Presents of Mind

So here's the problem.

It's the afternoon of Christmas Day--or any other annual observance in which the giving of gifts is a piece of the action--and your floor is littered with the shredded wrappings of a dozen different holiday offerings. All have one thing in common: you instantly know that don't want them. Or maybe you do want them. What the hell. But even if you do--even if you actually plan to display them all over your house--there's no escaping the fact that this stuff is gonna be collecting a whole lot of dust. And that's just not healthy.

Dust, after all, is one of the major causes of allergies in this country, and if you keep all that stuff at your feet, you're facing a runny nose from here to next September. Now consider all of the potential dust-collectors you were planning to distribute to the many Loved Ones on your Christmas list this year. Do you really want to be the cause of aggravated sniffles and irritated sinuses? Of course not.

Fortunately for you, and your friends and relations, there are numerous gifts on the market that are completely--or almost completely--dustless and non-cluttering, because these gifts do not technically exist. They exist, but not in the same way that your brand-new wooden beaver sculpture exists. The energetic shopper will find a vast array of such clutterless gifts, from stars that can be named after your Uncle Pete to an authentic ordination for your sister, through the famous we'll-ordain-anyone Universal Life Church. We like those ideas. Here are a few others we like even better.

Stock Stuffers

Your Loved Ones don't have to be practicing scripophilers to appreciate a gift of well-chosen company stock. Once engaged in a bit of holiday scripophily, however (scripophily, by the way, is the act of collecting stock certificates), they may just end up becoming hardened collectors of the highly abstract stuff.

The cool thing about stock is that, with even a single share, a person will suddenly feel linked to an entire industry or organized activity. There is a company in San Francisco that has cleverly co-opted the idea of giving single shares of stock as gifts. OneShare.com will sell just that, a solitary item of stock from one of dozens of your Loved Ones favorite companies, including Walt Disney, Toys R Us, Anheiser Busch, Pixar Studios, Harley Davidson, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, the World Wrestling Federation--and just for yuks, Martha Stewart, Inc.

Using the convenient website, it'll cost you about $30-40 dollars, depending on the stock you choose; if your L.O. would appreciate tactile proof of your generosity, you can gift wrap the actual stock certificate, which in many cases are pretty cool looking, and come framed in a variety of styles and prices (though we really don't encourage that sort of thing because, hey, even a framed stock certificate is one more thing to dust).

For folks who'd like to own a piece of the past, you can even give a share of authentic--if slightly late--stock in the RMS Titanic Corporation. The website is the best way to order but you can also order by phone at (888) 777-6919.

Your Very Own Dolphin

Who doesn't love dolphins, and who hasn't always secretly wanted to have one? Well, over in Scotland--on the rocky coast of Moray Firth, to be exact--there is a whole clan of dolphins--Lighting, Whisky, Jigsaw and Sundance, to name a few--who are just waiting to be adopted in the name of someone on your shopping list.

Adopt a Dolphin--www.adoptadolphin.com--is a program sponsored by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which applies all adoption fees to help protect and study the dolphins of Moray Firth and abroad. The website is set up for gift-giving adoptions, and recipients will receive information about their new dolphin, and are even invited to visit whenever they are in the UK. That's the best part of giving someone a dolphin; the thing stays in Scotland for someone else to worry about.

Flight Club

Okay. So you want to give a gift that will really sweep 'em off their feet and impress the heck out of them, while giving them the thrill of their lifetime? Well, for a mere $49 dollars, you can hand your Loved One a nice, unexpected Be A Pilot Introductory Flight Lesson.

During the lesson, your L.O. will actually get to fly the airplane . . . in the sky, among the birds and the clouds and the little lost birthday balloons. Be a Pilot (www.beapilot.com) is a nonprofit educational effort sponsored by the General Aviation Industry as a way of introducing the public to the thrills and joys and satisfaction of what they like to call "personal flying." The service provides inexpensive introductory flight lessons at more than 1,800 certified flight schools around the Northern Hemisphere, from Peoria to Petaluma, from Saskatchewan to San Jose. Each lesson is conducted by an FAA-licensed flight instructor. You can register for a certificate on the website (and print the thing out right there on your computer) or by calling 888-BE-A-PILOT.

Playing Cards

Face it. Gift certificates are often tacky; a thinly disguised way of saying, "I couldn't be bothered to figure out what you want or who you are as a person. I barely know who I am, so I'm giving you this gift certificate so you can go out and do the footwork your own self."

Gift cards, while sometimes appearing as little more than a plastic version of a gift certificate, have a certain flexibility that makes them allows them to be more personalized than a hunk of paper from Sears or the Wherehouse. Does your Loved One like coffee? Most coffee companies from Starbucks to Wolf to You-Name-It, will sell you card in any dollar amount you name. Your L.O. can use it like a credit card, with the amount of each latté being deducted from the remaining value of the card.

Gradually, more and more products--from doughnuts to miniature golf to Lazertag games--are being offered using these kinds of gift cards; in some cases, a card will be accepted at more than one company. With a DinnerGuest card, for example (www.dinnerguest.com) your Loved One can enjoy a lavish meal at any restaurant that accepts Visa cards, depending on how much cash you choose to place on their Dinner Guest card, which they can carry with them until the opportunity arises to use it. Chances are good they'll do so long before the thing has a chance to gather any dust.

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