We all know that there are some tough choices to be made. Where can we cut spending? How can we increase revenue? What sort of reconciliation can be made to avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff?
More importantly, how are we going to be able to afford Call of Duty: Black Ops II when it's the only thing that little Tyler's been asking for all year?
We know the decisions are hard around this time, and just as Obama and Boehner duke it out behind closed doors, so too the little angels and devils on our shoulders duke it out for holiday spending. But not to fear—we've got your back in our annual gift guide, this year tiered according to the level of responsibility to which one wishes to adhere.
Feeling spendthrift and cautious for the future? Go with our under-$20 gift suggestions. Thinking like your financial planning's gone well enough to fall in the middle? We've got your $20–$100 options right here. Care to say the hell with it, break the bank and be in debt? Luxuriate in the over-$100 category.
We know it's tough out there in D.C. with all that talk about marginal tax rates and Medicare spending, but, hey, we've got some decisions to make too. Here, then, is our quick 'n' easy fiscal-cliff gift guide.
Balance the Budget Now: Gifts under $20
I know, I know—buying a diaper as a present is neither glamorous nor fun. It's hard to bypass the fig-sized shoes and even harder to gift-wrap a thing that has the sole purpose of catching watery poo. But take it from the parent of a four-month old: cloth diapers are expensive, and you really never can have too many. Of course, you should only gift reusable nappies if the mom or dad you know plans to use them instead of disposables. (Don't—don't—be the person gift-guilting already-stressed new parents into diapering their child the way you think they should diaper them.) But if they ask for and actually want the colorful cloth bum-sacks, even single diapers make great gifts. Bum Genius are one-size-fits-all covers and inserts, and usually sell for between $18 and $24 each. Diaper pants are both cute and handy and can be found in bundles at Oliver's Markets for under $20. And a diaper service that actually picks up and washes your smelly rags, like Northern California–based Tidee Didee, is an excellent communal gift at between $16 and $30 a week.—R.D.
Some people get through the holiday season by eating their way into oblivion. Others turn to that age-old remedy for social anxiety: a stiff shot of booze from a secret flask. For your friends and family that go for the latter, a gift allowing them to covertly drink booze with greater ease is just the ticket for the holidays and, even better, will provide a fantastic way to drown sorrow if we end up crashing down the dark side of the fiscal cliff in 2013. Binocktails, a company that specializes in this type of trickery, makes a five-ounce camera flask that looks almost like the real thing ($14.99). Not one for taking fake photos? How about a three-ounce cell phone flask ($12.99), the design of which is very 2005, but hey, it'll still do the job! For those who like to sit in the peanut gallery at basketball games or the opera, there's the binocular flask ($11.95), sold over at Xtreme Barware. Another way to drink in public without drawing attention is the use of Beer Can Covers ($9.99). Pick up one for your favorite skateboarders, so they can drink PBR at the park to their heart's content, all the while holding a can disguised to look like an Orange Crush or a Coca-Cola. Of course, as the website warns, "With a close enough look, you can clearly see it is not a real soda." But who's gonna get that close? The smarty-pants in your life might prefer the hollow book safe and flask ($55) from Secret Safe books so they can get buzzed at the local public library. The one made by Secret Safe looks like a copy of The Godfather by Mario Puzo, but you can also get a Holy Bible version, if so inclined. Hey, water into wine, right?—L.C.
Gifting words broadcast over the airwaves or streamed over the internet may seem borderline metaphysical (and intentionally cheap), but for the radio enthusiast in your life, why not? Here's an idea: get some smart-looking thumb drives, like the Star Wars series from Mimoco ($19.99), and download podcasts from your gift recipient's favorite shows. This American Life archives are downloadable for 99 cents a pop, and the beautiful left-brain-leaning Radiolab is available on iTunes for free, as is Democracy Now and Planet Money. You can pair WFMU favorites like The Best Show on WFMU with Slate's lady-centric DoubleX. For the even nerdier radio and book lover, you can get a variety of deals on Other People with Brad Listi, in which the author of Attention. Deficit. Disorder and founder The Nervous Breakdown talks about the writing life with everyone from T. C. Boyle to Alexis Smith. (These "deals," by the way, range from under $10 to free, so they're not really deals as much as they are way-too-fucking-cheap-for-something-so-awesome-like-everything-literary-on-the-internet-which-is-why-so-few-writers-actually-get-paid. But I digress.) Think of this inexpensive but nifty present not as the auditory equivalent of gift-wrapped socks, but as a geekier and far more delightful version of the mixtape, without the obligatory power-ballad. Or put that in there, whatever.—R.D.
