Presents With Presence: A Guide to Uncommon Gifts

by Gareth Branwyn for Digital Living Today

Gift giving is a wonderful ritual. You find something that’s an expression of your fond feelings for the recipient, something that screams out their personality. They cherish it; it becomes a constant reminder of your thoughtfulness and good taste. Everyone is happy.

That’s the fantasy, at least. What holiday gift giving has become–for most of us–is a race to match up an arm-long list of friends, family members and colleagues with a much shorter list of gifts that, we hope, they’ll find acceptable.

One reason for ho-hum presents is that most of us look in the same stores and catalogs. It’s no wonder we tend to give each other the same after-shave, perfume, desk sets, and cheese logs. Memorable gifts come from memorable places. Here are some of Digital Living Today’s favorite sources for gifts with a twist.

American Science and Surplus ( This bizarre and delightful surplus catalog has hysterical descriptions, and the products are one-of-a-kind. One year, I gave a new age-y friend a Butterfly Garden that allowed her to raise butterflies from the larva stage and release them when they hatched. She loved it.

Archie McPhee ( Probably best known for their Boxing Nun puppets, Archie McPhee is the premier “outfitter of popular culture.” They offer all sorts of fun cultural ephemera that appeal to kids and grown-ups (with Peter Pan complexes). From rubber chickens to tiki mugs to Soviet military hats, Archie has a whimsical gift for anyone with a sense of humor.

The Heifer Foundation ( and Seva ( If you’re tired of giving something to people who already have everything, why not donate money to a charity? The Heifer Foundation lets you buy a farm animal in someone’s name and sends it to a family in need. Your gift recipient gets a card and a warm, fuzzy feeling. A small donation to Seva can give someone the gift of sight in India or help fight the growing tide of diabetes among the Native American population.

Penguin Peppermints ( Finally, a caffeine delivery system that won’t make your breath smell like inhabited French cheese. An ideal stocking stuffer for all the “jitterati” on your list. A display box of 12 handsome black and white tins is $25.

Resource Revival ( This craft store makes beautiful furniture, picture frames, jewelry, and more, out of junk (mainly bicycle parts). These reasonably priced and surprisingly functional works of art make very unique conversation pieces. Those who are handicapped craft much of the work.

The Robot Store ( To please every deep geek on your holiday list. This store has ready-to-roll robots, robot kits and toys for all ages, robot media (books, videos, movie memorabilia), and other cool stuff for the die-hard gizmologist.

Spawn ( Todd MacFarlene’s astoundingly detailed action figures have revolutionized the toy industry. His figures of pop culture icons (rock stars, movie characters, and sports heroes) are as popular among adults as they are with children. How about a mopey Edward Scissorshands monitor pet for the Goth girl in the Art Department or The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine characters for your boomin’ boss?

UGive ( If you don’t have a clear idea what your recipient wants, let them decide. Halfway between a gift certificate and a gift, UGive “Folios” are personalized catalogs of gifts chosen for a recipient. The recipient goes to the UGive site, browses the custom catalog you’ve created, and chooses the item they want. A unique way to take the pressure off your shoulders and make the recipient feel special and satisfied (from items you guessed they might enjoy).

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