Holiday Gift Ideas

On the road, around the house and in the garden

by Bill Norman on November 1, 2007 - 4:23pm

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 6

Quest’s annual guide to holiday gift ideas has a bit to offer most everyone this year, whether they’re journeying to exotic climes or armchair traveling in the comfort of their own home. Cruise these categories for items that amaze, amuse and make life easier.

Spokeguard Art

Kensington Flylight
Quicktionary II
SteriPEN Classic
Aqua Pill Timer


When trundling your belongings to the check-in counter, consider the TravelTow ($19), a 360-degree rotating luggage handle adapter that easily attaches to almost any handle, including the extendible type. Provides an ergonomic grip at any angle and works in both push and pull modes. From, (800) 381-5109.

Planning an out-of-country expedition? You’ll want to ensure your passport, other credentials and cash are handy but secure. The Travelon ID and Boarding Pass Holder ($10) makes that a snap. Microfiber with clear window. Available in assorted colors, with neck strap. Also from

If you’re a wheelchair traveler, what better way to make your rig stand out in a crowd than with Spokeguard Art? Impact-resistant plastic wheel inserts ($115 for a pair) are available in most common wheel sizes, and sport dozens of optional visual effects to suit your mood. (877) 765-5278,

On an ocean liner or flying at 40,000 feet, use the Sharper Image Laptop Lap Desk ($40) to corral your computer companion. Nonslip surface; risers dissipate heat; carrying handle included; and the desk fits most laptop carrying cases. (800) 344-4444,

Get an additional source of private laptop light in whatever part of the world you find yourself. The Kensington Flylight 2.0 ($20) can be bent into almost any shape and derives power from your laptop’s USB port to energize eight super-bright LEDs. (800) 235-6708,

Can’t speak the language of a foreign land you’ll be visiting? The Quicktionary II ($180-$250) is a hand-held scanner that translates (and pronounces) English words or lines of text into any of a dozen other tongues, and vice versa for six of them. Has a vocabulary of 300,000-plus words and can be adjusted for right- or left-hand use. (888) 777-0552,

For the millions of people worldwide who use cellular phones, iPods, iPhones and personal game players, battery power remains a critical commodity. Be prepared for power shortages with the TC2 portable battery charger ($25), whatever your location. Uses two AA batteries (included) and comes with adapters for different devices (others free upon request). (888)-668-0797,

On a larger scale there’s always the 90-Watt Targus Mobile Power Inverter ($52). It uses 12-volt power from a lighter socket (in cars, boats and planes) to produce both DC and AC power suitable for running (or charging) notebook computers, portable DVD players, game consoles and more. (800) 482-7487,

Concerned about the quality of drinking water in foreign countries? So rely on the handheld 4-ounce SteriPEN Classic water purifier ($100) to remove 99.99-plus percent of creepy viruses and bacteria from 16 ounces of water in 48 seconds. Ultra-violet light is the secret … no chemical aftertaste. Two (included) batteries will treat up to 150 pints of water. (888) 826-6234,

Especially when plowing through multiple time zones at jet speed, our internal clocks can get confused. Is it time to take our pills? Be confident you’ll know when with the Zelco Aqua Pill Timer ($25). It holds pills, water supply (with a straw) and alerts you with a programmed electronic alarm that you set yourself. (888) 463-3332,

Photos are the ideal way to capture the fun of traveling — unless the image is always blurry due to camera shake. Enter the Joby Gorillapod ($25-$45). Screw-mount your camera on top, then bend the ‘pod legs like pretzels so they can grip surfaces like wheelchairs, railings and trees to ensure a rock-steady shutter release. (888) 569-5629,

And for the bookworm — and for those who encounter today’s all-too-common delays at airports and international borders — the Sony Portable Reader System ($300). Less than half an inch thick, weighing in under 9 ounces and sporting a large screen, this unit allows the user to search thousands of popular electronic book titles. It can store up to 80 electronic books in its internal memory and hundreds more in memory cards or sticks. (800) 222-7669,

Closer to home

InVoca Remote
LoveSeatz slipcovers

You’ll become master of the machines in your home with the InVoca Voice-Activated IR Remote ($45). Use voice controls to direct your TV, DVD player, VCR and other equipment to turn on or off, change channels, etc. Recognizes 50 commands. (800) 762-7846,

No need to go hunting for that floppy old tape measure when you’ve got the Strait-line Sonic Laser Tape ($32) to point, measure distances (easy-to-see LED read-outs), make calculations and record your specs in its memory. (800) 464-7946,

Tired of answering the phone only to find a pesky telemarketer there? The ClassCo Talking Caller ID ($50) can save you the trouble of going to the phone, by telling you the name and number of your caller (as well as visually displaying that information, as with regular caller ID). Device records names (in English or Spanish) for up to 50 phone numbers. (888) 940-0605,

Take a break from housecleaning by turning chores over to the iRobot Roomba Sage Vacuuming Robot ($200). Features include Dirt Detect, Stair Avoidance and auto transition from carpet to hard floors. Operates up to two hours on one rechargeable battery pack. (800) 727-9077,

Want your manual wheelchair to blend in better with your décor? LoveSeatz wheelchair slipcovers (“made from the heart”) will deck out your chair in an assortment of eye-catching and comfortable fashions ($165). (866) 440-2883,