Sensible Bipartisan Compromises: Gifts from $20 to $100
The Boooooooooooccccchhhh! That's what we all call kombucha around my house, harking back to the bizarre month when we tried oh-so-earnestly to make it atop our kitchen counter. Every morning, we'd pour our coffee and say hi to the beastly mother-cake-overgrown-amoeba-thing; it would snarl back, churning itself into and out of the tea filling our large booch jar, unhappy at our presence and letting its smell permeate the kitchen because of it. Our experiment with the booch did not go so well, perhaps because we received instructions on how to use it from a person who was very stoned. But in the seven years since, kombucha has taken off in popularity, especially among the Portlandia set, so it's no surprise that you can now buy a number of brew-your-own kombucha sets. Williams Sonoma offers the Kombucha Brooklyn Home Brew Kit ($70), which comes with everything you need to make some homemade kombucha: a variety of teas, sugar, a liquid starter, a big ol' glass jar and a thermometer. Most importantly, it also comes with the slimy weird mother culture thing, which, if your experience making homemade booch fails like ours, you can always throw into the crowd at a punk show and watch what happens.—G.M.
For anyone who came of age in the '90s, it's refreshing to discover that there's a whole new troupe of girls coming up in 2012 obsessed with all things that involve either riot grrrl or Angela Chase (Claire Dane's smart, pensive, red-headed alter ego on the cancelled-too-early television drama My So-Called Life.) Teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 19 (and probably a boy or two) that lean toward the eccentric, weird or out-of-the-ordinary will likely be more than happy to get a copy of 'Rookie Yearbook One' (Drawn and Quarterly; $29.95) in their stockings. The book is essentially an anthology culled from the best of Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls edited by Tavi Gevinson, the precocious fashion blogger who first gained fame at the age of 13 for her writing on a blog called Style Rookie. At the ripe old age of 16, Gevinson, inspired by legendary teen mag Sassy, has amassed quite a stable of guest writers for Rookie, including Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, Zooey Deschanel and Miranda July. Fashion isn't the only thing that gets the spotlight in this smart publication. Gevinson's obsession with books—including writers like Joan Didion—movies and photography ensures a well-rounded read for any girl that's interested in indulging in her eccentricities rather than hiding them under a barrage of makeup, catty jokes and mall clothes.—L.C.
How to satisfy the reader in your life with a year's worth of features, essays or craft projects? By getting her a magazine subscription. A bonus is that many magazines and journals offer special deals around the holidays, so you can get more pages or gigabytes for less. One can always go with the big players: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, Mother Jones. You can get any one of these print heavyweights for under $40 right now, with the best deal going to Mother Jones, currently offering a year's worth of visceral storytelling for only $12. But why not patronize some of publishing's smaller gems? There's Tin House, a literary journal thick with fiction, nonfiction and actually-not-remotely-boring poetry, now offering four novel-sized issues for $24.95. For the book-savvy parent, Brain, Child is an Utne Reader- and Pushcart Prize-lauded journal that's featured essays by Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Cheever over the years, currently going for $22. Bust, a DIY women's mag that won't ever lecture you about cellulite or pleasing your man, is offering yearlong subscriptions for only $15. Since most of these tomes usually go for upwards of $5 a pop over the counter, you'll look generous and save enough to get yourself a year of great reading as well.—R.D.
