almost christmas

Holiday gift ideas 2017 – adult edition

13 December 2017

When it comes to gifting, adults are often a weary afterthought tacked on after the kids on the list. It’s okay – adults more often than not have much of what they need already. But Santa Claus doesn’t come for grown-ups, so we have to look out for one another.

I really love giving gifts, but I’m extra picky about gifts for adults. Kids grow and outgrow and move on, but adults – more locked in size, tastes and preferences – simply accumulate. I don’t want to give people more junk to store. I want to give them something that will bring a little ray of delight into their lives.

I’m later than I wanted to be getting these gift ideas out. But I hope I’m just in time to help with some of those hard-to-buy-for loved ones on your list.


My friend Katie gave me this set of 16 wood blocks for my birthday this year. Crafted in Vermont with an ingenious mix of letters and punctuation, Chatterblocks can spell out useful greetings, like “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” or “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY.” But they can also spell impish messages, like “MATH REALLY STINKS” (hey, who wrote that? I’m a math major!) or “RESIST AUTHORITY” (our friend Brian’s message to our kids – thanks Bri).

A playful presence in our entryway, the blocks are half word puzzle, half anonymous bulletin board. When I pass by and see a new message, I snap a photo to remember the mood of the moment.

Chatterblocks aren’t cheap – $79.80 for a set of 16 from manufacturer Maple Landmark. But the quality is excellent, and they are made in lovely Vermont. I’ve bought them discounted for about $58 on Amazon, but as of now they seem to be the same price on Amazon as they are from the manufacturer.

eBags wheeled carry-on

You don’t need a lot of luggage, you just need one or two great bags. This one is my favorite. Excellent capacity, efficient organization, fits in the overhead compartment, wheels that work. I dragged around ancient mediocre luggage for decades before I finally invested in this wheeled carry-on a couple years ago. eBags put years of customer feedback into the design and features of its own line, and it shows.

A great gift for frequent travelers, retired parents with time to travel, or college kids at the start of their adventure. Sold on Amazon for $180, you’re better off right now buying from eBags, where it’s currently on sale for $120.

Packing cubes

I’m obsessed with efficient packing. I only take my favorite essentials, wear them in different combinations and wash often. I bring home everything clean and am unpacked, bag stashed, in three minutes.

Packing cubes – these zippered nylon bags – enable you to pack more but still stay tidy and organized. I like this set from Amazon, four packing cubes of different sizes, plus a light but sturdy drawstring laundry bag, for $23.

Kuhl Klassik Fit Radikl Pants

My friend Russ, a savvy professional consumer, turned my husband onto two change-your-life items this year, the first being these hiking pants that function as non-denim everyday wear in today’s casual life and work world. Made from a cotton-nylon blend with a little bit of stretch, they’re also designed for extra give in the knees, hips and side seams.

With pockets for anything from tools to cell phones, this is a pant your guy will put on and never take off again. $89 at Zappos, or at your nearby outdoors store.

Ex Officio boxer briefs

I’m more ok with $89 pants than I am with $20 underwear, but Russ and my husband insist that these Ex Officio boxer briefs are worth the investment. Made from a quick-dry nylon with a touch of spandex, I’m told these boxer briefs are the ultimate in lightweight comfort.

Undoubtedly awesome for campers and travelers, these skivvies can be washed at night and dry by morning. But even for suburban guys with washing machines at home, they are simply the undergarments they want to wear every day.

Bombas socks

I always think socks in stockings are a cute and fitting idea, and my sock-obsessed friend Lisa will tell you Bombas ($12 a pair) are the best around. Engineered for better fit, comfort and functionality, Bombas are reinforced in all the right places, with cute designs to boot.

Bombas are great for both athletic and casual wear. I’m barefoot usually, but when we head to Ohio for Christmas I bring my Bombas.

And a bonus: like Tom’s for shoes or Warby Parker for eyeglasses, Bombas gives away a pair of socks for every pair you buy. Win win.

Yeti Rambler

My husband and I laughed at our neighbor Hutch for being surgically attached to his insulated Yeti cup, day or night, warm weather or cold. He brings it when he drops off kids at school, attends soccer games, goes to a friend’s house. It’s hilarious. But then he gave my husband one for his birthday, and now we secretly want to do the same.

