Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top holiday gift ideas for 2009

Unless you've already received that big bonus for your role steering the stock market out of freefall this past year, you're probably a little desperate about the holidays right about now.

Nobody wants you to go into deeper debt or give up eating to buy presents (except your credit card company, retailers, stockholders, leading economic advisers and your teenage daughter, if you have one). But nobody is offering any real, socially acceptable options (except Hallmark who is offering almost personalized holiday cards for $3.00 each).

I've compiled a list of affordable gifts that are as thoughtful and meaningful as the presents you might have given if you had money. All within a realistic budget of 7 cents a person or less. If you play your cards right, you could have enough money left over for a three course ramen holiday feast (chicken, beef, and vegetable flavored)!

This season's "must-have" item
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Perfect for multitasking, the potato serves as a vegetable, a complex carb, a useful arts and crafts tool, entertainment, breakfast, lunch, dinner, a source of potassium and other vital vitamins and minerals. Chic-ly packaged in a discreet brown wrapper, the potato is one of the few gifts left you can buy with spare change or food stamps that will give your recipient any pleasure. Designer models in red, blue, and gold are also available.
Find out more about the potato's many applications, including recipes and tips.

Something cute and cuddly for the kids

In an age when a child's wish list contains several $200 items, I suppose a $9.95 toxic fake rodent constitutes a bargain. But it's still too rich for my blood. Especially now that they're going for $30.00 on eBay and Amazon.

That's why I'm giving all the kids in my life the latest evolution of Zhu Zhu hamsters -- Dust bunnies. They're furry. They're cuddly. They're wind powered, biodegradable, non-toxic (or only as toxic as the place under the couch you got it) and they're made locally.

Each one is different and has its own personality. I like to decorate mine with bits of used dental floss. When the child tires of it in a few days, it can easily be stored in any sized vacuum bag or under furniture.

If you have unresolved issues with the child's parents, a pet rat is a gratifying alternative. Like the dust bunny, you can probably pick one up without leaving home, although chances are you will have to get off the couch.

When only the best will do
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Who doesn't love free luxury hotel toiletries? For me, nothing brings back the warm memories of having a job, an expense account and clean, nicely scented hair and skin like a whiff of L'Occitane Lemon Verbena (offered at the Four Seasons).

You may still have some of your favorites stashed away from the good old days (if you haven't sold them on eBay). If not, there are other ways to nab these luxe items for gifts. First, locate the brand of choice with my handy leading hotel toiletry guide.

Some say that lurking in hotel hallways and grabbing as many as possible when the maid isn't looking is the most time efficient method.

I believe that honesty is the best policy (at least during the holiday season). I usually tell the front desk that I'm in room 206 and I accidentally spilled all their complimentary toiletries down the sink and would like a new set (or four ... I'm very clumsy). Telling them that you need the toiletries for an article you're researching has also been known to work.

High Tea Technology

Many retailers have been plugging a $100 portable espresso maker as the perfect gift for those who panic if they're more than 10 yards from the nearest Starbucks. Oddly, they don't seem as intent on selling a similar device for tea drinkers.

The portable tea maker contains everything necessary for a great cup of tea on the go (water and cup not included). This handy, lightweight gadget has adjustable brewing time for different tea strengths. With a little smart shopping you can get 100 of these babies for $2.00. Shopping done!

For every cloud, a Snuggie lining
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Let your friends be the first to own the Snuggie weatherizer! It's the perfect gift gift for anyone who shelled out $19.95 (plus shipping and handling) for a Snuggie. They may not appreciate it now, but they'll be eternally grateful when they're wearing their Snuggies in inclement conditions.

All you need to make one is a large trash bag, dry cleaning bag, tarp, a sheet of bubble wrap, old plastic tablecloth or any waterproofed material you can find around the house or dumpster. Cut holes in the appropriate spots, add a few staples and voila! A shower cap makes a great accessory (try to grab a few when picking up hotel toiletries.)

Warm feet, warm heart


If you happen to have some spare sanitary napkins or poise pads around, or know where you can borrow some, you've got the makings for some cushy slippers with non-slip grip strips and a built in deodorant feature for fresh feet.

I like to use the maxi-pads for heavy flow for the soles (or Poise or Depends if you can get your hands on them -- they're like walking on air) and a thinner mini pad for the strap.

If you can't find anything to decorate them with, I can personally recommend using Channel waterproof long-lasting smoky eye crayons. The colbalt blue and indigo go with everything. A great gift for doting grandparents who love everything you make.

Learn how to make them.

An eco-friendly gesture
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The care and love that goes into making a fruitcake is always appreciated even though fruitcake itself is largely considered inedible.

