Presents of Mind: Our Holiday Gift Guide

Our holiday gift guide takes the guesswork out of the shopping season.


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Live Edge Furniture

Interior design is abuzz these days with real materials left pretty much as they are. You can bring the trend home for the holidays with a live edge kitchen counter or tabletop. The Bay Area is at the center of live edge furniture and custom woodworking. California Urban Lumber, a mill and lumber supply center in Martinez, has a spectacular inventory of hardwood slabs and special equipment overseen by a skilled and friendly staff. You can pick out a rough slab or bring your own for them to work down to your specifications. Across the bay, Heritage Salvage in Petaluma is a world-class center of reclamation chic. The quirky and eco-friendly lumberyard and mill offers full design and build services, including on-site metal fabrication and plenty of unclassifiable junk-treasure. You can make good use of old building materials like factory flooring, put new life into slices of special trees, or turn a section of an old high school bleacher into stunning dining room table. Gift-wrapping may take a little imagination, too. Prices vary wildly. Find out more at and



Gemstone Creations

For a holiday present that is handcrafted, unique, and contemporary, take a gander inside Bay Area designer Philipa Roberts’ gift shop to choose from her jewelry collections composed of simple, organic shapes combined with beautifully cut gemstones. Her pieces are inspired by both a love of the ocean as well as the urban lines and patterns of Bay Area architecture and are fashioned by carving in wax or fabricating in metal. Collection names include deep, mystic, loop, lavender, candy, fig, grace, sparkle, and halo. Prices range from low to high; therefore, options abound. Keep it simple with an elegant yet subdued silver square necklace or flat drop silver earrings ($60), or splurge on a more elaborately designed multicolor quartz bracelet ($343). Available at 4176 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-655-0656,



Lena Wolf Collection

Some art is meant to be worn, especially when it comes in the form of Berkeley artist Lena Wolff’s kaleidoscopic patterns printed on soft textiles at Erica Tanov. Wolff’s eight-point star titled “Dahlia,” originally used in a series of 2-D collages and drawings, puts the stamp of approval (the line is available nowhere else) on chiffon dresses, throw pillows, cotton nightgowns, and other eye-popping clothes and housewares. Available at the Erica Tanov boutique, 1827 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-849-3331, or online,


Blind Box Figures

Part of the fun of giving gifts is the unwrapping, but the surprise of what’s concealed within is usually one-sided. With Blind Box Figures—random figures from a series, double-wrapped in packaging—both the giver and receiver will be surprised at the unwrapping. Berkeley’s Boss Robot Hobby stocks a rotating selection of Blind Box toys—most figures are smaller than 2.5 inches or function as key chains or cell phone charms—ranging from cute anthropomorphic food to licensed lines such as Street Fighter, The Simpsons, and Doctor Who. Plus, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, as it starts the recipient on a hunt to collect their favorites from the series, some rarer and harder to randomly find than others. Available at Boss Robot Hobby, 2953 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-1680,



Nixie Clock

Instead of dropping large amounts of money on a classic grandfather clock, perhaps your gifting greenbacks would be better spent on something more modern in its antiquity. Nixie tubes are 50-plus-year-old technology now, but at one time, they were the way to display numbers and sometimes letters in machinery. Each tube contains the digits 0 through 9 rendered in a solid wire filament, like you’d find in a light bulb. Special crafts people around the world still make Nixie tube clocks, often using reclaimed Nixies from the Soviet Union, where they were quite popular and remain in circulation. There are dozens of styles on eBay to choose from, and there is no such thing as a commercial Nixie clock. A completely unique gift for the geek in your life. Look for them at



Air Plants

Air plants are a unique twist on the proverbial Christmas cactus and the perfect gift for anyone who likes the idea of houseplants but couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. These rootless, evergreen perennials are incredibly versatile and easy to care for—all air plants need are bright light and a heavy misting or occasional dunking under the tap. Fuzzy, twisty, and wiry with spikey tendrils, air plants come in a range of greens—some even flower??—and cost between $6 and $50 each. Display them individually or in clusters in a stone, ceramic or wood bowl or twist on some wire or string and hang them from a rack. No green thumb required. Available at Gorgeous and Green, 2946 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-665-7974,; and The Gardener, 1836 Fourth St., Berkeley, 510-548-4545., among others.



