especially appropriate for those caffeine lovers who have some knowledge of chemistry.
Giant Plush Microbes  $8.99 each

Stuffed animals for people who like science!  When I saw these I fell in love.  I do not own any of these myself but I do hope one day to start collecting these adorable microbes such as E. Coli, Cough, Flesh Eating Disease, and Bad Breath!  There is also a Red Blood Cell, Brain Cell, Nerve Cell, Stem Cell, and – possibly my favourite of the cells – a Sperm Cell and Egg Cell!

I think these are so cute, funny, and creative that I not only want them, but I actually wish I was the one responsible for the creation of this product.  It isn’t often that I think something is that great.
Someone interested in science and biology might enjoy these lovable creatures, as well as people with a strange or morbid sense of humour!  For a list of the microbes available, click the following link:

5.  The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild   
The Unexamined Gift Is Not Worth Giving

Products from this website have a similar quality to those from Think Geek, but they seem to differ in that Think Geek seems to cater to lovers of science and technology, The Unmployed Philosopher’s Guild seems to cater more to lovers of the humanities such as literature, history, philosophy, psychology, etc ...

I should note that I did purchase a product from this website in the past.  I purchased a pair of Freudian Slippers ($24.95) for my sister Claudia as a congratulatory gift for achieving her PhD in psychology.  For those who don’t know, Freudian Slippers are a pun on the term “Freudian Slip” which is an error in speech or action that unintentionally reveals unconscious thoughts.  As for my experience with the website, when the slippers arrived they were slightly defective in that only one slipper had spectacles.  When I telephoned the company and explained the issue the company sent me a free pair of the same product free of defects.  I did not have to pay for the delivery or return the defective pair.  It is for this reason that I give the company a very positive review.
Here are some examples of products from this site that could make great Christmas gifts:
Lab Cutters $15.99 

Each set of cookie cutters contains a beaker, a flask, a test tube, and an atom.  Like the cookie cutters from Think Geek, these would be appropriate for someone who likes to bake and decorate cookies during the Christmas season, especially someone with an interest in science and chemistry, or perhaps just someone with an unusual sense of humour and a taste for the unexpected!  Get it?  A taste for the unexpected ...?

Wonderland Passport Notebook  $3.95

This comes with travel tips and an official passport information page!  Other Passport Notebooks include Oz, Neverland, Camelot, The Garden of Eden, Paradise, Hell, Nirvana, Utopia, Pangaea, Plato’s Republic, and The Unconscious!  I love the diversity of this product.  I think it’s a creative and fun idea for fans of the appropriate works of literature and like the Giant Microbes from Think Geek, this is a product I wish I developed myself.  I love that this item seems to blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy/literature.

Now that I am noticing all the potential passport destinations, I am starting to wonder if I should have decided against the book I bought for my sister Claudia, and instead presented her with the passport to Hell.  Hmm ... that still might be suitable for another time.

6.  Philosophy and Pop Culture Series

When I enjoy a work of fiction, I usually think it’s so great that I have to spend time analyzing it and picking it apart to find out what important messages it has in it.  Ask my brother Geoffrey.  He knows I can’t watch a TV show or movie without over-thinking it.  But if you ask me, a work of fiction is truly great if it can be dissected and analysed.  For anyone who thinks likewise, I recommend the Philosophy and Popular Culture Series.

I get a lot of enjoyment out of these because I feel like they really talk a lot about the major issues in the respective works.  For example, Mad Men and Philosophy discusses a lot of real issues in advertising that come up on the show and True Blood and Philosophy discusses prejudice. 
Similarly, I think there is also a Psychology and Pop Culture Series, of which the only book I currently have is The Psychology of Harry Potter.  I can definitely recommend this book, as well as A Taste of True Blood:  The Fangbanger’s Guide.  I think all of these works are available at and, and I also purchased some from Chapters.

Even if the TV and book fans you know aren’t particularly analytical, I would still strongly recommend such analytical works to a casual reader who might be a big fan of a particular series or novel.  The chapters are essays written by individual authors about diverse topics, and reading each chapter in order is not necessary.  Not only do I get a lot of enjoyment out of these books, but I think they allow me to appreciate their respective works of fiction even more.  I also hope that they inspire people to think critically about the works of fiction they enjoy and to think deeply about what messages those works teach their fans.

7.  Homemade Mixed CDs

If you know how to make a mixed CD using your computer and have whatever programs are necessary to do so, one great personal gift you can give a loved one is a mixed CD with a particular theme.  For example, if know someone who truly appreciates laughter – or someone you think should lighten up a little – you could make them a comedy CD filled with funny songs.  For sources of funny songs you can look into Saturday Night Live, South Park, and comedians Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman, and Mario Cantone.

Try to arrange the songs in a suitable order, and be sure to make a nice album cover for the CD case.  Don’t forget to write out the list of songs on the inside sleeve of the cover either, unless of course you would like them to be a surprise.

Other possible themes for mixed CDs include songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s, songs to listen to while exercising, relaxing songs, and love songs.
If you would like to make a mixed Christmas CD for a friend or loved one, here are some of my suggestions for songs to include:

1.  Trim Up The Tree (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
2.  Mr. Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
3.   Whoville Theme (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
4.  We Are Santa’s Elves (Burl Ives- from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer)
5.  Jingle Jingle Jingle
6.  Christmas Time Is Here (Charlie Brown Christmas)
7.  12 Days of Christmas (The Muppets)
8.  Nuttin For Christmas (Shirley Temple)
9.  Marshmallow World (Darlene Love)
10.  Christmas (Darlene Love)
11.  What Christmas Means To Me (Stevie Wonder)
12.  Someday At Christmas (Stevie Wonder)
13.  Feed The World (Band Aid)
14.  The Chanukah Song (Adam Sandler)
15.  Snoopy vs The Red Baron (The Royal Guardsmen)
16.  Step Into Christmas (Elton John)
17.  Last Christmas (George Michael)
18.  O Holy Night (South Park)
19.  Christmas Time In Hell (South Park)
20.  Mr. Hanky The Christmas Pooh (South Park)
21.  Wonderful Christmas Time (Paul McCartney)
22.  Happy Christmas (John & Yoko)

Well, these are my only ideas for now.  I hope they were useful, though I think it may be a little late in the holiday season for them to be of much help for this year.  If anyone has any comments or criticisms I would be glad to read them, along with any other unique gift ideas.

In case I can’t write again until after the 25th, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!