This year, instead of getting costly ingredients from a grocery store and spending hours chopping, mixing and baking, let the composter take care of everything. Press the mulch into a loaf shape, decorate it with fruits nuts and berries from the yard, park or road dividers and nobody will know the difference. No new waste is created and the product is endlessly recyclable. The recipient will appreciate the love and care you put into your gift long after they've returned it to its natural habitat -- the compost heap.

If all else fails, use your credit card
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Instead of using a credit card to buy presents this season, use it to create them.

Make cufflinks, earrings, bracelets, pendants in gold, platinum and other precious plastics. The beauty of giving these (aside from the joy of giving) is it won't cost you a cent out-of- pocket and rewards include thousands of dollars in savings on future interest and penalty fees. Now that's a gift that gives back! Learn how to make them.

Have you ever wondered what it's like being broke in France?
Learn more.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guide to hotel toiletries

Here's a helpful guide to some of the leading hotels and the brands of luxury products they have on offer in their maid's carts.

Starwood Hotels
Sheraton: Shine by Bliss

Four Points by Sheraton: Caswell-Massey

W Hotels: Bliss
Westin: Heavenly (made especially for Westin
Aloft: Bliss
· Luxury Collection,
St. Regis and Le Meridien: Signature bath products

Marriot Hotels
JW Marriott, Nervae

Marriott- Bath and Body Works

Renaissance- Lather

Courtyard: Davies Gate

Fairfield Inn: Pantene

Residence Inn: Davies Gate

SpringHill Suites: Pro Terra

TownePlace Suites: Pro Terra

Intercontinental Hotels (IHG)
Hotel Indigo: Aveda

Holiday Inn: Garden Botanika products

Holiday Inn Express: Simply SmartTM

Crowne Plaza: Reneu Botanicals collection

Staybridge Suites: SIMPLY be wellTM herbal bath collection

Hilton Hotels
 Crabtree & Evelyn LaSource
Hyatt Hotels Varies, but some properties use eShave
Wyndahm HotelsS
 Bath and Body Works
Four Seasons Hotels L'Occitane products in Lemon Verbena
Ritz Carlton Hotels Bulgari

New York
The Franklin Hotel, Bulgari; The Shoreham Hotel, Aveda; 
The Mansfield Hotel, Aveda; 
The Bowery Hotel, CO Bigelow
; Gramercy Park Hotel, Mixture, hand-picked by Allure editor; 
Carlyle Hotel, Kiehls; 
The Carlton, Penhaligon; Flathotel, Essential Elements; Soho and Tribeca Grand, Kiehls; Alex Hotel, Frederick Fekkai

Atlantic City
Water Club, L'Occitane
; The Chelsea AC, Kiehls

Liberty Hotel, Molton Brown; 
XV Beacon, Fresh products; 
White Barn Inn (Maine), Molton Brown; Fairmont Copely Plaza, Penthaligons Quercus

The Tides South Beach, Molton Brown
; The Setai, Aqua di Parma
; Angler's Resort, Aveda; 
The Raleigh, Kiehl's; Sagamore, Fresh; The Biltmore, Gilchrist and Soames; Acqualina, ETRO; Trump International Beach Resort, Ecru

Los Angeles
Hotel Oceana, Kiehl's; 
London West Hollywood, Clear; 
Palihouse West Hollywood, C.O. Bigelow
; Sunset Marquis, Aveda;
Sofitel, Rodger & Gallet; Roosevelt, Fresh; Hotel Bel-air, Kiehls; Shutters, Molton Brown Signature

Las Vegas
 Bulgari at 
Mansion; Bulgari
 Signature at MGM Grand; Gilchrist and Soames tangerine and olive flower at Caesar's Palace.

Sonoma/Napa The Sonoma Mission Inn, proprietary Apricot Cream products, Kenwood Inn, Arconna; MacArthur Park, proprietary blends of grape and wine based products and green tea infused skincare products; Carnero's Inn, Red Flower Blood Orange

Other US Cities
Topnotch in Stowe, June Jacobs; Little Nell in Aspen, June Jacobs; 
Stoneleigh in Dallas, Baronessa Cali; 
Hotel Zaza in Houston, Molton Brown; 
 James in Chicago, Kiehls; Bacara in Santa Barbara, Fresh; Chanier in Newport Beach, Pentahligons Quercus

The St. Regis in San Francisco - Laboratorie Remede toiletries.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saving a cherished American holiday

In 1621, the Pilgrims and Indians gathered for an autumn feast that became known as America's first Thanksgiving. Over the centuries, the legacy of gathering and giving thanks for a bountiful harvest has has evolved into a frenzy of gluttony and consumerism.