No. 4 Smooth Plane

Other than maybe a vintage Boy Scout pocketknife, which comes pretty close to perfection with its awl-screwdriver-can opener-blade combination, the best tools are designed to do one thing only, as well as it can be done, limited only by the skill of the user. No better gift for a woodworker can be found than a classic handplane. There are many choices, but we like the Lie-Nielsen No. 4, a 9-1/2-inch-long smoothing plane modeled on the old Stanley No.4. Made in the USA, it sells for $350, has nothing to plug in, and will never go out of style. If anybody in the family is into woodworking, or even thinking about it, and doesn’t yet have this plane, the No. 4 becomes a gift of more than wood and metal. It’s a gesture of respect. There’s just something about the No. 4—the size and heft, the curve of the handle and sheen of the brass, the cleverness of the adjustment mechanism and elegance of the blade—that’s hard to beat. Pair it with a special piece of hardwood and maybe you’ll get a birdhouse or cutting board back. Or at least an impressive pile of shavings. Tool available at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Inc., 800-327-2520,; hardwood board (varying prices) available at McBeath Hardwood, 930 Ashby Ave., Berkeley.



Food Cycler CS-10

Your holiday table scraps can be transformed into something special this year—foodilizer!–if a new Food Cycler CS-10 for $529 (including shipping and a set of filters) makes it home in time for dinner. This plug-in indoor composter is a gleaming high-tech garbage monster. Stuff your food waste into the metal bucket, fit the whole mess inside the green-and-white plastic box, tighten down the hatch, and push start. It chews up and dehydrates just about anything you might have eaten yourself, within reason, producing what the manufacturer calls “highly mature, nutrient-rich soil amendment” after three to four hours of active gnoshing. Spread in the garden, CS-10 “foodilizer” may look and smell enough like kibble to attract the family beagle. Sodium content tests out a little rich for sensitive plants. The unit accepts only about 1 kilogram or so at a time, so forget tossing in a whole turkey carcass, but mere chicken bones and peach pits are no problem. The 500-watt CS-10 gives off a fair amount of heat, and your PG&E may show it. But there’s surprisingly little noise and smell. Available from Food Cycler Science,



Musa Pants

Does it really require special clothing to ride a bike? A helmet is essential, to be sure. But special gloves with no fingers? Shoes with cleats on the bottoms? Pants with felt pads sewn in? No. This year, give your favorite cyclist some “cycling clothes” that don’t look like cycling clothes. That way, he or she has one less excuse not to bike to work and will look good even walking around the office. There are many cool choices, from brands like Betabrand and Mission Workshop, as the biking craze zigzags through the fashion world. But we’re going with Rivendell, out in Walnut Creek, which has a refreshingly honest approach. The Musa (short for “Made in the USA”) pants, $74, are bike-friendly but lack what the company’s cheeky marketing folks refer to as “unnecessary bikey details” that are more show than go. And one more thing: Nobody, even people with gigantic calf muscles, look all that good in Spandex, unless they’re in the Tour de France. The Musa pants are loose, which is a good thing for somebody who knows it’s better to be active than look active. Available at Rivendell Bicycle Works, Bike Book & Hatchet, 1601 North Main St., Ste. 101, Walnut Creek, 925-937-7224,



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The Complete Far Side

No one could fit more in one cartoon panel than Gary Larson. Here, three volumes comprise close to 1,300 pages, collecting every syndicated strip from The Far Side’s 14-year run plus strips Larson created after retirement—more than 4,000 cartoons in all. On the surface, the one-liners are worth a good chuckle, but when viewed over its run, Larson’s work reveals a simplistic irreverence for aspects of the human experience that, before The Far Side, we didn’t know were held in reverence. Continuing themes and subjects—farmers, science, and the atypical—poke fun at society, but there’s a darker undertone—punishment, embarrassment, failure—that adds another layer to the great depth contained in a single panel. Available at Books Inc., 1344 Park St., Alameda, 510-522-2226,


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