Holidays '09: Ten Things to Give That Won't Be On Other Lists

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Music CDs cost no more than a movie ticket. Books don't cost much more than dinner at Applebee's. But things -- things suggest diamonds, watches, foreign travel, furs, cars. Expensive stuff, in short. Stuff you won't be buying this year.

But there are only so many cool books to give, and music CDs fit far too easily into a holiday stocking. Things have size. Substance. Heft. For whatever reason, our brains are wired to find things impressive. What kind of things? Cutting edge technology things. Things that have a purpose and make life easier. Things that offer a great experience. Things that make you go "hmmmm." The good news: Most of these things are generally affordable.

Shall we tour the merchandise?

Moleskine Notebooks
There are fads built on nothing. Moleskines are the real thing. The leather-like cover takes more wear than you'll ever give it. The elastic band is useful both to keep the notebook closed and to mark your place. There's an inner pocket to hold business cards, receipts and small photographs. The spine is sewn, not glued, so the cover lies flat when it's opened. The paper is acid-free. For about $10, you may not get what Hemingway and Picasso used, but you do get quality.

Shure E2c Sound Isolating Earphones
You've got an iPod, and it's fantastic --- but there's something wrong with the earphones Apple gives you. The treble is sharpened to laser precision. The bass is deepened to make you think you're getting the real thing. It's sadly inferior sound. What would you prefer? To plug your head into music and experience more than you ever thought possible. To hear the instruments as a unit and as separate elements. To have a singer perform just for you. And that means you want Shure phones, the choice of professionals, the Wall Street Journal and yours truly. No sooner do you push these phones into your ears than the world vanishes and you are alone in the world of music with your favorite musicians. Is this heaven? Well, it's close, it's a glimpse. And for less than $80!

Swiss Army Knives with Memory Sticks
If you've ever used one of these knives, you know it's annoyingly well made --- and, depending on the model, it does everything from hole-piercing in leather to brain surgery. They don't go obsolete; the only way to need a replacement is to lose one or try to carry one onto a plane. But how cool is this: Where you might expect to find a toenail clipper, this knife has a two-gigabyte memory stick. And just to underscore its coolness, the body of the knife is translucent, not the standard-issue red. At $60, quite the impressive gift.

Flip Video Cameras
The Flip has been reduced to the purest essence of video capture. You turn it on, and it's ready to start filming in two seconds. You press the red button once to record (press hard -- it's a little balky) and once to stop. You press Play to review the video, and the Trash button to delete a clip. And that, says David Pogue of the New York Times, is essentially the entire user's manual. No lie --- in five minutes, I was making videos. Watching my handiwork. Loading videos onto my Mac. And sending them into cyberspace. The Flip certainly looks like a toy --- the iPod's baby cousin. It weghs 3.3 ounces. The lithium battery lasts just two hours before it needs recharging. The 4-gig memory holds only an hour of video. If you need to zoom in, it might be better just to walk closer. You can't use it as a still camera. And, a critic notes, "There are no menus, no settings, no video light, no optical viewfinder, no special effects, no headphone jack, no high definition, no lens cap, no memory card." If the Flip has none of the "features" that serious videomakers require, that's a large part of its charm. Just point and shoot --- but instead of taking pictures, you're making videos. For $159..

Clarisonic Pro Skin Care System
A doctor friend --- a distinguished doctor, at that --- advised us to get this. But he issued a stern warning: "This isn't just good, it's not just useful --- it's like heroin." How good is it? This good: You may never need to visit a dermatologist again. You may never need a facial again. [Which is why, for the price of two or three facials, you can call the $195 Clarisonic a bargain.] Why it is so great? Because it doesn't scrub. It cleanses --- a sonic frequency of more than 300 movements per second works on your skin to clean it, then smooth it. The good news: The Clarisonic handle is waterproof. You can use it in the shower. The unit beeps when it's time to move to another area of the face, so you don't need to watch a clock. It seems to help rosacea and acne. You don't need to buy special products --- any natural, high-quality cleanser will do. And if you use vitamin C and E serums, they are much more readily absorbed into the skin, making for a more effective treatment and saving you money.

Ultrasonic Travel-size Humidifier
It's dryer than the Sahara in steam-heated buildings in New York, and our apartment is near the top of our building --- the harsh dry heat rises, making my lungs ache. Over the years, humidifiers have come and gone. They leak. They get dirty and spew foul air. They're bulky --- I could go on. Now I use the 4" x 3" Air-O-Swiss travel-sized humidifier, and my lungs can't thank me enough. The secret is technology (silver ions, or whatever, keep the thing clean). And the water bottle, which is easy to fill and doesn't leak. Bonus: transcontinental travel AC adapter and exchangeable plugs included. Second bonus: The little water tank emits a cool blue light --- like lunar ice --- which makes it a night light. For some, that's an annoyance. But not for me. Not forme.

Gustiamo Italian Artisanal Foods
When we were last in Rome, we made daily pilgrimages to Sant' Eustachio, the coffee bar between the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona. We never got lost. We just followed that signature coffee aroma. Or the never-ending line of coffee lovers, many of them Americans clutching the rave from the New York Times: "When the need for a real espresso becomes overpowering, buy a ticket to Rome, tell the taxi driver to head straight for the Sant' Eustachio café. The espresso will be perfect." Who sells this brew in America? An importer of Italian artisanal food called Gustiamo. And that's not all they sell. Cherry tomatoes from volcanic soil. Whole plum tomatoes that sound luscious beyond any you've ever tasted. Pasta made from ancient mills. Olive oils and vinegars so fine they seem too good to use. Cautionary notes: Prices may seem high. And there are shipping costs. But do not think of Gustiamo's offerings as food. They're beautifully packaged, once a month experiences, trips to Italy without leaving home.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 12.1MP Digital Camera with 18x POWER Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.7 inch LCD
Henri Cartier-Bresson only used Leica 35 mm rangefinder cameras equipped with normal 50 mm lenses or, on occasion, a wide-angle for landscapes. Of course you want one. Got $6,000 -- just for the Leica body? What's the next best thing? The Panasonic Lumix. It's lightweight and versatile. The camera body is tough and good for travel, and -- get this --the lens and filmware are from Leica. This camera makes beautiful images. It's easy to use. It's fun to shoot with, which is what it's really all about, right? Well, that and the price -- the Panasonic Lumix is a ridiculous $235.

Keurig Single-Cup Coffee-Brewing System
Sometimes you only want to make one cup of coffee. If you use the Melitta for that, you're just wasting beans and money. It's better -- that is, more sensible -- to get a machine that heats water fast, uses high-grade coffee pods, makes no mess and delivers a single steaming cup in seconds. The Keurig has an easy-to-fill 48-ounce water reservoir. You can choose very hot water or even hotter water. You can brew a small cup of very strong coffee, enough coffee for a regular cup, or even enough to fill an oversized travel mug. And it's almost too easy. Drop a coffee pod in, swing the handle down, select the size cup you're using. And in a matter of seconds, you're ready to caffeinate. From $80 to $123.

T3 Bespoke Labs Ionic Ceramic Tourmaline Hair Dryer
"It feels gentle, and yet it dries my hair faster," my wife says. "I was told I would never have another bad hair day, and I haven't. I don't understand how it works, but it is easier to get my hair to do what I want it to do. The only conclusion is magic." Actually, it's not magic. It's "100% crushed Tourmaline jewels." In other ion-based dryers, I'm told, the Tourmaline is sprayed on the barrel of the dryer, Soon enough, hot air wears that coating down, and the dryer loses its special powers --- that is, its ability to ionize the hot air. But in the T3, the super powers don't fade, for the simple reason that the Tourmaline is injected into key components, like the fan and the motor mounts. What this means:1) The T3 dries your hair 50-60% faster than your current dryer.2) The negative ions generated by the T3 add moisture to your hair (in scientific terms, they seal the moisture in). 3) The negative ions flatten your hair, essentially eliminating frizz. In short, if the T3 could walk, women would marry it.

For my list of ten BOOKS you probably won't find on other lists, click here.

For my list of ten MUSIC CDs you probably won't find on other lists, click here.

[Cross-posted from}