Sadly, this year, the only ones who will be able to properly observe this important and uniquely American tradition will be Wall Street executives, their families, friends, lobbyists and the politicians in their pockets (I hope they remember to order a kosher Turducken for Joe Lieberman).

If the rest of us don't make a few adjustments, Thanksgiving is in danger of becoming yet another American pastime that only the very rich can enjoy. But what can those of us without cash, valid credit cards or food do?

Hit the road
A short walk on the highway should provide everything you need for a delicious, all natural, Thanksgiving dinner much like the Pilgrims enjoyed, without having to spend a cent or harm a living creature. The roads are littered with freshly killed, free range venison, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys, pheasants and other game. They're free and yours for the taking. Save the pelts. They'll come in handy later this winter when the gas company cuts off your heat. Click here for roadkill recipes and preparation tips.

Side dishes are also plentiful along the roadside with offerings such as wild greens, aged carved pumpkins, berries and nuts. Do all you pureeing, mashing and tenderizing on the road and you'll have fewer dishes to wash afterward. Make sure to research edible plants before serving.

A sample menu idea:
*Brined, roasted deercoonsquirrel (deer stuffed with a raccoon stuffed with a squirrel)
*Sauteed nettle and wild mushrooms
*pumpkin and wild sorrel soup
*a festive melange of candy corn, orange pixie stiks and M&Ms leftover from Halloween.

Getting that big turkey dinner feeling without turkey or dinner
If you decide to forgo the Thanksgiving meal entirely, you can still recreate the sense of grogginess, fullness and mild nausea that comes from stuffing yourself with too much turkey and trimmings. With much less prep time.

First, shoplift a bottle of L-tryptophan (much easier to get out of the store than a 15 pound butterball). Take a few when you would normally be eating your Thanksgiving feast. Follow the pills with a cup of raw oatmeal (any raw grain that expands with fluid will also do). Wash down with several glasses of warm water. You'll have that sick beached whale feeling in no time. Pigeons have been known to explode using this method, so take it easy on the oatmeal.

For a post Thanksgiving sensation that't truly authentic, wear clothing that is several sizes too small around the waist.

Follow the Pilgrims' example
Ask your neighbors over for a potluck Thanksgiving feast, just like the Pilgrims invited the native Americans. Once you've enjoyed their delicious offerings, kill them and steal their possessions and property. This is especially satisfying if you have a Citibank in your neighborhood.

Family moments
You can still spend this special day in the presence of loved ones far away without the frustration and expense of travel. Skype lets you enjoy real face time with your family until someone inevitably storms out yelling: "" I try and I try to please you and you couldn't even be bothered to notice because you're too busy gurgling and cooing and buying presents for (insert sibling's name here). Well you can all go screw youselves!. I hate you and never want to see you again! Not that anyone gives a damn!". Now, that's Thanksgiving!

If you're anything like me, every Thanksgiving you swear that you'll help out at a soup kitchen next year. Let this be the year you actually do it. Pitch in and clean a plate. Two, if you're really hungry.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Assuaging Rage, One Prick at a Time

If you've lived your life believing that hard work, ethics, observing the golden rule and fiscal responsibility will be rewarded, you're probably a little ticked off right now. Okay, you're probably roiling with rage (especially if you stopped taking your anti-depressants because your insurance company canceled you for being depressed).

A lot of that anger comes from a sense of betrayal and helplessness at seeing people who broke every law of decency living high on the hog while the rest of us are hard pressed to afford a swine flu shot (if we could find one).

The logical recourse is to seek justice. You've appealed to their non-existent sense of decency. You've written your elected officials, attorney general, chamber of commerce and better business bureau. Clearly, you can't afford a lawyer. Crank calls and internet heckling bring no relief. And while sending offenders cat poop in the mail is satisfying, the postage is costly--there are no bulk media rates for mass poop mailings (which REALLY pisses you off). And try as you might, you seem to get your friends interested in storming Wall Street or the Capitol because pitchforks are too expensive.

If you're quivering with rage just thinking about it, it's time to take action. I've discovered a way to calm my ire and achieve a semblance of inner peace without costly aids like therapists, tranquilizers, a masseuse or weapons.

Whether your anger is directed at a TARP recipient harassing you for an overdue $69, a vile CEO, pundit or politician, someone who screwed you over, the neighbor's dog, or the waiter who lied when he told you the chef's special chicken was all white meat, my methods ensure that all bad behavior is met with swift and decisive punishment (finally!). I can't tell you how much better you'll feel. Here's how it works: