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Gift Guide: Life's little (or big) luxuries bestow beauty, peace and time

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

By L.A. Johnson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Luxury: the use and enjoyment of the best and most costly things that offer the most physical comfort and satisfaction. 2. Anything contributing to such enjoyment, usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.

Luxury is relative.

It can be a week in Paris or a week in the Poconos.

To some, it's a 2003 Lexus GX 470, starting at about $45K. To others, it's a well-appointed 2003 Kia Sorento, starting at about $20K.

This is a challenge to all shoppers to redefine and broaden your idea of luxury and pampering gifts this holiday season.

The Style Spa Elite Manicure and Pedicure System comes with six attachments, including two shaping discs and a polishing cone. The kit also features a built-in nail dryer.

While big-ticket items -- expensive watches, fine jewelry, home electronics and the like -- are great, don't underestimate the power of giving services as gifts or clusters of little gifts. Gifts that pamper can be extravagant or affordable and as well received as a 60-inch plasma TV.

"I'm a big believer in buying gifts that help the person enjoy a hobby or something that he or she chooses to do in his or her free time or something that makes life easier," says Leah Ingram, author of "You Shouldn't Have! How to Give Gifts They'll Never Forget" (Contemporary Press: $12.95).

Don't be afraid to think outside the mall or to think even more creatively inside the mall when selecting gifts for loved ones.

"What makes a good gift is the need or the desire of the person to have it and the thought that goes into it," says Lee Weeks, manager of the Lowe's Home Improvement store at The Waterfront. "Thoughtful gifts, no matter the amount, is what matters."

Would he like a tailor-made shirt or suit? Would he like his car detailed? Would she enjoy a tailor-made dress or suit? Would she like a collection of crossword puzzle books and a nice pen? Gift ideas can come from any special interest or hobby your loved one may enjoy.

Also, help out your loved ones in shopping for you. Drop hints when necessary, and look for hints in return.

"Offer up gift ideas so it doesn't become this big mystery," Ingram adds. "Being a good gift giver is like being a good reporter. You have to be observant, ask good questions and you've got to remember."

And there's nothing wrong with giving the same gift year after year if it's still appropriate and always well received.


Treat a special someone to relaxing and rejuvenating spa services, which range from manicures and pedicures to hot stone massages and herbal scrubs. Spa services come in a variety of price ranges, from high-end destination spas such as the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa (http://www.nemacolin.com) in Farmington, Fayette County, to chic day spas such as The Sewickley Spa (http://www.sewickleyspa.com) or the Spa Uptown (http://www.spa-uptown.com).

Spas aren't just for women anymore, either.

"More and more spas are offering services for men -- back waxing, facials, massages -- and there are men who like to have manicures and a lot of men get hair between their eyebrows removed," says Ingram, also author of the new book "The Balanced Bride: Preparing Your Mind, Body and Spirit for Your Wedding and Beyond" (McGraw-Hill, $16.95).

The Foot Rejuvenator uses eight spinning rollers to provide a deep kneading massage for tired feet. The unit also features an invigorating bubble massager.

Can't afford to foot the bill for a fancy schmancy pedicure? Buy a pedicure kit at one of the bath and body stores or just head to the drugstore and buy some nice nail polish, nail polish remover, some of those toe separators and make your own inexpensive pedicure kit.

Bloom Pamper Packs are mini spa treatments for the feet, body or face that run about $12 each and include scented scrubs and creams. Chronicle Books also offers mini retreats in two varieties of the Retreat Box. Each includes six tea bags, six incense sticks, an incense holder, six ritual cards and an instruction card all for about $13 to $15. Both products are available at http://www.drugstore.com. The Retreat Box also is available through http://www.chroniclebooks.com.

If your beloved would prefer to perform some of her own spa services, there are numerous home spa products on the market from body massagers to foot baths. Homedics (http://www.homedics.com) offers a variety of home spa products including the Paraspa Deluxe Paraffin Bath ($49.99) and the Bubble Spa Massaging Bath Mat ($59.99), which can turn your old reliable bathtub into a bubbling spa.

Trying to get into a spa state of mind for a fraction of the price? Get your loved one "Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace," a 36-minute narration designed to help them de-stress.

"It isn't just nature sounds," explains Susie Mantell, author and narrator of the stress-relieving CD that's been used at the Mayo Clinic and the world famous Canyon Ranch spa, among other places. "It's a warm narration that guides you effortlessly through relaxation of body, mind and spirit. Lay down, sit back and just let go."

"Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace" is available on cassette ($12.95) or CD ($14.95) at http://www.relaxintuit.com or 1-888-32BOOKS.


Never underestimate the power of a gift certificate or gift card, whether it's for someone's favorite coffee shop or cell phone minutes. One tailored to the specific likes or interests of the recipient is best. But if you're absolutely clueless about what someone wants, as is the case with some teenagers, a broader type certificate to a music store, bookstore, home electronics store or trendy teen clothing store might be better.

If your loved one enjoys doing home improvement projects, replacing or buying new tools/machinery or purchasing a gift card to a home improvement store could be the perfect gift.

Lowe's Home Improvement offers gift cards up to any amount. If, for example, Mom and Dad want to foot the bill for your bathroom remodel, you can price out materials at the store, then take the bill to them.

"It's a gift that lasts forever," says Weeks.

Small children usually are pretty good about giving out not just hints, but full-fledged lists of possible gifts they'd enjoy. Treating youngsters and a few of their friends to a day at the Carnegie Science Center or an amusement park, wave pool, bowling alley, skating rink or other children's amusement attraction, such as Chuck E. Cheese, is a safe bet. Big and little kids also enjoy the games and amusements at Dave & Buster's, where gift cards starting at $10 up to any amount are available for food, drink and games, and power cards for games.

"A good gift is anything that you enjoy doing," says Tony Betts, manager at Dave & Buster's. "Why say 'Here's $20.' Anybody can give you that, but with a gift, they took the time to get something, even with a gift certificate or gift card, with that you can remember the person because you were out having a good time on them."

"For girls, to buy them a gift certificate that says they could get their nails done would be good," Ingram says.

But remember, not all girls love manicures and not all people are comfortable enough with their bodies to enjoy a full-body spa massage. Remember to stop and think whether the person you're buying for would REALLY like the particular gift you have in mind.

"I'd rather get something that I'd actually like than a $300 something I'll never use," says Amy Loveridge, a floral and seasonal department manager at Michaels at The Waterfront.

Have a crafter in the family? A gift certificate to Michaels might do the trick, or sign up your loved one for one of the 160 children's or adult classes it offers. It has craft and home decorating materials. It also does custom framing, floral arrangements and wedding decor consulting.

Treat the family to an evening out at the movies. Loews Waterfront Theatre, for example, is offering a holiday movie special. For $25, you can get a $25 gift certificate and $25 in coupons for concessions. For a few extra bucks anytime, you can get VIP seating, which has even cushier seats, wider arm rests and more head-on views of the movie screen as well as a coupon for money off an appetizer or entree at the Loews Club restaurant.

So, what makes a good gift?

"Something that was thoughtful and that was made for me and not for themselves," says Loews Waterfront Theatre manager Veronica Horton.


If your loved one is a huge fan of a particular movie star, say Al Pacino, get her a copy of her favorite Al Pacino film on videotape or DVD or even get her several of his films. If you want, throw in a book about him or one of his films for good measure.

Or, host a mini movie marathon for your hubby, renting his three favorite Charles Bronson films for an evening. If you're feeling especially loving, even watch them with him.

Hiring someone else to do any of the jobs your sweetie usually does (and doesn't enjoy, that is) can be a nice gift, even if for just one week or a month including maid service, catering service, lawn service, snow removal service or grocery shopping services. A more inexpensive option would be to do that much-loathed job for him or her yourself. Better yet, make the children do it for a month.

Looking for something sensual? In the For-Adults-Only category, a variety of items is available to heat things up in the boudoir.

Drugstore.com offers a line of sensual delights including the Chocoholics Divine Desserts Strip Chocolate, a game of sensual pleasure that comes with Original Sin Chocolate Dessert Topping, Wild Cherry Chocolate Dessert Topping, game board, two brushes, two game pieces, a die, game cards and instructions for $27.95.

If you're feeling especially daring, ladies, there's also the video, CD and pamphlet set "For His Eyes Alone: How to Strip for the Man You Love" available from The Women's Institute of Learning -- a Texas-based business -- for $49.95 at http://www.learningwomen.com or 1-888-577-7530.

"Geared solely towards women, this instructional video will teach you how to perform a beautifully executed striptease dance," information at the Web site explains. "The dance you will learn is professionally choreographed to be sexy, sensuous and seductive, but the video itself is not. You will see no men, sex or nudity."

Basically, the key to good gift giving is simply taking the time to think about and find something, big or small, you know the person you're buying for will really enjoy.

And remember, sometimes the best gift you can give a loved one simply is the gift of your time and attention.

L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903.

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