Insulation is outstanding in the stainless steel tumbler, and the drink spout in the thick acrylic lid has a magnetic slider to open and close it. The 20-ounce Yeti Rambler ($30) is plenty big but still fits neatly in a car cupholder. It’s a gift that will be much appreciated by the campers, commuters, tailgaters or other thirsty loved ones in your life.

Thermal French press

One of my most cherished kitchen indulgences is my thermal French press, which brews my morning pot of tea and keeps it hot. It’s no Yeti, so it doesn’t maintain its temperature forever. But I love the efficiency of brewing tea by the pot instead of by the cup, and of course it’s equally awesome for brewing coffee.

My favorite Frieling 36-ounce, pictured above, sells for $100, but I also own a perfectly serviceable cheaper model, which generally sells for $23-28. I use the Frieling for my daily tea and the spare French press for coffee-drinking visitors. The build quality on the cheaper model is not as solid as the Frieling, and the design is chunkier, but it does the job too.

Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (and slow cooker/steamer/rice cooker/yogurt maker)

You guys don’t need me to tell you about the Instant Pot, right? Not everyone needs or wants a new appliance in the kitchen. But if you’re too much of a procrastinator to use a slow cooker, or you’re a paleo eater, bean lover, or just someone who likes to experiment with new, the Instant Pot might be for you.

About the size of a larger rice cooker, the Instant Pot is a multifunctional appliance that can make traditionally slow foods – braised meats, dried beans, baked potatoes – remarkably fast. It’s very easy to use, and unlike the old stovetop pressure cookers, there’s no risk of exploding food on your ceiling.

There are a bunch of different models now, but the 6-quart Instant Pot I have generally sells for $80-100.

Stainless steel Whirley-Pop

You guys know I’m a fan of the Whirley-Pop, especially for kettle corn. But after a while my basic aluminum model kept falling apart after every use. Turning the crank always jiggled the set screw out from the gears, and then the whole stirring mechanism would fall apart.

As a Christmas gift to myself I invested in the stainless steel Whirley-Pop ($45), which has metal gears instead of plastic.

The stainless pot is much sturdier than the $20 aluminum one, but as Serious Eats points out, fast-conducting aluminum is better for its quick heating and cooling.

I also discovered – too late for me – that Whirley-Pop also sells a replacement lid with metal gears for $11, plus shipping. So that’s a good option if you just need to upgrade the standard model.

For me, I’ll use the stainless lid on the aluminum pot. Kettle corn is back on.

Hope and Harmony (formerly Royal Oak) Virginia peanuts

Even the person on your list who already has everything is going to go nuts bananas for these extraordinary peanuts. Planters is not even in the same universe as these superfresh, supercrunchy, perfectly salted gems, grown on a family farm and roasted in small batches for generations.

These artisanal peanuts are both gift and addiction, and a giant tub disappears alarmingly fast.

But it’s not a bad thing during holiday season to have a healthful, low-glycemic-index snack that can hold its own against stacks of cookies. Kids and adults try one and come back for handfuls.

Book of Joy

I really loved The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World ($15), a writer’s firsthand account of a few days spent listening in on the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Dharamshala, the Dalai Lama’s Himalayan home-in-exile. The two men, both in their 80s, are fast friends, having met a few times during their long lives of courageous spiritual leadership.

The book is an upbeat and insightful sharing of their experiences and hard-won wisdom, but it’s also like being a fly on the wall observing two extraordinary human beings, both possessing great empathy, knowledge and humor. They tease each other and laugh, even as they discuss the serious issues of the world.

The focus of this book is not belief systems, it’s simply getting to know two of this century’s outstanding leaders, in the most real, human, vulnerable way. They do what they do – just like hardworking people all over the world do – with purpose and humility, seriousness and lightness.

I loved the book, and in this season of cheer, which is not always so cheerful, it’s comforting to connect with the deep and true joys in life.

More gift ideas from the archives

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne 15 December 2017 at 9:31 am

Thanks, I always enjoy reading your suggestions.


Jamie 19 December 2017 at 9:34 am

Great suggestions as always. I’ve been eyeing yeti products, and I think I’ll gift that cup to myself!


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