Looking like a million bucks doesn't have to cost that much. Start with the shoes, the crux of any good outfit. JC Penney's Stafford Camlin boots ($60) are a beautiful brown, lace-up, wingtip boot that looks like it should cost double. Uniqlo just launched a store in San Francisco (the company's third in the States) in September, and an online store last month—their Japanese denim jeans ($49.95) look and feel like designer pants, and there are several different cuts and fades from which to choose. This would look great with a V-neck tee or a slim-fit non-iron button-down shirt ($10–$33), and finish it off with a stunning, buy-it-for-life belt from Orion Leather Company online ($40) to match the shoes. Get ready for the onslaught of double-takes.—N.G.
Is your "friend" struggling with a recurring dream in which a bustier-clad Jerry Brown lays next to her begging her to "raise those income taxes real nice?" Then the high-tech Sleep with Remee mask ($95), which promises to allow users to control their dreams, is for her. The blue, black, red, yellow or cream-colored eye shield uses LED light patterns to throw wearers into a state of "lucid dreaming" in which they can supposedly control their unconscious-self's actions. On their Sleep With Remee website, creators Duncan Frazier and Steve McGuigan invite buyers to use the mask for everything from flying through the galaxy on a giant kitten to having a roundtable discussion with their ego and id. Does it actually work, you ask? With the potential of harnessing your, er, your friend's subconscious and finally kicking out all those inappropriately dressed politicos for good, isn't it worth the risk?—R.D.
Hell, Worry About It Later: Gifts over $100
How many times have you been to a family gathering, only to find that everyone in the room, including Grandma Dottie, has their face and fingers stuck to individual tiny screens? Tired of eating turkey beside the glow of a million iPhones and iPads? The Wii U, Nintendo's latest console, aims to remedy the slow burning disconnect of modern-day life with a focus on party and group-type games. Priced at $349.99 for the Wii U Deluxe, or $299.99 for the more basic version (and fewer gigabytes—not appealing to more serious gamers) the new system works with the motion-control remotes from the original Wii, while also featuring a Game-Pad touch-screen controller. In a world of increasingly complicated gaming, the user-friendly touch screen makes it easy for everyone in the family, including Grandma Dottie, to take part in the fun. This is the system to bust out at Thanksgiving and Christmas, bringing all the cousins, aunts and grandpas together in a rousing session of Sing Party karaoke. Like the Microsoft Kinect, it also offers a streaming service with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.—L.C.
Admittedly, a blanket map may or may not be something that's been featured on Portlandia. Like hand-stitched bird napkins or mustachioed liberals, it fits right into that uncomfortable gap between amazing and twee. But—bottom line—it's a blanket and a map and, thus, will probably go over well under the tree. San Francisco–based Soft Cities sells colorful fabric printed with gorgeous maps—of the place your child was born, or your friend's favorite neighborhood—for $175. Brooklyn-based Haptic Lab sells a quilted and more expensive version, offering multi-colored atlas-throws made of patches, complete with exquisitely detailed topography and roads. For your crafty friend, the latter company also sells DIY map quilting kits for under $100, giving everyone a chance to learn this probably-unnecessary-but-still-very-decorative skill.—R.D.
You owned every single Beatles album on vinyl, right? And then you bought them all on 8-track for your Mazda, and then again on cassette in the early 1980s for the family station wagon. But then CDs came along, and one by one, you picked up every title, from Please Please Me to Abbey Road. In 2009, those long-overdue remasters came out; shortly thereafter, the Fab Four's entire discography finally hit iTunes. With consistent upgrades, chances are you've bought Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at least three or four times already. Alas, everything old is new again, and those crazy kids with their Urban Outfitters catalogues have spawned a vinyl revolution; sales of LPs have increased a staggering 400 percent since 2007. Here, then, comes the Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set ($350), comprising the 12 original U.K. versions of each album, the U.S. release Magical Mystery Tour and the two-LP set Past Masters. The records are pressed on 180-gram vinyl, mastered at Abbey Road studios and are accompanied by original artwork and a 252-page hardbound book. Even the weird poster from inside the White Album is included. Need to recapture the feel of dropping the needle on "Taxman"? Need to illuminate your teenager, crouching in the corner with a Neutral Milk Hotel LP on his new turntable, to the wonders of "Norwegian Wood"? This is the way to do it fully and completely.—G.M.