John's World: Christmas Gift Ideas

December 12, 2012 12:36 AM
John's World: Christmas Gift Ideas

We’re down to the last few days of the Christmas shopping season, and both merchants and  consumers are showing signs of desperation. Not only are many of us running out of ideas for what to give those hard-to-buy-for relatives and acquaintances, we’re also having trouble building a list of things to exchange for the weird gifts we receive.

I think I can help. Of course, I also think I look pretty smooth when I’m dancing, so caution is advised. Still, I have some gift ideas that can lift people’s lives, or at least their eyebrows.

The trunk organizer. I know this seems pretty lame, but honestly, don’t we all have some friends in this category? Since nearly everyone is driving some sort of crossover pretend-SUV with a tiny engine, there are lots of hatchback-accessible trunks that accumulate an alarming load of flotsam. These free-ranging items slosh around despite our best efforts to secure them neatly with  unclaimed winter coats and seed corn sacks.

While the usual reaction to this gift is at best muted—"Oh, gee…"—trust me, recipients will appreciate the utility and organization without having to be so nerdy as to buy it for themselves. (

Stemless wineglasses. I’ve noticed that more of my friends now enjoy a glass of wine with their meals. Some are even able to pronounce "pinot noir" with a straight face. But there is an engineering problem with wine consumption. (Of course, to engineers, everything is an engineering problem.) Look at the drinking vessels. My idea of a glass is something jelly used to come in. I have used such chalices with great success for much of my life. Unlike modern wineglasses, these goblets had a center of gravity that was close to the table. While spillage could occur, it required oafish clumsiness. Not so with today’s stylish drinking vessels.

Perch 6 oz. of deeply purple liquid on an heirloom white lace tablecloth—it’s clearly a setup designed to reinforce the pity that all your family members feel for your spouse. I have seen a   wineglass topple from a simple polite gesture for more gravy.

While it is all good fun to persecute those of us with "spiller syndrome," it doesn’t solve the problem of tie-dyed napkins. The answer to this engineering problem is simple: Lose the stem.

There is a bonus to switching to this type of glassware. Not only will it save your fabric and floor coverings, it also lowers the chance of accidental keyboard inundation. Even fine wines can cause lingering problems after a computer desk fumble—certain keys willlllll stick.

To personalize this gift, fill the glasses with homemade jelly. (

Internet TV. Once you have highspeed (more than 3 Mb) Internet service, you suddenly gain full membership into modern culture. I added Apple TV to our home network once we broke the lofty 1 Mb barrier and, quite simply, my couch life changed. Most DVD/Blu-ray players, newer TVs and upscale toasters also have Internet capability these days.

Internet TV doesn’t just provide access to more movies than anyone should watch, it allows the serious study of cherished TV shows such as "Frasier" or "Star Trek: Voyager," letting you watch all of the episodes again to finally understand what was up with Kelsey Grammer’s hair, and why  did Seven of Nine wear a bodysuit instead of a uniform?

Wait—I think I know that last one. (

Anyway, these gift ideas worked for me and should be a hit with people like me. Surely there are a few.

John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report." Visit for station listings. To view past columns, visit or

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