Culinary gear

Wireless Talking BBQ Thermometer
Talking BBQ Thermometer

If tab-top cans are a pain to get open, find a willing assistant in the Can Pop ($4). Hook its plastic snout beneath a tab top, tug gently and observe how much added horsepower you’ve gained. For cans of soup or vegetables, the Gizmo Can Opener ($25) is the answer for those with limited hand strength or dexterity. Compact, cordless, battery-powered (with charger), it makes single-handed opening of cans a breeze. (888) 940-0605,

For the grill gal or guy who has everything, consider the Wireless Talking BBQ Thermometer ($60). Just insert the probe into your favorite butcher’s cut, then enter in the type of meat and how well you want it cooked. The device speaks five languages, accommodates four doneness levels, and selects among four verbal alerts including, “almost ready,” “ready” and “overcooked.” (949) 608-2848,

For the green thumbs

Hammacher-Schlemmer Up-side-Down Tomato Garden
Upside-Down Tomato Garden
Easy Grip Cultivator
Easy Grip Cultivator
Discovery Biosphere Terrarium
Discovery Biosphere Terrarium

People who appreciate unusual approaches to gardening will find a kindred spirit in the Hammacher-Schlemmer Upside-Down Tomato Garden ($75). The planting bed is elevated so tomatoes hang downward to ripen. Complement them with parsley, rosemary and other herbs planted on top. Compact design easily fits inside small spaces and its raised bed is convenient to reach. (800) 321-1484,

Particularly for those with limited hand strength, the Easy Grip Cultivator ($12) will spell ergonomic relief. The unique handle design prevents wrist strain and requires less gripping. It would go hand in hand with the Florian Ratchet-Cut Hand Pruners ($35) that use a ratchet mechanism to multiply the user’s hand strength up to seven times. Cuts stalks up to half an inch in diameter. (888) 940-0605,

For the lady of the garden, soft suede Monogrammed Gardening Gloves ($24; not shown) are an optional nicety that also protect the hands as they make a fashion statement. (877) 733-3683,

Younger horticulturists will find a fascinating learning opportunity in the Discovery Biosphere Terrarium ($40). Includes rock formations, lagoon, nooks for critters to hide in, bug cup and tweezers, “rainmaker” mister, temperature/humidity digital read-outs and magnifying window for viewing. Discovery Channel, (800) 889-9950,

Whether this season finds you at home or globe trotting, happy holidays from Quest and your “extended family” at MDA!

Hot off the presses is the 2007 edition of the Toys “R” Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, filled with a wide array of toys selected for their educational and developmental value. Each toy has been evaluated by the National Lekotek Center, which specializes in promoting play for children with special needs.

The Guide includes more than 80 everyday toys for children of all ages that promote the development of specific skills, such as auditory, language, visual, fine motor, thinking and social skills. Symbols are assigned to each toy so parents can quickly identify items best suited to their child’s needs; in addition, a new toy-finder index lists toys in separate skill-building categories.

Catalogs are available in all Toys “R” Us stores, by calling (800) TOYSRUS, or by visiting and clicking on the Differently Abled category. A limited quantity also can be found in local MDA offices.


Afraid of the risks associated with shopping online?

Arm yourself with knowledge and common sense, and you can calm those fears and enjoy a safe and satisfying Internet shopping experience.

Research the company.
Check out the company you’re considering making a purchase from using any means available; this can include the Better Business Bureau, the district attorney’s office or the state attorney general. Reputable companies should provide contact details on their Web sites, including street address and phone number.

Determine the site security.
Use only secure Web sites when placing an order; the Web address for these sites should begin with the “https://” designation. (The “s” indicates secure status.) Symbols, including a closed padlock or an unbroken key, also may be used to indicate secure sites. Keep in mind these indications may not appear until you reach the order page.

Know the merchant’s customer satisfaction policy.
Online customer service should be comparable to what you would expect to receive at a brick-and-mortar store. Make sure a phone number is listed on the Web site for complaints. Find out if there are options available locally for product service or repair. Remember to ask for details on obtaining and maintaining product warranties.

Investigate refund and return policies.
Find out how returns and refunds are handled, including who will pay for shipping and whether or not there’s a time limit for returns. Inquire about restocking charges for canceled or returned orders, and whether or not the company will refund charges to your credit card or issue a store credit.

Understand payment terms and conditions.
Make sure you’re clear on your commitment with regard to price — know whether it’s a one-time payment or a payment plan. Always keep a paper trail; print order confirmations, payment details and receipts, company information and return policy details for your records.

Provide minimal personal information.
Never give out your Social Security number. If you’re required to log into the site prior to ordering, keep your password private. Check for a privacy statement to find out how a company will use your information.

Use credit cards for payment.
Paying with debit/ATM cards opens access to your bank account. Payment by credit card comes with the protection of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), under which shoppers can dispute charges related to billing errors, computing errors, unacceptable goods or services, unauthorized charges and more. Remember to always check your credit card statement.

Consider using alternate credit card numbers.
Check to see if your credit card company offers a single-use card number service for making online purchases. With this process, a random 16-digit number is assigned to a card holder for one-time use online or by phone, allowing the shopper to keep their credit card number private.

Know where to turn for help.
Your credit card company is often the first place to turn when a transaction turns sour. You might also check with the National Fraud Information Center (800-876-7060 or and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (877-382-4357 or

Follow your intuition.
As with any transaction, trust your instincts. Do the seller’s claims seem reasonable? Are you able to contact customer service by phone or e-mail? Do you have any unanswered questions? Remember: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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